Janet Napolitano
Napolitano is the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. REUTERS/STRINGER El SALVADOR

The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said that, had the prostitutes involved in the Secret Service scandal have connections with any networks or agencies opposing the United States, there could have been a risk to the president, who was in Colombia for an international summit just days after his advance security team was, according to allegations, cavorting with local prostitutes.

There may be a risk and that's why this type of behavior will not be tolerated, Janet Napolitano said, responding to a question from lawmakers. In the specific case of the summit in Cartagena, though, she said there was no risk to President Barack Obama.

Napolitano was speaking at an oversight hearing on the DHS held by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. It was the first time she faced questions since the scandal broke out earlier this month.

Providing Protection

The Secret Service is one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in America. It has a dual role to protect as well as investigate and was established in 1865. Among its mission is to protect the president, the vice president and their families.

The Secret Service agents sent to Cartagena ahead of Obama were there to ensure that security was tight. But when the news broke that the agents hired prostitutes and engaged in misconduct ahead of Obama's trip, it overshadowed the president's visit and the accused were sent home. Some lawmakers were also concerned as whether the agents could have been blackmailed.

Secret Service investigations have implicated 12 agents in the incident. Eight of the employees have either retired or were removed. One will be stripped of his security clearance, but can appeal the decision. The others have been cleared of serious misconduct but will face personnel action.

We will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the proud legacy of the Secret Service, said Napolitano. We expect all DHS employees to adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards.

A dozen military personnel were also caught up in the scandal. Officials have said that up to 20 prostitutes were involved. The Pentagon is conducting its own investigation into the incident.

Army Col. Scott Malcom told USA Today that initial investigations revealed some of the military personnel violated their curfew. This means that they were either not present in their rooms when they were supposed to be or that they had an unauthorized person with them in those rooms.

Malcolm, chief spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command which covers Latin America, told the Military Times that personnel suspected of misconduct were supporting the Secret Service. They were not providing direct security to the president.

U.S. military personnel who pick up prostitutes may face prosecution, if convicted, under U.S. military laws.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, patronizing a prostitute happens when a person compels another who is not their spouse to participate in intercourse for money. Anyone convicted of this crime could face a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, one year in confinement, and the loss of all pay and benefits.

The scandal made international headlines after an argument between a Secret Service employee and a Colombian prostitute identified as Dania Suarez got heated and spilled over into the hallways of the Hotel Caribe. The two were arguing over payment.

Huge Disappointment

Napolitano said the incident really was a huge disappointment to the men and women of the Secret Service who feel that their reputation has been smeared because of the actions of the few.

Among the DHS's investigation will be a review of training methods to see what may need to be done to ensure that such misconduct does not happen again.

I think their conduct was unacceptable, Napolitano said. It was wrong.