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Pentagon investigating 10 military members in Colombia scandal

April 16, 2012|By David S. Cloud and Kathleen Hennessey

Reporting from Washington — The Pentagon is investigating 10 U.S. military members in a widening probe into whether an advance team of Secret Service and military personnel hired local prostitutes or engaged in other misconduct before President Obama visited Colombia for a summit last week, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon investigation is focusing on five Special Forces Army soldiers, two Marines, two Navy personnel and one member of the Air Force, a U.S. military official said.  The Navy and Air Force personnel are members of explosive detection unit, the official said,.

Authorities originally said only five service members were under investigation but later widened the inquiry after a preliminary probe by a military officer from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota found that more people may have been involved, officials said.

At least five of the 10 military personnel are on their way back to the United States, and a U.S. military colonel is en route to Cartagena to supervise the Pentagon portion of the investigation.

Senior officials admitted Monday that the scandal has embarrassed the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon.

"We let the boss down," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference Monday, referring to Obama. "I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs: We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we're not sure exactly what it is.”

All 10 of the service members were staying at the Cartagena hotel, along with 11 Secret Service agents are suspected of cavorting with prostitutes.

The Secret Service agents were put on administrative leave and sent home amid allegations of involvement with prostitutes at a Cartagena hotel. Prostitution is legal in some zones of the Colombian city, but officials described the incident as misconduct.

The 10 military members “were in the same hotel and when the police were called they somehow got caught up in the incident, “ said Col. Scott Malcom, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, which is handling the investigation.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters Monday that that military members who are being investigated were assigned to support the Secret Service in preparation for Obama's official visit to Cartagena. He said they were not directly involved in presidential security.

"We believe that there may be more than five involved in this incident," Little said, but he declined to reveal how many were under investigation.

Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan had no new details on the internal investigation underway, saying only that it remains a “top priority.”  In remarks on Sunday, Obama said he would withhold judgment until learning the detail revealed in the probe.

“I expect that investigation to be thorough and I expect it to be rigorous," Obama said.

The Secret Service employees involved were both special agents and members of the Uniformed Division and were not part of the elite unit assigned to protect the president during his three-day trip to the Summit of the Americas. The group was part of a detail that works in advance of the president’s arrival, securing buildings and other government officials. 

The agents left Colombia before the president arrived on Friday, and officials say security was never compromised.

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Original source: Pentagon investigating 10 military members for Colombia scandal

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