Secret Service, United States

views updated May 17 2018

Secret Service, United States

The United States Secret Service (USSS) has two missions that, while sharply distinguished from one another, are united by the principle of protection. On the one hand, in its more visible role, the service provides protection of the president, vice president, and other dignitaries and their families. On the other hand, USSS's larger mission protects securities, including federal currency and other documents. Established in 1865 as an office under the Department of the Treasury, USSS was transferred in 2003 to the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Early history. At the time Secret Service was founded, approximately one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit. Only in 1877 did Congress pass its first law against the production of counterfeit currency, and even then, the law only encompassed counterfeit coins. By then, the mission of USSS had broadened, with an order in 1867 charging it with "detecting persons perpetrating frauds against the government"a mission that soon put the service on the trail of a range of lawbreakers ranging from bootleggers to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The personal protection mission of USSS had its beginnings in 1894, when it first provided protection to President Grover Cleveland on an informal and part-time basis. Following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress officially requested USSS protection for presidents, and in 1902 the Secret Service assumed full-time protective duties for the Chief Executive. At that time, the White House detail numbered just two agents.

The first half of the twentieth century. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt transferred eight USSS agents to the Department of Justice, where they formed a small contingent that would ultimately become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Congress in 1913 authorized USSS to provide permanent protection to U.S. presidents, and in

1917 it assigned them to protect presidents' immediate families as well. Also in that year, it became a federal crime to make threats against the president. At the request of President Warren G. Harding, a White House police force was created in 1922, and in 1930 Congress placed this force under USSS direction.

On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists attempting to assassinate President Harry S Truman shot and killed White House police officer Leslie Coffelt. This led Congress to pass legislation formalizing USSS permanent protection for presidents and their immediate families, as well for the president-elect and the vice president. In 1962 Congress again expanded these provisions to include the vice president-elect.

The modern Secret Service. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, awareness of the threat to presidents' lives increased dramatically. The mission of USSS also expanded with regard to the persons under its protection. Congress in late 1963 authorized protection for Mrs. Kennedy and her children for two years, and legislation in 1965 provided protection for a president's spouse, as well as minor children until the age of 16. In June 1968, while on the presidential campaign trail, Kennedy's brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated. This led to new laws providing Secret Service protection for major presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees.

The White House Police Force became the Executive Protective Service in 1970, and to its duties was added responsibility for protecting diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C. In the next year, visiting heads of state or government, as well as other official guests, were granted USSS protection. By 1975, the Executive Protective Service was detailed to guard foreign diplomatic missions throughout the United States and its territories. On November 15, 1977, the Executive Protective Service became the Secret Service Uniformed Division, and in October 1986 it absorbed the Treasury Police Force.

Since the Kennedy assassination, only three persons under Secret Service protection have been the target of direct assassination attempts: Alabama governor and third-party presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972, President Gerald Ford in 1975 (twice), and President Ronald Reagan in 1981. All three survived, a circumstance that particularly in the last instance, when several agents were woundedowed much to the work of Secret Service.

From the 1980s onward. At the same time, USSS continued work in its other field, protecting securities. In 1984 Congress made credit-and debit-card fraud a federal violation, and authorized Secret Service to investigate those crimes, as well as fraud involving identification documents. USSS in 1990 received concurrent jurisdiction with Department of Justice law enforcement personnel to conduct civil and criminal investigations relating to federally insured financial institutions. In 1994 new legislation provided for the prosecution of persons counterfeiting U.S. currency abroad, assessing them with the same penalties as if they had committed the crime on American soil.

Also in 1994, Congress reduced the lifetime-protection provisions for presidents. All chief executives elected after January 1, 1997, would receive protection only for the first 10 years after leaving office. Under the provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Secret Service moved to the new DHS.

Though its headquarters are in Washington, D.C., just three blocks from the White House, Secret Service operates more than 120 field offices in all 50 U.S. states. It also has more than a dozen offices in foreign countries. It employs 2,100 special agents, another 1,200 uniformed agents, and some 1,700 support personnel.

