The secret is out on the Secret Service. The sex scandal involving 11 Secret Service agents, 2 of which are supervisors, and 10 military personnel surfaced when a dispute over payment of a Columbian prostitute resulted in a call to Cartagena police, who then contacted the U.S. Embassy, and the story went viral from there.
It is never a good sign when supervisors are found engaging in misconduct along with subordinates. It has been my experience when that happens there is a much larger problem which extends to the underlying workplace culture. It has also been my experience with workplace misconduct that this was likely not the first time Secret Service Agents engaged in risky behavior and trysts with prostitutes. There were just too many agents involved and the behavior too overt to conclude otherwise. News reports have indicated there were at least 20 prostitutes involved in the scandal, indicating this was pretty wide-spread.
We have heard little from the agents themselves other than one news report which indicated, "…some of the men stated they did not know the women were prostitutes.” Instead of well-trained security specialists, charged with protecting the President of the United States, they sound like frat boys who got caught with a woman in their room after hours, except the possible ramifications go way beyond loss of frat membership or suspension from a sports team. ABC News reported, “On Wednesday, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote to Mark J. Sullivan, the director of the U.S. Secret Service, about potential security concerns. "The incident in Cartagena is troubling because Secret Service agents and officers made a range of bad decisions, from drinking too much, to engaging with prostitutes, to bringing foreign nationals into contact with sensitive security information, to exposing themselves to blackmail and other forms of potential compromise."
Director Mark Sullivan appears to have acted swiftly and done the right thing by immediately removing the agents from Columbia, suspending their security clearance, and placing them on administrative leave pending a thorough investigation. Based on evidence already collected 3 agents have reportedly been forced out through early retirement, resignation, and proposed termination.
Something went terribly wrong, and the secret is now out of the bag. Between the White House investigation and Congressional hearings, this story will continue to unfold in the months to come. Managers should get beyond the "What were they thinking?" response, and be actively aware of workplace culture.