Secrets of the Service

U.S. Secret ServiceColombiaRepublican PartyBarack ObamaBill ClintonPulitzer Prize Awards

We have learned a secret of the Secret Service: At least a few of those tight-lipped tough guys are not quite as straight-laced and serious as they appear to be. In fact, they apparently love to party like frat boys.

Three Secret Service agents have already lost their jobs after it was revealed that 11 agents and 10 U.S. militarypersonnel engaged the services of as many as 20 prostitutes in one wild night while they were doing advance work for President Obama's visit to Colombia. According to preliminary reports, the dusk-to-dawn drunken sex spree came to light when one of the women -- who insisted that she was a high-paid call girl, not a common street hooker -- got upset when one agent refused to pay her a fee worthy of her status.

The woman complained to the police -- in Colombia, prostitution is a legal enterprise -- and the secret party became embarrassingly public.

To be fair, these particular agents were not part of the elite cadre that protects the president, and there is, as yet, no evidence other agents at other times engaged in the same sort of activity. Plus, as noted, what they were doing was not against the law. Nevertheless, the incident dominated news during the president's visit to Colombia and has given a big black eye to the Secret Service, which, until now, seemed to epitomize moral rectitude and selfless loyalty.

America's image in Latin America took yet another hit from this and it gives the president one more mini-crisis to manage that Republicans will certainly try to use against him. But, whatever the larger implications may be, I find I am most interested in an answer to the same question I had about Bill Clinton, John Edwards and other public men who let their libidos blind them to consequences: What were they thinking?

Surely, a few of the Secret Service agents had qualms when one of their buddies came up with the swell idea of calling in a troop of willing women in short, tight skirts for a night of booze and bunga-bunga at their hotel. Surely, one of them said, "Hey, guys, we're on a mission representing the United States of America in a foreign land. Maybe we should drink a little pineapple juice, play a few rounds of Uno and turn in early."

Or maybe not.

I can hear a lot of people saying, "Hey, they are men, after all, and everyone knows what men are like." Yeah, I know what the men with whom I am acquainted are like and -- sorry to spoil the stereotype -- they would not have done what these guys did. Whether from moral principle, fidelity to wives, concern for doing a good job, mere frugality or simple fear of getting caught, there are plenty of men -- certainly almost all the men I know -- who would not have done what these Secret Service agents did.

Is there something different about guys in law enforcement and the military? Since they are required to exude an intimidating kind of macho in their daily work, does that dictate a high testosterone ethic in every part of their lives? When you are expected to put your life on the line at any moment, does that automatically instill an eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-die attitude? Are they like members of a football or rugby team who revel in male bonding rituals that almost invariable include proving sexual mastery?

I'd say yes to all of the above. So, while we should demand restraint and professionalism from these kinds of men when they are carrying out official duties for our country, we should not be shocked if, occasionally, they fail. We did not hire them to do flower arranging or assist in the kindergarten (or to draw cartoons, for heaven's sake). We hired them to use a gun and take a bullet whenever necessary.

Apparently, men willing to take that risk for us are also willing to take other risks we would rather they kept secret.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

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