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Secret Service chief sees no security flaw

Secret Service Director Mark J. Sullivan says his agents' contact with prostitutes at a Colombian hotel last month produced no breach of national security plans for President Obama's visit to the South American country.

"At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms," Sullivan said in testimony prepared for his first public accounting today regarding the scandal.

The agents, he added, had not yet received their briefing on Obama's attendance at a Latin American summit in the coastal resort of Cartagena.

But senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee set to hear from Sullivan still have concerns and questions, chiefly about whether the night of heavy drinking and paid sex was an isolated incident and how it may have exposed the Secret Service agents to blackmail.

"This reckless behavior could easily have compromised individuals charged with the security of the president of the United States," Maine Sen. Susan M. Collins, the panel's ranking Republican, said in her prepared remarks. "This misconduct was almost certainly not an isolated incident."

"I want to hear what the Secret Service is doing to encourage people to report egregious behavior when they see it," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., the committee's chairman.

Their comments highlight the widespread skepticism Sullivan is likely to face as he recounts the unclassified results of his internal investigation alongside Charles K. Edwards, acting inspector general of the Homeland Security Department.

But don't expect lawmakers to demand Sullivan's walking papers. At a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on few matters, they appear united on letting Sullivan keep his job. The Secret Service boss ousted many of the supervisors and agents involved in the scandal, allowed Edwards to monitor his investigation and kept key lawmakers in the loop.

The White House on Tuesday reasserted its confidence in Sullivan.

The sordid affair became public following a morning-after argument April 12 between a Secret Service agent and a prostitute over payment for her services at a Cartagena hotel. The Secret Service was in the city in preparation for the summit.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is the first congressional committee to hold an oversight hearing, and Lieberman was expected to frame it around one question: Was the cavorting with prostitutes and rampant drinking a lone incident or agency tradition in far-flung locales?