In the week since a United States Secret Service Agent was found sprawled in the hall of a five-star beach hotel and spa in The Netherlands so zonked he had to be carried back to his room, the Dutch have turned a wry eye on the incident.
They know only too well how quickly visitors succumb to the temptations abundantly available in their country. Prostitution is legal, with both men and women sex workers on display in Amsterdam’s red light district. Potent Dutch cannabis can be had without risk of criminal charges in so-called coffee shops scattered around town. And the booze, there’s always plenty of that.
Stephan Stokkermans, commercial director of Huis Ter Duin Hotel where the incident took place said the staff is used to guests passing out in the halls every so often. “We came to the conclusion they had had a fun evening in Amsterdam,” he told The Daily Beast.
But the questions about that night that the tolerant Dutch are asking half in jest have serious implications when we are talking about people tasked with protecting the president of the United States, if need be, by engaging in a full-on firefight to keep him alive.
In this case, three Secret Service agents who’d been sent to The Netherlands in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit on March 24 and 25 were sent home before he even got there. The agents, as yet unnamed, were part of what’s called the Counter Assault Team (CAT) described by The Washington Post as “the Secret Service’s baddest bad boys.”
They’re not the men and women in suits and shades, they’re the guys in the convoy who look like a SWAT team, with helmets and body armor. They carry a lot of heavy metal and they’re ready to rock and roll in full combat mode if a presidential motorcade is attacked. Even if we accept the need to protect the world’s number one terrorist target with special means, it’s worrisome to have guys like this running around your streets. It’s worse still if they’re trying to recover from a long hard night of partying.
So the questions being asked around The Netherlands aren’t so funny, really. We don’t know the answers and it’s not clear if these same questions are being asked in Washington or, if they are, whether we’ll ever see the conclusions. Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan has said an investigation is under way.
Dutch newspapers meanwhile have asked readers to get in touch if any of them saw the agents carousing, but thus far no tips have been forthcoming.
So, just where did these guys go to party? If they were like a lot of young men, they’d have headed for the red light district’s big, gaudy establishments: the Cassa Rosso, for instance, with its giant pink elephant sign, or the Bananenclub, which advertises itself as a center of entertainment, “and we are not talking cocktails here!” It touts its “scarcely dressed waitresses who will make your heart beat faster, will make sure your glass is always filled up!” and “a wide bar on which the girls perform one amazing trick after the other.” And, of course, that’s just an aperitif.
Both establishments close at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, just about the time the Secret Service agents made it back to their beachfront hotel about 30 miles outside of town. At the center of a previous Secret Service scandal in Columbia two years ago was the issue of agents taking hookers back to their rooms. That wouldn’t have been likely on The Netherlands, at least not at these agents’ pay grade.
(Later in the week, when the Nuclear Summit began in The Hague attended by Obama and representatives from more than 50 nations, several Dutch escort services claimed they had an extremely busy time. Zoe Vialet of Vialet Escortservice told the Dutch tabloid Algemeen Dagblad: “Europeans and Americans are the main early bookers.” Another agency, Society Services, claims many of its ladies had to sign confidentiality agreements. At roughly $1,000 an hour many of the upscale prostitutes made small fortunes.)
Was alcohol what knocked out one of the agents and left the other two so far gone they failed to help their buddy back to his room? The one who succumbed was 34 years old and obviously fit. Maybe he couldn’t hold his liquor. Maybe there was something else.
Stokkermans, the hotels spokesman, was circumspect. “It would be entirely possible that if we hosted a big Daily Beast party for journalists that we would find one as well, at three in the morning in front of his room,” he said. “And if that person were to be in that kind of deep rest or would have such a heavy build that someone could not move them on their own—then three colleagues would have to come in to accompany the guest to his room, also for security reasons.”
Finding an ultra-buff 34-year-old man unconscious does raise Dutch eyebrows, however. Folks in Amsterdam know what their city is renowned for, and it’s not just the local beer. “It was a Saturday night,” said Stokkermans. “I don’t know what kind of substances our guests consume, we are only interested in if they are doing well and if we have worries concerning their health. If we are not worried we have no judgment about the subject. It was clear that these gentlemen had had fun.”
The Dutch, unlike many of the tourists, know just how strong their cannabis can be, and the adverse effects of smoking hash while drinking alcohol. The comination can bring even the strongest man down. In response to Dutch online news reports about the Secret Service incident, some Dutch joked about what they thought happened to the CAT team, imagining one of the Americans asking “Is there a Starbucks around here? You know, a coffeeshop?” and a local telling him, “Aha, joe want toe go toe a koffiesjop?” That is, a dope seller.
The Huis Ter Duin Hotel has protocols for these kind of situations, says Stokkermans: “If someone enters the hotel in this kind of state that we worry about it, then we neatly accompany them to the room and we take measures to prevent situations we might regret later on.”
In the case of the three agents, they looked like they were able to make it to their rooms on their own. Then one didn’t.
The whole thing sounds vaguely like a scene from “The Hangover.” But Stokkermans says there are innocent explanations. “If you’ve had too long a flight and two beers have the wrong effect, you might become very funny too and extremely tired.” Of course.