News alert: The Secret Service has decided that its members – the people who protect the president of the United States – shouldn’t drink excessively, engage prostitutes or post work-related information on social media sites such as Facebook.
You don’t say?
This development may well qualify as the most obvious response ever to potentially disastrous conduct, and it raises an obvious question: Why wasn’t this done earlier?
In what common-sense world would members of a highly trained protective service performing a function critical to the nation’s well-being think they could drink excessively and shout to the world all about protecting the president and other high-level figures? What agency would not make clear to its members that they need to conduct themselves more professionally than that?
It took a while, but at least it’s done, even if a bit late. The new policies are a response to an embarrassing and risky episode in Cartagena, Colombia, just before President Obama arrived in South America for an economic summit this spring. There, more than a dozen Secret Service employees were accused of drunken partying with prostitutes.
The episode came to light only when a prostitute got into a dispute with an agent over payment for services, and there is no reason to believe this kind of behavior hasn’t been commonplace – and even tacitly accepted – for years.
The Secret Service insists it has always been an unwritten code of conduct for members not to drink excessively or cavort with prostitutes, but plainly the code needed to be written: Some of the agents who brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms fought efforts to fire them, arguing that they had broken no existing rules.
So much for common sense.
Lacking written rules, this kind of behavior is all but predictable.
Society is drenched in sex. The Secret Service is a male-dominated, insular organization whose members wield extensive authority, which some people confuse with license. It is nothing more than human nature for men in that kind of secret, high-pressure environment to be tempted, if not prone, to partying on the side.
But “the side” is a tricky concept when your job is to protect the president. What might prostitutes see in a hotel room that they shouldn’t? What kind of public talk occurs when drinking becomes excessive? Why is it even tolerable to do business with prostitutes?
It’s too bad that leaders of the Secret Service didn’t codify the agency’s rules of conduct before its own agents humiliated a proud organization and potentially risked the security of the president. But it’s not too late for other police and protective agencies to review their own policies, especially in the Facebook age, to ensure that their interests are adequately and appropriately protected from the yahoos in their midst.