By David S. Cloud and Kathleen Hennessey / Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is investigating 10 U.S. military members in a widening inquiry into whether an advance team led by the Secret Service hired local prostitutes or engaged in other misconduct before President Barack Obama visited Colombia for a weekend summit, U.S. officials said Monday.
The Pentagon investigation is focusing on five Army Special Forces soldiers, two Marines, two Navy personnel and one member of the Air Force, a U.S. military official said. The Navy and Air Force personnel belong to an explosives detection unit, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At least five of the 10 were being flown back to the United States on Monday. A U.S. colonel was en route to Cartagena to supervise the Pentagon portion of the investigation into an incident that has embarrassed the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon.
"We let the boss down," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference, referring to Mr. Obama. "I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs: We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we're not sure exactly what it is."
The Secret Service ordered 11 agents home from Cartagena on Thursday, a day before Mr. Obama arrived, after local police were called to their beachfront hotel and discovered women believed to be prostitutes in several rooms. The agents, who were not part of the elite unit assigned to protect Mr. Obama, were placed on administrative leave. White House officials said the president's security was not compromised.
Mr. Obama told a news conference Sunday in Cartagena that he would be "angry" if the allegations of misconduct were true because he expected U.S. government representatives to act with "the utmost in dignity and probity."
The president said he would withhold judgment until the investigation is complete. "I expect that investigation to be thorough, and I expect it to be rigorous," he said.
When news of the scandal broke, the military said five service members had been confined to quarters in Cartagena for violating curfew. But a preliminary investigation by a military officer from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota determined that more members of the military may have been involved, and five more names were added, officials said.
All 10 service members were staying at the luxurious Hotel Caribe on the seafront in Cartagena. The 11 Secret Service agents had rooms in the same hotel. Some Americans there engaged in heavy drinking and rowdy behavior, triggering complaints on the night of the incident, according to published reports.
The 10 military members "were in the same hotel, and when the police were called, they somehow got caught up in the incident," said Col. Scott Malcom, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, which is handling the military investigation.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the military members were assigned to support the Secret Service in preparation for Mr. Obama's official visit to the weekend Summit of the Americas, which ended Sunday.
Mr. Little said they were not directly involved in presidential security.