Thinking with their little heads
Cartagena Colombia is a fabulous city; it’s a gorgeous Caribbean beach resort city on the northeast tropical South American shores. For anyone who has never been there I strongly recommend it as a holiday destination; it is a town that knows how to party; it loves life, it loves the beach, it loves night clubs, it loves music, food, and it loves sex. If, after visiting Cartagena, you don’t need a holiday, you must have been there on business, and very focussed indeed.
President Barack Obama has just been to Cartagena on his nation’s business. He attended a summit with President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon at which issues including Pan-American economic cooperation, innovative ways to deal with the cocaine trade, and skills transfer were discussed and as a result of which an important international bond was solidified in a region where The United States is deeply mistrusted. His trip to Cartagena was a business trip and he was very focussed indeed.
He was, at any rate. The newly revamped Secret Service? Not so much.
At one time, the Secret Service, which is probably most famously tasked with protecting the current and past living Presidents of the United States, was a part of the US Treasury Department. It was considered the most elite and professional of the vast number of US security services; the members were the most highly trained and squeaky clean; and the presidential protection detail was the very peak of prestige in the US security and intelligence community.
Then came 9-11. A lot of things happened after the planes flew into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. One of them was that President George W. Bush sat for a while, staring, while he was trying to read a storybook about a goat to a bunch of children; it took him about seven minutes to absorb the news that the country, as he had been informed, was under attack. (If you don’t think seven minutes is very long, try holding your hand over a flame, or watching FOX News for that long). But I digress.
One of the things that changed was that the Republicans immediately passed legislation that created a new security umbrella organisation with sweeping powers, including some that are clearly unconstitutional, and which condones war crimes (if committed by Americans), that absorbed the Secret Service, then promptly cut the Secret Service’s budget. Homeland Security was born.
It is no secret in the intelligence and security community that the Secret Service has steadily gone downhill since then. Morale, training standards, pay rates; all have declined. So has its reputation. It hadn’t quite sunk to the Three Stooges level of the CIA until the latest presidential trip to Cartagena, however.
Everybody knows that a company-sponsored road trip can be a lot of fun. In fact, since the new Secret Service was initiated, the slogan had been “wheels up, rings off!” Every time the president’s personal security forces were sent as an advance team or as his personal protection, they knew they were in for a federally sponsored vacation. Now that may not be a great treat when the nation’s business takes him to Dubuque, but Cartagena? Party on, Dude!
The scandal that erupted when the elite Secret Service stepped on their own dicks is one of the best I’ve seen in years; it’s so good that I have to remind myself that the behaviour of this most elite group was an enormously serious security breach that could have had unimaginable consequences. But it is a great scandal.
Details are still coming out, but at the time of this writing, here’s what we know:
The president and his entourage were staying at the Hotel Caribe where they had several floors reserved for their use. During one afternoon of the state visit at least 11 Secret Service agents spent the afternoon drinking with the strippers at a local bordello, and then rounded up some 21 hookers and brought them back by caravan to the Hotel. They then checked them in as overnight guests and spent the rest of the evening and part of the night partying in the fashion for which Cartagena is justly famous. Whether Columbia’s most famous export was in use has not been made clear.
The whole thing began to unravel when one of the prostitutes went to the police (who were stationed at the hotel) complaining that she had been…underpaid. Prostitutes, whose work is respected and legal in Columbia, have every right to seek protection from their police and the police deal with their mistreatment as they would anyone else’s. The police went to the party floor and pounded on the door; they were told to fuck off by the presidential retinue who were still partying. At a loss, the police contacted the US Embassy and State Department and then the fan did its job. The amount in dispute? Glad you asked – less than $60. And the issue was a strictly professional one. The young lady had provided her services to two of the boys but they somehow felt that they should only pay for one.
Agents sent home, Special Forces members included in the mess, supervisory staff among the patrons of the bordello, it almost couldn’t get any more salacious. Gotta love it.
At the moment the main political fallout has been the Republicans trying to figure out a way to place the blame on President Obama. Whether they do or not, heads will roll. There are bound to be repercussions; one can only hope that the scandal continues to spread, with daily tidbits of further detail being released for the foreseeable future.