'No risk' to Obama from Colombia sex scandal


US Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano assured probing senators that the Secret Service agent misconduct in Colombia never jeopardised President Barack Obama's safety.

Napolitano yesterday pledged a thorough investigation into the prostitution row that overshadowed the Summit of the Americas in the Caribbean resort of Cartagena, but said she and Obama had 'full confidence' in the agency's director.

Senior Republican Senator John McCain fumed that he was being 'denied access' to key information after military officials briefed him on a Pentagon probe about the scandal.

"We will leave no stone unturned," Napolitano told a Senate hearing on the activities of the Homeland Secretary Department, which oversees the Secret Service. The agent's director Mark Sullivan "has the president's and my full confidence as this investigation proceeds," Napolitano said.

A panel of senators grilled her on the misconduct by agents alleged to have brought prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia while preparing for Obama's attendance at the regional summit.

Asked directly whether the safety or security of the president was ever questioned, she said she had immediately quizzed Sullivan about that. "The answer is 'No.' There was no risk," she said. Eight Secret Service agents have been dismissed so far.

"The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance of another, and three of the employees involved have been cleared of serious misconduct," Napolitano said. But she stressed that "the allegations are inexcusable, and we take them very seriously."

Twelve members of the military, including a member of the White House Communications Agency, are also being probed by the Pentagon. The US agents and personnel had gone to Cartagena to prepare security for Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas and the affair morphed into a huge diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.

Obama has described the agents involved as 'knuckle heads', but said their transgressions should not detract from the wider work of the Secret Service. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee that oversees homeland security, said utmost rigor was needed to ensure the protection of top American officials, including the president and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

"No one wants to see the president's security compromised or America embarrassed," Leahy said.

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