WASHINGTON - They are known for their shiny sunglasses, dark suits, and stern gazes.

Secret Service agents, the men and women who protect US leaders, are as much a part of the American political tableau as the presidents, cabinet officials, and candidates they shadow and protect.

But, unlike their high-profile charges, they are not supposed to make news.

The suspension of 11 agents this weekend after alleged misconduct involving prostitutes in Colombia brought unwelcome headlines and attention to the agency's culture.

One critic said the incident reflected a systemic breakdown of standards and practices among overworked agents that could leave a president vulnerable to an attack.

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