By Alan Silverleib
Senior military leaders were not immediately notified that troops in their command were involved in what is alleged to be a much larger alleged prostitution scandal involving military and Secret Service agents in Colombia, according to the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, also said Tuesday that a decision to keep the suspected military personnel in Colombia after news of the scandal first broke was made without any input from Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command.
Levin told reporters that the higher levels of the chain of command were not notified of the assignment of certain personnel to Colombia in advance of President Barack Obama's visit to Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas in April.
These are "significant gaps" in military operations that "need to be corrected," Levin said.
Even if Fraser was out of the loop on the decision to keep the suspects in Colombia until the end of the mission, the U.S. Southern Command did not reverse that decision, issuing a statement days later saying the 12 troops would remain on the job while the matter was being investigated.
Levin stressed that there is no evidence Obama's security was put at risk due to the incident. He noted that the president's schedule was not kept in the hotel rooms of any service members believed to be involved in the scandal.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said no classified information or weapons were present at the Hotel Caribe, where the alleged incident occurred.
Levin and McCain addressed reporters after being briefed on Capitol Hill Tuesday by five top Pentagon officials on the state of the military's investigation into the matter. The Defense Department inquiry is now "basically complete" and a report should be issued "any day," Levin said.
The investigator's recommendation regarding charges against the military suspects is expected soon, he added.
The senators declined to offer details about what exactly occurred at the Hotel Caribe. Asked if all 12 service members had prostitutes in their rooms, Levin said, "I know the answer but I can't (tell you) because I'm not allowed to comment on the substance of the evidence relative to the 12 (members)."
"But if I were you, I would not assume that is the case," he added.
The incident, which involved roughly 20 alleged prostitutes, has so far resulted in the dismissal of nine members of the Secret Service.
McCain told reporters he plans to sit down with Levin after the full investigation is completed in order to determine what - if any - legislative steps need to be taken to help ensure something like this "never happens again."
Levin and McCain were also briefed by military officials on the alleged incident and investigation on April 25. They were both highly critical of the first briefing, characterizing it as highly inadequate.
Tuesday's briefing, in contrast, was a "dramatic improvement," McCain said.