WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. military members under investigation for alleged misconduct at a Colombia hotel on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit over the weekend may be greater than the five originally cited, officials said Monday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that he could not provide a specific number, but that military members who are being investigated were assigned to support the U.S. Secret Service in preparation for Obama's official visit to Cartagena. He said they were not directly involved in presidential security.
"We believe that there may be more than five involved in this incident," Little said.
The Secret Service sent 11 of its agents home from Colombia amid allegations that they had hired prostitutes at a Cartagena hotel. The military members being investigated were staying at the same hotel, Little said.
Army Col. Scott Malcom, chief spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, which organized the military team that was assigned to support the Secret Service's mission in Cartagena, declined to say how many additional service members are under investigation. He also would not say which branch of the military they were from.
"We are still putting together all the facts," Malcom said.
A defense official in Washington said at least some of those under investigation are members of the Army. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under active investigation.
Malcom said a colonel from the Southern Command staff, whom he would not identify by name, had been sent to Cartagena to gather facts. He said at least five military members under investigation were being flown to Miami Monday.
The U.S. Southern Command had announced on Saturday that five service members assigned to the presidential mission in Colombia had violated curfew and may have been involved in "inappropriate conduct."
In a statement Saturday, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of Southern Command, said he was "disappointed by the entire incident" and that "this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military."1 comment on this story
The Secret Service placed the 11 agents on leave while the agency reviews what happened.
"I expect that investigation to be thorough, and I expect it to be rigorous," Obama said Sunday. "If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I'll be angry. ... We are representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards."
California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of a House investigative panel, said he wasn't certain whether Congress would hold hearings on the alleged misconduct. But lawmakers will be looking "over the shoulder" of the Secret Service, he said, to make sure that the agency's methods for training and screening agents aren't endangering the nation's VIPs.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.