A US Senate panel investigating how members of the Secret Service came to be caught with their pants down, as it were, on a mission to Colombia heard yesterday of a wider history of allegations of sexual misdeeds inside the elite agency.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairing the panel, cited 64 instances since 2007 of agents being accused of sexual misconduct, including one complaint of "non-consensual intercourse".
Appealing to insiders to come forward, he added: "We can only know what the records of the Secret Service reveal."
Mr Lieberman and the Senate Homeland Security Committee are investigating the biggest scandal to hit the agency, in which a dozen Secret Service staff were accused of misconduct for bringing women, some of them prostitutes, back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena ahead of a presidential trip last month.
At least 11 Secret Service men, including two supervisors, were identified as participants and eight have lost their jobs. About 12 other military personnel have also been implicated.
"It is hard for many people, including me, to believe that on one night in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia, 11 Secret Service agents -- there to protect the president -- suddenly and spontaneously did something they or other agents had never done before," Mr Lieberman said.
According to 'The Washington Post', four of those sacked, or who resigned, will fight to get their jobs back on the grounds that men misbehaving, particularly while overseas, had been tolerated by agency heads.
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said that any such behaviour by agents opened them to the possibility of blackmail, which could put the president at risk.
"This was not a one-time event. The circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture," she said.
Seen until now as a cadre of bullet-proof professionals identifiable by their sharp suits, square jaws and squiggly earpieces, the Secret Service finds itself in a public relations nightmare. (© Independent News Service)