Two of the Secret Service personnel are paid at one of the higher levels of the federal pay scale, meaning they are senior officials potentially in supervisory positions, according to a congressional official with knowledge of the investigation.
The accusations are triggering scrutiny of the culture of the Secret Service — where married agents have been heard to joke during aircraft takeoff that their motto is “wheels up, rings off” — and raising new questions at both the agency and the Pentagon about institutional oversight at the highest levels of the president’s security apparatus.
“We are embarrassed,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. “We let the boss down, because nobody is talking about what went down in Colombia other than this incident.”
At the same time, details emerged about the night of partying Wednesday that led to the scandal. People in Cartagena familiar with the matter said that some of the Secret Service agents paid $60 apiece to owners of the Pleyclub, a strip club in an industrial section of Cartagena, to bring at least two of the women back to the Hotel Caribe, where Obama’s advance team was staying.
The following morning, one of the women demanded an additional payment of $170, setting off a dispute with an agent that drew the attention of the hotel, the Cartagena sources said.
According to the Pleyclub’s registry at the local chamber of commerce, one of the club’s owners is named Michael Adam Hardy, whom chamber officials described as either American or Canadian.
On Monday, the Secret Service moved to revoke the top-secret security clearances of all 11 men from the agency who are under investigation, spokesman Edwin Donovan said.
The revocation of such clearances is not uncommon, he emphasized, and security clearances can be reinstated after internal investigations are complete, depending on the findings.
In a letter to all agency employees, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan stressed that it is “imperative . . . to always act both personally and professionally in a manner that recognizes the seriousness and consequence of our mission.”
Sullivan promised a “thorough and fair” investigation and concluded by saying that “in the wake of this embarrassing incident, it is my hope that each of us will be steadfast in our efforts to ensure that our performance and behavior mirror the oath we have sworn to uphold.”