Military Sent Four Servicemen Assigned to White House Home from Panama Last Week After 'Curfew' Violations

Servicemen were supporting Secret Service advance work for VP Pence's trip

Vice President Mike Pence in Panama / Getty Images
August 22, 2017

Four military members assigned to the White House Communications Agency who were in Panama last week helping prepare for Vice President Pence's trip to that nation were sent back to Washington and removed from their White House details for "confirmed curfew violations," according to the White House Military Office.

All four members left Panama before Pence and his wife arrived there for the final stop on their tour of Latin America.

"Four active-duty military members assigned to the White House Communications Agency, from the Department of Defense, are under investigation for confirmed violations of curfew requirements while deployed to Panama in advance of the Vice President's visit August 17th, 2017," Karen Brazell, chief of staff to the White House Military Office, told the Washington Free Beacon in an email Monday night.

"All four members were removed from Panama before the vice president arrived and have subsequently been removed from White House Communications Agency duty," Brazell wrote.

"At this time, no evidence of prostitution exists with any of the removed service members," Brazell added.

Brazell did not respond to questions about what prompted the curfew violations that led to an investigation into the four military members’ activities in Panama and their abrupt departures from country.

Two sources in the Secret Service community told the Free Beacon that the Secret Service last week looked into complaints from a hotel manager in Panama about alleged misconduct by members of the U.S. team staying at the hotel to conduct advance work for Pence's visit.

Senior Secret Service agents in charge of the trip conducted an immediate investigation into the complaint, watching surveillance tape of the lobby and elevators and were relieved to discover that no Secret Service agents were involved, the two sources said.

"It wasn't one of us, period," a source told the Free Beacon.

The Secret Service is particularly sensitive about any allegations of late-night misconduct while agents are overseas in the wake of a 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia that rocked the agency and prompted months of congressional hearings.

Secret Service agents were in Cartagena to do advance security work in preparation for President Obama's Sixth Summit of the Americas. More than a dozen were abruptly sent home after a hotel manager complained about one agent's clash with a prostitute and other alcohol-related misconduct.

The news quickly erupted into the biggest scandal in the Secret Service's history when details emerged that agents had hired prostitutes during a booze-fueled night before Obama arrived there.

After the Secret Service last week determined none of their agents were involved in the hotel manager's complaints, top agents contacted the WHCA, the sources said. The WHCA then dispatched two investigators from its headquarters in Washington to Panama to look into the matter. The four WHCA members were quickly sent home.

The White House Communications Agency helps secure and protect the president's and vice president's communications while they and their staffs are traveling. The WHCA is made up of servicemen and women from different branches of the military who work with the Secret Service in a supportive role to safeguard communications and information services.

It's unclear exactly what rules the WHCA members violated, and Brazell did not respond to follow-up questions.

In the wake of the prostitution scandal and other alcohol-related incidents, the Secret Service has issued stricter curfew rules and barred drinking during advance work in a foreign country.

Most agents do not have their guns and laptops in their rooms when traveling abroad because the agency advises all Secret Service agents to leave their guns and work computers in an area of the hotel guarded by U.S. Marines, which is separate from their hotel rooms, a source said.

The prostitution incident was the most embarrassing in the agency's history, implicating more than a dozen agents and leading to the eventual resignation of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan in March of the following year.

Julia Pierson, a veteran Secret Service agent, took over from Sullivan but resigned roughly a year and a half later after a string of security and alcohol-related incidents plagued the agency, including one in which a fence-jumper managed to reach the ceremonial heart of the White House before being detained.