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United States

Julia Pierson becomes first female US Secret Service head

President Barack Obama has appointed Julia Pierson as the director of the US Secret Service. She is the first woman director in the organization's 148-year history. The appointment does not need Senate approval.

Julia Pierson, 53, will take over the US Secret Service, charged with protecting the president and other dignitaries as well as combating counterfeit currency.

Outgoing Secret Service director Mark Sullivan announced his retirement last month.

Florida-born Pierson began her career with the Secret Service in 1983 as a field agent in Miami, she served most recently as the agency's chief of staff.

"Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families," Obama said in a statement announcing Pierson's appointment. "Over her 30 years of experience with the Secret Service, Julia has consistently exemplified the spirit and dedication the men and women of the service demonstrate every day."

Obama had come under criticism for appointing comparatively few female officials in his cabinet reshuffle following his re-election last November.

The Secret Service, for its part, has been struggling with a prostitution scandal tied to an Obama trip to Cartagena, Colombia, last year. Thirteen employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to their hotel after a night of partying in the resort city. The issue became public after one of them argued over payment with a prostitute in a hotel hallway.

Outgoing boss Mark Sullivan subsequently issued a new code of conduct, including a ban on employees drinking within 10 hours of the start of a shift and on them bringing women back to their hotel rooms.

msh/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)