The sex scandal that has embroiled at least 11 Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama at a regional summit created a potentially devastating security breach, a top US lawmaker has said.
Tongues in Washington and in Latin America were wagging over the details of the scandal, in which at least 11 secret service agents were reported to have consorted with prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia ahead of a summit of the Americas there.
But Representative Darrell Issa said that the real concern is that the agents' indiscretions put US national security at risk.
"You had drinking and you had activity that clearly compromised the ring of security, at least some, because you now had people inside secure areas, people who could have come in with all kinds of microphones or, in fact, could have done something, or later on could have blackmailed," he told CBS television on Monday.
"What we're concerned about is that failure today can lead to blackmail five, 10, 20 years from now," said Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, which has oversight responsibilities for the conduct of government.
"They all have security clearances. They were in a secure zone. They allegedly brought a prostitute inside a secure zone. And so there's a concern about espionage, blackmail. That's why this cannot stand. Other than it's immoral behavior, there is a security concern here," the California lawmaker said.
Issa added: "Whether you're a Secret Service, uniformed service or plain clothes, whether you're low ranking or high ranking, compromising somebody in a way in which they could be blackmailed in the future is a serious threat for people who hold high clearances and who ultimately are counted on for the safety and security of our most important packages now or in the future."
The incident, which on Friday saw 11 Secret Service and five military personnel pulled from their security duties at the Summit of the Americas, overshadowed the talks attended by Obama and other regional leaders.
The US Secret Service, which employs some 3,200 agents and 1,300 uniformed police, sent the men back to the United States, and now is investigating reports they brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia late Wednesday, becoming embroiled in a dispute over payment with one of the women.
President Barack Obama said on Sunday he expected a "rigorous" probe and warned he would be "angry" if the claims were proven true.
"I expect the investigation to be thorough and rigorous," Obama said Sunday at a press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the end of the summit.
"My attitude with respect to the Secret Service personnel is no different than I expect out of my delegation sitting here. We're representing the people of the United States," he said. "And that means that we conduct ourselves with the utmost dignity and probity," Obama said.