Good moral orders cannot be imposed. They evolve over lengthy periods of time. They are invaluable assets to organizations that inherit them.
Unfortunately, moral orders are much quicker to decay than to evolve. And when moral rot sets in, an organization is well-advised to stop it at the source and to rebuild it as best one can under admittedly adverse conditions.
Because of a disputed payment for overnight sexual services by a senior member of the U.S. Secret Service, while supposedly preparing security for President Obama’s visit to Columbia last week, significant insights into a pattern of corruption that most likely pervades the Secret Service has come under public scrutiny. A total of eleven Secret Service agents, and ten military officers, all supposedly on duty to safeguard the Presidential contingent, drank themselves out of their minds while partying at strip clubs, brothels, and tourist bars in the port town of Cartagena. They then brought twenty-one prostitutes and escort-girls back to their hotel rooms for a night of sexual debauchery.
The police were called to the hotel and the debauchery was revealed. All agents and officers concerned were placed on administrative leave and forcibly returned to the United States. One senior Secret Service agent has been summarily fired, one senior Secret Service agent has been allowed to retire, and one more junior agent has resigned. The inquiry continues through the mandatory use of polygraph tests and of blood tests for drugs other than alcohol. Additional ousters are expected in coming days. In the meantime, the security clearances of all concerned have been withdrawn.
Bringing loose women back to a hotel while on presidential protection duty clearly violates Secret Service conduct rules, as does drunkenness in the course of duty. The more fundamental issue, however, is how widespread this moral decay and agency corruption extends. To be sure, this is not an isolated incident. ‘Wheels up and rings off’, is widely acknowledged as the culture of Secret Service agents whenever they travel out of the country on security detail .
The Secret Service has long been viewed as an elite organization, composed of members who maintain the highest standards of fitness and integrity, and who are willing to take a bullet for the President. In Columbia, none of those qualities were on display. Two senior agents evidently were cheering on their juniors to get drunk, to engage in sexual liaisons, and ex post to breach their contracts with the prostitutes concerned. Evidence suggests that the heavy drinking had been occurring over several days. I expect that the hotel registers will indicate overnight ‘guests’ in many of the agents’ rooms over a sequence of nights.
When moral decay develops on such a scale, it can only do so when it is condoned from the top of the agency. A nod is as good as a wink, when agency rules are broken and protection responsibilities are pushed aside. For this reason alone, the Secret Service Director, Mark Sullivan, should be fired for cause. The entire second tier of administrators within the agency should also be removed, in their case through forced retirements, thereby protecting accumulated pension funds.
The Secret Service, under new leadership, should then investigate every Secret Service agent, through the use of polygraphs ands drug tests, to determine how far the corruption has spread. Terminations should follow wherever evidence suggests corruption. Even if some agents sue successfully for breach of contract, the agency should stand firm. One rotten apple in the barrel contaminates many others.
Where did this moral decay start? In my judgment, it was ignited by the bad example of two libidinous presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and William Jefferson Clinton. When Secret Service agents are ferrying prostitutes and escort girls into the White House on a daily basis to service the Head of State – as occurred with JFK – and when Secret Service agents are driving the President late at night under covers in unmarked cars for assignations with prostitutes in local Washington hotels – as allegedly occurred with Clinton – they not unnaturally think: ’What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goslings.’
New beginnings will require draconian interventions given the 50 years of moral decay that has worked its way through the Secret Service. The alternative is to abandon Secret Service protection and to allow each president to provide his own trusted personal bodyguards. Then he will be directly responsible for protecting his own life.