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20 women in US agents sex scandal

A sex scandal involving US Secret Service agents and a number of women in a hotel in Colombia involved at least 20 foreign women, according to congressional officials.

US lawmakers are seeking information about any possible threat to the US or to President Barack Obama, who arrived for a conference soon after.

Secret Service director Mark Sullivan told lawmakers that 11 members of his agency met 11 women at a hotel in Cartagena and more non-American females were involved with American military personnel. The presidential guard in the US comprises members of the Secret Service.

Obama and some important congressional Republicans, meanwhile, said they continued to support Sullivan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service. Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak in to the matter."

Senator Susan Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said Mr Sullivan told her that 20 or 21 foreign nationals were brought to the hotel. She said that 11 of the Americans involved were Secret Service and "allegedly marines were involved with the rest".

Meanwhile, Mr Sullivan told the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that the 11 Secret Service agents and officers were telling different stories to investigators about who the women were. Sullivan has dispatched more investigators to Colombia to interview the women, said Republican Peter King.

"Some are admitting (the women) were prostitutes; others are saying they're not, they're just women they met at the hotel bar," King said. Sullivan said none of the women, who had to surrender their IDs at the hotel, were minors. "But prostitutes or not, to be bringing a foreign national back into a secure zone is a problem," King said.

The scandal overshadowed Obama's visit to a Latin America summit during the weekend and embarrassed top US officials.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that military members who are being investigated were assigned to support the Secret Service in preparation for Mr Obama's official visit to Cartagena. He said they were not directly involved in presidential security.

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