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Secret Service scandal reveals Obama's leadership deficit

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April 13, 2012: President Barack Obama in Tampa, Fla., speaks about trade before heading to the Summit of the Americas.

The scandal involving Secret Service personnel and US military elites who engaged prostitutes while assigned to protect our president and our national security is so much more than a misguided "boys-will-be-boys" incident. It is a national security breach that exposes President Obama's leadership deficit.

Congressman Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee is now asking (and Colombian media claims a local investigation is also underway) were any of the women involved in the incident under 18-years-old. In other words, were they children? 

By the international legal definition of trafficking, found in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Prevent Trafficking in Persons, these children would be considered trafficked; children forced to serve as sex slaves. 

If it turns out that America's most elite intelligence agency had sex, while on the job, with trafficked children, President Obama's leadership problem just grew by magnitudes.

If it turns out that members of one of America's most elite government agencies had sex, while on the job, with trafficked children, President Obama's leadership problem just grew by magnitudes. 

According to the UN, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked, globally, for sexual abuse and exploitation every year. This is no longer a Russian or Eastern European problem. Child porn and trafficking is a serious problem right here in America. 

The US government finally admitted as much in a 2010 State Department Report. America's dirty little secret is that far too many US government employees are involved. 

The Boston Globe's report on senior Pentagon staff downloading child porn on government computers and Miami's senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Anthony Mangione, recently charged with possessing, receiving and transporting child porn, are bookends indicative of the scope of this problem. 

Type the name of any government agency into Google -- try "Transportation Security Agency" (TSA), "US State Department," "Pentagon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)" combined with the words "arrested for child porn." Be prepared. You’ll see that a shockingly high number of federal governmental officials are involved in child porn.

Why does this matter, you ask? Because sex abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children, as well as of women and men, feeds the production of child porn and is the domain of powerful organized crime syndicates. 

A recent World Bank report, "Conflict Security and Development" estimates the profits from global organized crime "could be as high as 10 percent of the GDP globally." Now think about this: in 2011 global GDP was estimated at $78.95 trillion U.S. dollars. 

US government employees who use child porn and visit prostitutes are engaging in the most unpatriotic act possible. These government officials are using a staple product of organized crime's profit base. They are also exposing themselves and America to the ruthless forces of organized crime. Innocent children are harmed and America's homeland is rendered vulnerable, at the highest levels, to destructive forces of organized crime. 

By failing to recognize the Secret Service scandal as much more than a simple matter of “boys-will-be-boys,” President Obama and his administration are implying a tolerance for a critical weakness in our national security. 

This harms America. 

By failing to address the scope of the problem, one that extends far beyond the Secret Service incident in Colombia, President Obama is demonstrating a tolerance for a critical weakness in very fabric of our national security. One that places America at real risk…right now. 

The Obama administration should immediately demand the resignation of the Secret Service Director and appoint a new leader, preferably a woman. 

The White House should also open an in-depth investigation into the use child porn and prostitution among all government agencies and implement the strongest possible measures to end this unpatriotic and dangerous trend. 

This kind of action needs to start, but not end, with the Secret Service. 

The recent Colombian security breach could be used by the president to deliver a powerful message that the White House will guarantee, from now on, absolutely zero tolerance for government employees who jeopardize America's national security by supporting and engaging organized criminal networks through the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and prostitutes. 

The incident in Colombia should serve as President Obama's wake-up call. Now is the time for decisive leadership on a pressing, and largely ignored, critical issue of America's national security. Will our president rise to the occasion? 

Lori Handrahan, Ph.D. is a faculty member at American University's School of International Service in the International Development Department. She is an expert on sexual-gender based violence in war zones and sexual misconduct by humanitarians within UN operations. She can be reached at handraha@american.edu.

Lori Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service. She serves on UN's Inter-Agency Standing Committee (ISAC) working groups on humanitarian response and worked for UNHCR in the Balkans and Chad. She can be reached at handraha@american.edu.