By Barbara Starr
The failure of five Army Green Berets to meet their curfew on the same night that Secret Service agents were allegedly involved with prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, is what largely led the military to start its own investigation, CNN has learned.
The military involvement was acknowledged in an initial news release by Southern Command on Saturday saying that five military members were restricted to quarters in Colombia. But a U.S. official confirmed to CNN that it was the actions of five Army Special Forces soldiers that set off the investigation, which rapidly broadened to include five other members of the U.S. military, including two from the Navy, two from the Marines and one from the Air Force.
All are being investigated for possible heavy drinking and use of prostitutes while in Colombia as part of a support team for President Obama's visit there last week.
The investigation is being conducted separately from the one inquiring about the Secret Service agents. The U.S. official, however, said the military investigating officers have been in touch with the Secret Service and are sharing information “where appropriate.”
“The military members suspected of misconduct are all back at their home stations,” the official told CNN. “Because they have not yet been formally charged with anything, they are not under any type of formal restriction. However, commanders use sound judgment and will ensure they are available to talk with the investigating officer at a moment's notice."
Other military officials told CNN that while there is no order prohibiting the personnel from being deployed, any deployment is unlikely for the time being.
None of the officials would allow their identities to be used because they were speaking about an ongoing investigation.
The five Army Special Forces soldiers being questioned are from the 7th Special Forces Group based out of Eglin Air Force Base, the officials said. The 7th operates mostly in Central and South America. The group's mission includes aiding foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation and unconventional warfare, according to information on the 7th Special Forces' web site.
The Southern Command investigation is a formal fact-finding probe of the type commonly referred to as a "15-6" after the military regulation that governs such reviews. An investigating officer and a military lawyer are still in Colombia gathering initial evidence, including interviews with locals who may have been involved in the situation or seen the men.
The official said that when the two return from Colombia, they are likely to conduct more interviews with all 10 of those being investigated. After that, a report will be presented to Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of the command.
The report will also include any recommendations for disciplinary actions. Under the rules, that could mean taking no action, administrative punishment such as a letter of reprimand, and recommendations to proceed with criminal charges.
Because all of this is governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official said, it could take some weeks before final decisions about how to proceed are made. Actions are not expected as quickly as the Secret Service, which is governed by civilian federal authorities.
Fraser has briefed the chiefs of all the military services on how he plans to proceed with the investigation, the official said. If disciplinary action is recommended and warranted, the individual services will administer it to those involved.
The official said Fraser has made it clear he does not want the investigation rushed.