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Some of the individuals administering the lie-detector tests were disturbed that the questions deviated from standard practice by delving into the details of the men’s sexual activities instead of staying focused on questions that would help ascertain whether the President’s security had been compromised. Some of the testers said they didn’t want any part in the investigation. It’s not clear whether anyone refused to administer a test, but some men refused to take one. The tests went on for ten days and were given to ten agents.
Investigators read some of the accused agents’ e-mails, according to knowledgeable sources. And some of the men said they were told by more senior officials that if their actions hadn’t become the subject of such intense public scrutiny, their indiscretions would have been overlooked and essentially forgiven.
Some of the agents also were told by their bosses not to cooperate with a separate investigation by the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General. The watchdog agency, which has had a long-running turf war with the Secret Service’s internal-affairs group, had been directed by Congress to look into the matter. The IG asked the Secret Service to suspend its internal investigation to ensure that the full account of what happened in Cartagena was unbiased and not directed by the agency itself. But the Secret Service continued on its own.
By law, the IG needed permission from the Justice Department to interview foreign nationals—in this case, prostitutes and hotel staff in Cartagena. The permission was not granted. That also meant the IG was forbidden from seeing hotel records at all but one of the 15 places where US government personnel were staying during the Summit of the Americas. The Secret Service’s own investigators, on the other hand, sent four people to Cartagena to conduct interviews and spoke to every agency employee on the trip.
In January, the IG published a report that found the Secret Service had “responded expeditiously and thoroughly to the allegations” against its agents. But according to several knowledgeable sources, this report leaves out many details of what the IG’s investigators found, including that Secret Service agents alleged they had been denied due process and had been coerced during questioning.
A week after the questioning began, another Secret Service employee, a supervisor in the agency’s intelligence division that evaluates threats against the President, stepped forward to admit that he, too, had slept with a prostitute in Colombia. The tryst had been arranged for him by agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration stationed in Cartagena, and it took place in a DEA agent’s apartment. Now the inspector general for the Justice Department, which oversees the DEA, began its own investigation.
According to knowledgeable sources, when the Secret Service moved to terminate the supervisor, he threatened to go public with more details about the scandal and possibly to implicate other Secret Service agents. (The supervisor was reportedly placed on administrative leave. Whether he’ll be fired or allowed to keep his job is unclear.)
The last thing the agency needed was a senior-level agent talking to the press. News accounts were piling up. A New York Times reporter in Cartagena snagged the first interview with Suarez. The Washington Post dug into the story, coming out with scoops about the men involved, their backgrounds, and the course of the agency’s investigation. President Obama even went on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and called the Secret Service agents who hired hookers “knuckleheads.”
Despite Suarez’s claim that she could have obtained sensitive information from Huntington’s room, however, the Secret Service investigation determined that was never a real risk. It’s also doubtful that any of the agents would have spilled vital secrets during pillow talk, either. That’s because the Secret Service employees hadn’t been briefed on the details of the security plan for the President’s visit and consequently possessed no information that could have put him in danger.
But the scope of the scandal was widening. Every new story raised the question of whether a permissive attitude toward prostitution and adultery on the part of Secret Service leaders was at the root of the affair. And congressional investigators signaled that they, too, wanted to answer that question.
Sullivan, the Secret Service director, insisted that the Cartagena affair was an aberration and that his agency didn’t have a problem with sexual misconduct. But that became increasingly difficult to believe. On top of the new allegations coming out, reporters turned to a lengthy 2002 expose by U.S. News & World Report, which chronicled numerous claims of alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, and adultery in the Secret Service. And the misbehavior reached the highest levels.
According to the article, the agent once in charge of First Lady Hillary Clinton’s security detail had been having an extramarital affair with President Clinton’s cousin, who worked in the White House scheduling office. The Secret Service’s own training manuals specifically warned against adultery, because from a security standpoint, “the potential for undue influence or duress exists.” In other words, blackmail—the same threat that could have been used against the Cartagena crew.