Uniformed and special agents. Requirements for special agents are somewhat higher than for uniformed officers for example, a bachelor's degree is a condition of eligibility for the former and not the latterbut standards for both are high, and applicants must pass an extensive series of tests and background checks. Those selected by Secret Service undergo a nine-week training course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, followed by specialized training. Special-agent candidates take an additional 11-week course at the Secret Service Training Academy in Beltsville, Maryland. Uniformed officers receive varying types of training.

Agents serving in the Uniformed Division provide protection at the White House and a number of other key sites in Washington. They often work with support teams that include countersniper, emergency response, and canine units. Special agents usually spend their first six to eight years in a field office, then are assigned to provide personal protection for three to five years. After this assignment, they may choose a number of paths, continuing in a protective detail, serving in the field, or working in some other capacity.



Department of the Treasury. Excerpts from the History of the United States Secret Service, 18651875. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Treasury, 1978.

McCarthy, Dennis V. N. with Philip W. Smith. Protecting the President: The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent. New York: William Morrow, 1985.

Melanson, Philip H. The Politics of Protection: The U.S. Secret Service in the Terrorist Age. New York: Praeger, 1984.

Motto, Carmine J. In Crime's Way: A Generation of U.S. Secret Service Adventures. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2000.


United States Secret Service. <> (February 5, 2003).


Counterfeit Currency, Technology and the Manufacture
Engraving and Printing, United States Bureau

Secret Service

views updated Jun 11 2018


The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) is a government agency charged with preventing counterfeiting and protecting the president of the United States, other high-ranking government officials, and presidential candidates. From its establishment in 1865 until March 1, 2003, the Secret Service was housed within the treasury department. The Secret Service was thereafter a part of the homeland security department. Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C., and a director, who is appointed by the president, administers the agency. It has field offices throughout the United States and overseas.

President abraham lincoln appointed a commission to combat the counterfeiting of U.S. currency and coins, which had led to dire economic consequences during the Civil War. He established the Secret Service in April 1865 to carry out the commission's recommendations. During the remainder of the nineteenth century the Secret Service successfully addressed the issue of counterfeiting. Its role changed after the 1901 assassination of President william mckinley, however. Congress at first informally requested the Secret Service to protect President theodore roosevelt and in 1907 began to appropriate funds for presidential protection. In 1917, threats against the president became a felony and Secret Service protection was broadened to include all members of the First Family. In 1951, protection of the vice president and the president-elect was added. After the assassination of presidential candidate robert kennedy in 1968, President lyndon b. johnson authorized the Secret Service to protect all presidential candidates. In 1971 Congress authorized the Secret Service to protect visiting heads of a foreign state or government; in 1975 this responsibility was broadened to include the protection of foreign diplomatic missions throughout the United States. In 1994 Congress passed a law that limits Secret Service protection of former presidents to 10 years after leaving office.

With the growing threat of terrorism, the mission of the Secret Service has expanded. In 2000 Congress enacted the Presidential Threat Protection Act. This law authorized the Secret Service to participate in the planning, coordination, and implementation of security operations at special events of national significance ("National Special Security Event"), as determined by the president. Following the september 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 on New York City and Washington, D.C., Congress passed the usa patriot act. This sprawling statute sought to respond to the attacks on many fronts. The act increased the Secret Service's role in investigating fraud and related activity in connections with computers. In addition it authorized the director of the Secret Service to establish nationwide electronic crimes taskforces to assist the law enforcement, private sector, and universities in detecting and suppressing computer-based crime. The law also increased the penalties for the manufacturing, possession, dealing, and passing of counterfeit U.S. or foreign obligations. Most importantly, it authorized enforcement action to be taken to protect U.S. financial payment systems while combating transnational financial crimes directed by terrorists or other criminals.

