May 23, 2012 -- The director of the Secret Service today challenged a Washington Post story that says the agency condones a culture of risqué behavior, the kind of actions on display in Colombia last month in a prostitution scandal that ended with agents losing their jobs.
Testifying before Congress, Director Mark Sullivan harangued the Post for relying on "numerous anonymous sources" in its story, published Tuesday night.
"If there is information out there, you know, when you read about it in the paper from an anonymous source, it's very difficult for us to investigate that type of an allegation," Sullivan told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. "We would like to know who, when, where, and why, and names of people, and, you know, who are these people who are condoning it."
The Post reported that a 29-year-old agent who resigned said during a lie-detector test that he brought two women back to his room but didn't think they were prostitutes. Secret Service employees told the newspaper that "sexual encounters during official travel had been condoned under an unwritten code that allows what happens on the road to stay there."
The Post also reported that four agents are challenging their dismissal, saying they were made into scapegoats even though the Secret Service has tolerated behavior similar to what went on that night in Cartagena before President Obama's arrival.
Sullivan, who apologized for the distraction caused by the scandal, said he knew of only two employees who are challenging their resignations. "Right now, our numbers contradict what was in the Washington Post article," he said.
Sullivan had not spoken publicly about the scandal until this morning. He appeared nervous at times, once calling Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine "secretary" before correcting himself, and once recalling an investigation into alleged bad behavior in El Salvador but calling it "Cartagena," until a senator corrected him.
The sex scandal and subsequent investigation were an embarrassment for the agency and resulted in a handful of agents losing their jobs, and a dozen military members being accused of hiring prostitutes as well.
"Between the alcohol and, I don't know, the environment, these individuals did some really dumb things," Sullivan said.
He told the Senate panel that the agency is taking steps to prevent future embarrassing encounters from happening. He tried to assure the senators that agents make appropriate decisions the "overwhelming majority" of the time, but "we had some individuals who made very bad decisions" on the trip to Cartagena.
Sullivan said he is reviewing the Secret Service's ethics policy and training as a result of the investigation into the agents who brought prostitutes back to their hotel after a night of partying.
"Any type of misconduct we take extremely seriously," Sullivan said.
Republicans have tried to tie the flap to the Obama administration, arguing that the president is responsible for overseeing all federal agencies. The White House has said that none of its employees were involved in the scandal in the days before Obama arrived in Cartagena.
Obama has called the offending agents "knuckleheads" but said the agency generally does a good job of protecting him and his family.