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Secret Service drinking episode under scrutiny

As the U.S. Secret Service arrived in the Netherlands last weekend for a presidential trip, managers were already on high alert to avoid any more embarrassing incidents involving agents.

Two countersniper officers had been involved in a car accident during a presidential visit to Miami two weeks earlier, according to several people with knowledge of the incident.

The driver was administered a field sobriety test because his breath smelled of alcohol, but he passed and was not arrested.

With that in mind, Secret Service supervisor George Hartford issued a warning to a group of agents gathered for dinner Saturday night in Amsterdam: Go out if you want, but stay out of trouble.

But by the next morning, Hartford was pounding on the hotel door of a junior agent, 34, who had passed out drunk in a hallway and later had to be lifted into his room by several hotel employees, according to a hotel spokesman and two other people familiar with the incident. The agent claimed to have no memory of the events.

That night on the town created another highly public embarrassment for the elite Secret Service, which is still attempting to recover from a tawdry drinking-and-prostitution scandal two years ago during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

The new incident – which unfolded in the hotel where President Barack Obama was scheduled to arrive the following day – prompted immediate condemnation Wednesday from lawmakers in Washington.

Sen. Ronald Johnson, R-Wis., said the agency has a “systemic” problem of rowdy and inappropriate behavior by its agents, who are sworn to protect Obama and other senior officials from harm.

After the unconscious agent was found in the hall Sunday morning, the hotel staff alerted White House staff that it had relayed the news to Secret Service managers, according to the people familiar with the incident.

In Amsterdam – a city of 1 million with an international reputation for partying, open drug use and legalized prostitution – the trio had stayed out drinking until about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, though all were scheduled to start work at 10 a.m., according to a preliminary investigation. The time frame would put them in violation of a ban on drinking in the 10 hours before an assignment.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said one of the agents involved was sent home Sunday afternoon, and the other two went back early Monday morning; all are on administrative leave.

The alleged misconduct did not jeopardize the president’s visit or cause “operational issues,” Donovan said. Obama’s safety was “not affected by the three getting sent home.”

The pivotal events in the Netherlands played out at the Huis Ter Duin hotel, a 254-room facility facing the North Sea in the resort town of Noordwijk, between Amsterdam to the east and The Hague to the west.

Huis Ter Duin spokesman Stephan Stokkermans said the three guests involved in the incident, whom he declined to identify, under hotel privacy rules, arrived in an apparently intoxicated condition at the hotel early Sunday by taxi.

“They came in, they waved to the team at the reception desk,” Stokkermans said. “It was clear they had a good time, but they didn’t need any help.”

Later that morning, he said, a hotel employee discovered one of those guests sleeping in the hallway about 10 feet from his room, which had a key-card-style lock. It was about 30 feet from the nearest elevator, and the employee summoned co-workers for assistance.

“In the end, there were two persons helping the man back to his room, plus the employee who found him,” Stokkermans said.

It is a common enough event at the Huis Ter Duin that the hotel has protocols for guests that are found sleeping in hallways or on couches, which happens every two or three weeks, Stokkermans said.

At home, the news sparked fresh outrage from members of Congress.

Some cited the incident as evidence contrary to the findings of a December report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, which asserted that the Secret Service does not have an agencywide cultural problem that encourages and tolerates personal misconduct.

“It shows that the report was a cover-up and a whitewash,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“There are significant cultural problems there that need to be addressed, systemic problems.”