WASHINGTON - In a new embarrassment for the US Secret Service, three agents were sent home from Amsterdam for drunkenness, after one was found passed out in a hotel hallway.
The agents were in The Netherlands ahead of US President Barack Obama's trip there this week as part of the elite unit tasked with protecting the president in the event of an attack.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary confirmed to AFP Wednesday that "three employees were sent home for disciplinary reasons," without giving any further details.
The story was first reported in the Washington Post newspaper, which said the agents have been placed on administrative leave, citing three unnamed people familiar with the case.
WORK GOES ON: US President Barack Obama greets Archbishop Francesco Canalini (C) after arriving on Air Force One at Fiumicino Airport in Rome. His security detail has been changed. PHOTO BY AFP
The incident comes two years after a scandal involving Secret Service agents and prostitutes in the Colombian Caribbean resort of Cartagena.
Then, a dozen agents and officers drank heavily and brought prostitutes to their hotel before the president's arrival for an economic summit.
Their activities came to light when one of the call girls had an argument in a hotel hallway after an agent refused to pay her. Colombia reported the incident to the US embassy in Bogota.
In the new case, the alleged behavior would violate Secret Service rules adopted after the Cartagena scandal, the Post reported.
Obama's visit to the Netherlands started with a brief stop at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, before he attended a nuclear security summit in The Hague and met fellow G7 leaders for talks on the Ukraine crisis.
Obama flew to Brussels on Tuesday for his first ever visit to the European Union's headquarters, and he is also due to visit Rome and the Vatican before heading to Saudi Arabia.
The Post said the three people sent home were members of the Secret Service's Counter Assault Team.
That unit goes into action if the president or his motorcade comes under attack -- they aim to fight off any assailants and draw fire while the president's protective detail removes him from the area.
The Post said hotel staff alerted the US embassy in the Netherlands after finding the unconscious agent Sunday morning, the day before Obama arrived in the country.
The embassy then alerted Secret Service managers on the presidential trip, which included the agency's director, Julia Pierson.
Under the new post-Colombia rules, staff on an official trip are banned from drinking alcohol in the 10 hours leading up to an assignment.
CAT members would have been called to duty sometime Sunday for a classified briefing ahead of the president's arrival on Monday so drinking late into the night Saturday evening and Sunday morning would have violated that rule.
Two former agency employees with experience on foreign assignments described the counter-assault team as one of the most elite units in the agency, responsible for the president's life.
CAT staff are required to be highly skilled shooters and extremely physically fit, with a demanding training regimen, the ex-employees told the Post.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One from Brussels to Rome, said the president had been briefed on the incident.
"Generally, the president believes -- as he has said in the past -- that everybody representing the United States of America overseas needs to hold himself or herself to the highest standards," Carney said.
Obama supports Pierson's "zero-tolerance approach on these matters," the spokesman added.
In the Colombia incident, 10 agents were removed from their jobs. Several investigations were launched, and the new rules were designed to prevent a repeat of such activity.