WASHINGTON (AP) - The Secret Service sent three agents home from the Netherlands just before President Barack Obama's arrival after one agent was found inebriated in an Amsterdam hotel, the Secret Service said Tuesday.
The three agents were benched Sunday for "disciplinary reasons," said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, declining to elaborate. Donovan said the incident was prior to Obama's arrival Monday in the country and did not compromise the president's security in any way.
Still, the incident represents a fresh blemish for an elite agency struggling to rehabilitate its reputation following a high-profile prostitution scandal and other allegations of misconduct. An inspector general's report in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service's longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
The agents sent home from Amsterdam were placed on administrative leave, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disciplinary action. The newspaper said all three were on the Counter Assault Team, which defends the president if he comes under attack, and that one agent was a "team leader."
One agent was discovered highly intoxicated by staff at a hotel, who reported it to the U.S. Embassy, said a person familiar with the situation, who wasn't authorized to discuss the alleged behavior on the record and demanded anonymity. The other two agents were deemed complicit because they didn't intervene despite being in a position to assist the drunken agent or tamp down his behavior, the person said.
"It wasn't like a big, crazy party," the person said.
Obama arrived in the Netherlands early Monday on the first leg of a weeklong, four-country trip. He departed for Brussels on Tuesday night, and there were no known security issues during his stay in the Netherlands.
Before Obama travels anywhere abroad, a slew of Secret Service and other government officials are dispatched in advance to prepare the intense security operation needed to protect the president in unfamiliar territory. Typically, counter assault teams travel with the president in his motorcade and if he came under fire, the team would be called upon to engage any attackers while the president was hustled to safety.
Stricter rules implemented in the wake of the prostitution scandal in Colombia bar agents from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of starting a shift. It's unclear whether the other two agents were drinking heavily or what time any of them would have been expected to show up for a shift.
The Secret Service's reputation for rowdy, fraternity-like behavior snowballed in April 2012 in the run-up to another Obama foreign trip, this one in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, Colombia, where 13 agents and officers were accused of carousing with female foreign nationals at a hotel where they were staying before Obama's arrival.
After a night of heavy partying in bars and clubs, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to their hotel. Six of the employees eventually resigned or retired, while others had their security clearances revoked or were removed from duty.
Seeking to turn a page on that chapter in the service's famed history, Obama last year named veteran Secret Service agent Julia Pierson as the agency's first female director and signaled his desire to change the culture at the male-dominated service. Less than a year later, two additional officers were removed from Obama's detail following allegations of sexually-related misconduct that came to light after an incident at an upscale hotel next to the White House.
A 145-page report issued late last year by the Homeland Security Department inspector general determined there was no evidence of widespread misconduct within the Secret Service. Following the South American prostitution scandal, the agency put new procedures in place, including a ban on bringing foreign nationals to hotel rooms where agents and officers are staying.
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Wednesday he's troubled by an alleged incident involving a drunken Secret Service agent in connection with President Barack Obama's overseas trip to the Netherlands.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Wednesday he is "troubled by the reports regarding the behavior of a few Secret Service agents serving on the president's detail in the Netherlands," according to a statement. His office said he's asked the Secret Service for more information about the episode.
A Secret Service spokesman on Wednesday declined to comment on the incident, except to say that three agents were sent home for "disciplinary reasons." White House spokesman Jay Carney, briefing reporters traveling overseas with the president, said Obama believes that everybody representing the U.S. holds themselves to "high standards." He said the president respects the Secret Service director's "approach on these matters."
Obama named Julia Pierson as the agency's first female director last March in a sign he wanted to change the agency's culture and restore public confidence in its operations. Since then, Pierson has had to face some alleged misbehavior on the elite service, which is charged with protecting the president and investigating financial fraud.
In November, two Secret Service agents were removed from Obama's detail after one was allegedly discovered trying to re-enter a woman's hotel room because he left a bullet from his weapon behind. In a subsequent probe, investigators came across sexually suggestive emails that the agent and another supervisor had sent to a female subordinate, The Washington Post reported.
The agency disputes that recent reports of misbehavior is indicative of a widespread trend. And an inspector general's report made public in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service's longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
Pierson said in a letter to former Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards that, while the agency agreed with the report's 14 recommendations, she was concerned about how the survey was conducted and its results.