A Secret Service scandal in 2012 involving alcohol and prostitutes led to new rules specifying that, while traveling for work, “alcohol may only be consumed in moderate amounts.” Now, the agency is in the spotlight again after an agent was reportedly found passed out inebriated on the floor of an Amsterdam hotel last Sunday, only hours ahead of the president’s arrival in the country.
Tuesday night, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan acknowledged that the agency “did send three employees home for disciplinary reasons.” According to a source who spoke with the Associated Press, two agents weren’t drinking themselves, but were disciplined for failing to intervene with the hallway sleeper. All three were placed on an administrative leave and sent back to the United States according to the Washington Post, which first broke the story.
The agents involved are reported to be members of the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team, an elite unit whose mission is to engage potential threats and present themselves as targets so other agents can escort the president away from danger.
Charged with guarding the president’s life, the Secret Service had been known for keeping a low profile while maintaining high standards of professionalism before a series of negative incidents tarnished the group’s reputation.
The modern era of Secret Service scandals began in April 2012 with a group of agents stationed in Cartagena, Colombia ahead of a presidential visit. A night of drunken carousing ended in a quarrel between a prostitute and an agent she insisted owed her money for services rendered. That incident resulted in an investigation involving eleven Secret Service agents suspected of drinking and soliciting prostitutes, individuals in other federal agencies and members of the military.
The Colombia charges prompted the Secret Service to conduct its own internal review into misconduct within the agency and later led to a separate investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Based on more than 200 interviews and the results of 2,575 agents surveyed, the inspector general’s report found that 10 percent of respondents knew of incidents when colleagues’ excessive drinking led to security concerns. Among those who acknowledged knowing of other agents being drunk, 20 percent said that excessive drinking was "systemic throughout the service."
Overall, the inspector general report concluded that misconduct was not widespread within the agency, but the review process still led to new, stricter rules about drinking and a more explicit prohibition against agents engaging with prostitutes.