Colombia scandal implicates 12th military member

BOGOTA Mon Apr 23, 2012 3:26pm EDT

Prostitutes walk on the square of the old city in Cartagena in this picture taken April 17, 2012. As many as 21 women were brought back to a hotel in Colombia by U.S. Secret Service and military personnel in an incident last week involving alleged misconduct with prostitutes, U.S. Senator Susan Collins said on Tuesday. Picture taken April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Prostitutes walk on the square of the old city in Cartagena in this picture taken April 17, 2012. As many as 21 women were brought back to a hotel in Colombia by U.S. Secret Service and military personnel in an incident last week involving alleged misconduct with prostitutes, U.S. Senator Susan Collins said on Tuesday. Picture taken April 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - A 12th U.S. military service member was linked to the prostitution scandal in Colombia on Monday and the Pentagon suspended security clearances of personnel implicated in the events leading up to President Barack Obama's visit.

The service member, attached to the White House Communications Agency, has been relieved of his duties pending the outcome of an investigation, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Secret Service and military personnel allegedly took as many as 21 women back to their beachfront hotel on the night of April 11-12, before Obama's trip to the seaside city of Cartagena to attend the Summit of the Americas.

They were discovered when one woman complained about money, leading to the involvement of the local police.

Twelve 12 Secret Service employees have been implicated in the incident, the worst scandal in decades for the agency responsible for the safety of the president and other senior officials. Six of those have since left the Secret Service.

The incident embarrassed the United States and overshadowed Obama's participation in the summit.

It was also a black eye for the military.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, visiting Colombia on Monday, said the Pentagon suspended security clearances for the personnel implicated in the scandal.

"Frankly, my biggest concern is the issue of security and what could possibly have been jeopardized by virtue of this kind of behavior," Panetta told reporters traveling with him.

"We expect our people wherever they are to abide by the highest standards of conduct," Panetta said.

Hiring prostitutes, no matter the legal status where the act takes place, is prohibited for U.S. military personnel. Those convicted under the military justice system can be imprisoned for up to a year and be discharged dishonorably.

Prostitution is legal in "tolerance zones" in Colombia.

Panetta was due to visit a remote military base in Colombia and meet President Juan Manuel Santos in the capital, Bogota. Panetta was not scheduled to visit the city of Cartagena.

Meanwhile, the White House staff and advance team's conduct has been reviewed and cleared, spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman had said on Sunday that the White House should launch its own internal review of all White House personnel and advance teams who were in Cartagena.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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