WASHINGTON — With the dragnet widening in the wake of apparent misbehavior at a South American presidential summit, more servicemembers than previously thought could be caught on allegations of improper behavior.
Over the weekend, the Pentagon announced five servicembers were under investigation for violating curfew at a hotel where 11 Secret Service agents were sent home early from Cartagena, Colombia, after allegations of involvement with prostitutes at the hotel.
Now, information flowing from a preliminary investigation at the hotel, where a military support contingent to the Secret Service also stayed, is causing the number of troops being investigated to rise, though military officials could not give a total at midday on Monday.
“It’s changing,” said Col. Scott Malcom, head of public affairs for U.S. Southern Command.
A senior investigating officer, appointed by Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, was en route to Colombia on Monday to take over the investigation, Malcom said.
Asked about the U.S. military involvement, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey lamented that the incident has diverted the public's attention.
“We’re embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia,” Dempsey said. “We’re not sure exactly what it is. What we do know is several of our members distracted from what was a very important regional engagement for our president. So we let the boss down.”
Preliminary indications are that members of different services might have behaved improperly, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.
“I think we may be looking beyond one service in total here,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little.
Neither Little nor Malcom would comment on the specific duties of the troops present, but Little said, “The military personnel involved were not directly connected to presidential security and were not in contact with the president of the United States.”
Speaking Sunday about the allegations involving the Secret Service, President Barack Obama said that if they’re proven true, “then, of course I’ll be angry.”
The military members involved were still in Cartagena on Monday but had been confined to quarters — presumably in their hotel rooms — while the investigation proceeded.
Malcom said it’s impossible to tell how severe punishment could be, or whether any penalty is even merited, before the investigating officer completes his job.
“He’s going to do the investigation and make a recommendation,” Malcom said. “Based on that, the commander will decide if there’s any punishment, or if it’s administrative, or if punishment needs to happen through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”