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Secret Service chief denies 'culture' of impropriety

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"Two of the participants were supervisors – one with 22 years of service and the other with 21 – and both were married,” Senator Collins pointed out. “That surely sends a message to the rank and file that this kind of activity is tolerated on the road.”

In any case, and under pressure not to have the Secret Service simply investigate itself, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said Wednesday that an independent probe of the Cartagena incident will be conducted.

The agents alleged to have been involved in Cartagena were part of an advance team sent to prepare for President Obama’s participation in the Summit of the Americas. Following exposure of the incident, which included some 20 paid female “escorts,” the number of agents alleged to be involved grew to 13, eight of whom were either fired, forced to retire, or had their security clearances pulled (which would force them to resign).

Although the incident was serious and certainly an embarrassment to an agency charged with protecting the president and other high-ranking US officials, Sullivan said there had been no security breaches in Colombia.

"At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved … had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms," Sullivan said in his testimony. The officers had not yet received their briefing on Obama's attendance at the summit.

Still, he said, “I am deeply disappointed, and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused.”

As the scandal unfolded last month, Sullivan – a 29-year veteran of the Secret Service whose duty assignments include two tours with the Presidential Protective Division – responded with a stern note to agents about their behavior, especially when on assignment abroad.

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