About Those Secret Service Prostitutes

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As the scandal over Secret Service agents sleeping with prostitutes continues to unfold, I have a question: Wouldn't it be more scandalous if the women those agents slept with weren't prostitutes?

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House committee that oversees the Secret Service, says the key question is whether the prostitutes gained access to "any data or information that could have compromised the president of the United States or made an enemy force aware of the practices and procedures of the Secret Service."

I can think of several reasons this sort of damage is more likely to be done by ordinary sex partners than by the kind you pay for:

1) That's the way it happens in the movies! When a foreign spy service sets a "honey trap," the bait isn't typically a call girl. The victim is usually under the impression that he's successfully picking up some woman who finds him irresistible. And that makes sense because:

2) If you were setting a honey trap, why would you create some barrier to entry, such as a fee? As the hapless agent who started this scandal illustrates, sometimes a guy doesn't have much cash on hand. And the first rule of patronizing prostitutes (" The Jerry Springer Rule") is: Never pay with a check or a credit card!

3) If you're a secret service agent, what kind of woman is going to be better at extracting information from you: (a) a woman you're paying to have sex? (b) a woman you're trying to impress so that she'll have sex with you or keep having sex with you? The latter, I submit (though, as Dick Morris showed us, the line between a high-end call girl and a conventional paramour can in this regard get blurry over time).

And as for the possibility of blackmail: There are married men who would rather their wife find out about a prostitute than about a more conventional affair, because then it's easier to claim there was no emotional attachment. Of course, there's always blackmail value in documenting someone's illegal behavior, but in this case the prostitution was legal.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be outraged by what happened in Colombia. And I'm not saying we shouldn't be outraged by prostitution--which often entails the exploitation and even enslavement of vulnerable women and girls. I'm just saying the outrage about what happened in Colombia should be broad; it should be about sexual activity in foreign countries more generally. And any new rules for the Secret Service that result from this scandal should be commensurately broad.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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