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The Second Oldest Profession

Monday, April 30, 2012
By: Joe Mazzafro

Is it just me or is the Secret Service hard partying prostitute scandal in Cartagena Columbia like a NSCAR pile up that you shouldn’t be fixated on, but just can’t bring yourself to stop watching?  As a Tailhook era sailor who spent his life in and around Naval Aviation, I am not surprised that anything to do with drinking, partying and hookers would hold my attention (how about those GSA partiers; who knew!?!?), but the mainstream media stays with stories because they are either important or they provide the numbers that matter to advertisers.  I am guessing the Secret Service scandal has what journalists call “legs” because it is both salacious and involves the security of the President. 

I’ll leave the salaciousness details for the supermarket tabloids and turn to what I believe is important and under reported about the behavior of the Secret Service advance team in Cartagena.  Most of the reporting and informed reaction about the activities of the advance team is focused on their poor judgment associated with excessive drinking and engaging prostitutes.  Stipulating that the judgment shown by those responsible for the assessing the security situation for an overseas Presidential visit was mind-bendingly poor, what is more revealing is how this story came to light. Unless the dispute about the fee for services between a Secret Service Agent and the woman he has engaged for the evening came to involve hotel security and eventually the local police, this tawdry event would have been at best a matter of internal concern for the Secret Service.

As most police officers and a few sailors know, prostitution has some obviously common global characteristics along with a variety of local protocols that revolve around procurement, price, payment, and treatment.  If you don’t know them you can end up broke, busted, or worse - - - or in this case as breaking news on CNN. Then there is the overused quip about “intelligence being the world’s second oldest profession” that these Secret Service Agents didn’t connect with the world’s oldest profession.

Disturbingly  - - -  to me at least  - - - is that this advance party of Secret Service Agents did not understand the local prostitution protocols when it came to price and payment making the casual observer wonder what else they didn’t know.  Specifically related to U.S. foreign policy, if not Presidential security, did the advance team have any understanding of whether prostitution in Cartagena was controlled by the Columbian Drug Cartels or penetrated by foreign intelligence services?  The reported facts suggest they did not. Apparently the connection between the escort trade and the Cartagena Police was a surprise too. Certainly these Secret Service agents have seen enough James Bond movies to know the counter intelligence threat associated with seemingly accidental sexual encounters.  Is there a more tried and tested way for gaining access and information than playing to someone’s sexual needs?

The behavior of the Secret Service Advance Team in Cartagena demonstrated galatically poor judgment and is way out of bounds in terms of what the American people expect of the Secret Service, but this poor judgment also appears to be masking a disconcerting lack of professional competency amongst those we count on for the security of our leaders and integrity of our currency.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

Comments

The story appeals to our prurient interest.

By John C

Joe, you touched on a question of importance that has hardly been mentioned by those "shocked" politicians and the media. Why weren't members of the advance team properly briefed on the local situation in Cartagenia? Don't they have professional intelligence support in that agency on all the foreign areas they will visit? Briefings on ethics and morals won't solve that problem. They had better ensure that they get good professional intel preparation for their foreign operations; using the support of CIA, State, DIA, or other agencies.
v/r, Bill

By Anonymous

There are lots of examples where prurient interest trumps intel briefings. Common sense has a role too.

By John C

Bill, John thanks

I agree Bill it seems this Secret Service advance team arrived in Cartagena with less local information than sailors get for a basic liberty port call. Roger common sense John that seems to have been left on the airplane that brought the advance team to Columbia joemaz

By joemaz

Well said Joe.

By mike.janeway@ap...

Janet Napolitano's quick and incompletely informed comments notwithstanding, the President inherently WAS at risk from Secret Service extraciricular activities in Cartagena. Potential--if not proven fact-- of blackmail, schedule compromise, bugs was sobering. This is too big to be random. It is cultural, and must be rooted out of Secret Service starting at the top.

By Greg Blackburn

Mike, Greg thanks! Certainly the President's security was not enhanced by what happened in Columbia. Even more immediately though the personal security at the agents was at risk because they didn't know the human terrain very well

By joemaz

I can remember a senior police official at a recent symposium I attended saying you'd be surprised at what a good source prostitutes are. Was there a vulnerability for the President? Absolutely! I'm sure their skills at eliciting info were formidable.

By John C

Joemaz - good thoughts; incident is a textbook example of hubris on part of SS personnel. Wikipedia definition is spot on (paraphrased): "Hubris -- extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power."
A reading of Oedipus Rex might be in order at next Secret Service offsite -- perhaps the GSA can help with arrangements!

By Chris Jackson

What is only now being discussed, and only because there is evidence that can't be ignored, is how pervasive this type of behavior has been in the past. Call me a cynic but I do not believe for one moment that we just happened to find out about the one or two times this has taken place. More likely is that this type of behavior is routine and we found out about it because of one individual's mistake (arguing with a hooker). If my suspicion is true then for a moment ponder its implications. When I do, I find it difficult to believe someone somewhere hasn't taken advantage of it before now.

By Keith Herrington

Additionally, either they were being overcharged or the recession has really taken a tole on the dollar.

By Igor

JoeMazz, I think you hit it on the head where you said, "galactically poor judgement. The same is true for record number of Navy C.O. firings. Each case seems to illustrate poor judgement and behavior that become unacceptable a long time ago.

By IVAN

Chris,Keith,Igor, Ivan Thanks! I hear you all making a similiar point about the circumstances that lead to and condone poor judgement. In my experience ego and alcholol plus a position of authority seem to result in some type of entitlement thinking that says normal rules don't apply to you. joemaz

By joemaz

Especially true when those you protect routinely evidence that same behavior.

By keith herrington

I agree with you, JoeMaz. There is no substitute for leadership by example and when events such as this happens, leaders have to step forward and recognize that such failures is a reflection on them as well as on those who acted immaturely, showed bad leadership at the scene, and recognize the damage done to the image of our country. It was something drilled into our heads from basic sailor to senior officer that how we acted on 'liberty' reflected on our nation and our Navy. And, when something such as this happened, not only those involved were punished, but if the infraction was such magnitude, then some skippers were 'relieved for cause.' Go figure.

By Igor

The Country Team at the Embassy surely has in-depth knowledge of the local situation and it's hard to believe that this is not imparted to the SS. I'm certain there is also 3-letter agency support.

What I was wondering when I read the story is what procedural and technical measures are taken to protect any data that this advance team may have with them. Do they store sensitive info at the Embassy? If so, not much of a problem. Do they have heavy duty technical protection for any info they have with them at the hotel? Some concern. Have they become complacent and keep unencrypted sensitive information in a hotel "safe" or a locked container? Major concern.

We have taken major technical and procedural steps to protect information on international business trips ... I sure hope the SS is several steps ahead of industry.

By JimJulian

Jim always great to hear from a respected shipmate. You are expanding on my basic point that once you get beyond the tabolid headlines in this story there are lots of issues to be concerned about in terms of Secret Service trade craft Thanks! joemaz

By joemaz