The Secret Service has established the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), which advises law enforcement agencies and other professionals on how to investigate and prevent targeted violence, including assassination. The NTAC has collaborated with Carnegie Mellon University to develop the Critical Systems Protection Initiative (CSPI). CSPI seeks to develop better cyber security measures, including the prevention of computer "insiders" from using networks to compromise the integrity of the system.

Though often overlooked, the Secret Service's Counterfeit Division continues to investigate counterfeiters. With the advent of color copiers and computer scanners, criminals have access to powerful tools that aid in counterfeiting. The agency's Financial Crimes Division investigates crimes associated with financial institutions. The division's jurisdiction includes bank fraud, credit and debit card fraud, telecommunications and computer crimes, money laundering, and identity theft.

Congress established the Homeland Security Department in 2002. The department consists of agencies that were previously housed in the various executive divisions, including the justice department and the Treasury. The Secret Service was transferred from Treasury to Homeland Security, effective March 1, 2003. The agency was to remain intact and its primary mission would remain the protection of the president and other government leaders. It would have access to Homeland Security intelligence analysis. In addition, the Secret Service's fight against counterfeiting and financial crimes has been characterized as a battle to protect economic security.

further readings

Melanson, Philip H., and Peter F. Stevens. 2002. The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency. New York: Carroll and Graf.

Motto, Carmine. 1999. In Crime's Way: A Generation of Secret Service Adventures. New York: CRC Press.

Seidman, David. 2003. Secret Service Agents: Life Protecting the President. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.

U.S. Secret Service. Available online at <> (accessed August 10, 2003).


Counterfeiting; Homeland Security Department; President of the United States.

Secret Service

views updated May 09 2018


SECRET SERVICE. On 5 July 1865, the Secret Service was established as a division of the Department of the Treasury to combat the widespread counterfeiting of United States currency. At the time, a loosely organized monetary system contributed greatly to the instability of the nation's currency. State governments issued their own bank notes through private banks. During the early 1860s, more than 1,600 of these banks designed and printed their own bills. Efforts to adopt a national currency were also hampered by counterfeiters. The result was that during the Civil War, as much as one-third of American currency was counterfeit.

With the appointment of William P. Wood as its first chief, the Treasury Department's Secret Service used organized investigative efforts that produced a considerable impact in suppressing counterfeiting. The Secret Service also was asked to investigate other crimes that, in time, would be tasked to other government agencies. These included mail fraud, armed robberies, Ku Klux Klan activities, drug smuggling, naturalization scams, peonage cases, fraud involving land and oil reserves, and counter-espionage during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.

After President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, presidential protection of Theodore Roosevelt became part of the Secret Service mission. In 1906, Congress passed legislation that officially delegated the Secret Service to provide Presidential protection. This was extended to the President-elect in 1913, and for members of the President's immediate family beginning in 1917. In that same year, Congress enacted legislation making it a

crime to threaten the President by mail or by any other manner.

The Secret Service is now authorized to protect the president, vice president, president-elect, vice president-elect; the immediate families of these individuals; former presidents and their spouses (presidents taking office after 1996 receive protection for ten years following the end of their term); children of former presidents until age sixteen; visiting heads of foreign state or governments and their spouses; major presidential and vice presidential candidates; and other individuals as directed by the president.

The United States Secret Service Uniformed Division assists in the organization's protective mission. Its mission includes providing protection at the White House and surrounding buildings; numerous embassies and missions in the Washington, D.C., area; and the vice president's residence. This is accomplished through a series of fixed posts, vehicular and foot patrols, and specialized support units.

On 16 July 1951, Public Law 82-79 was passed making the Secret Service a permanent organization of the federal government. Until that time, the Secret Service existed without the benefit of a basic enabling act being passed by Congress. Prior to the passage of PL 82-79, the Secret Service's operational duties and responsibilities derived from annual appropriation acts.

The organization has expanded its role to investigate the dramatic rise in financial crimes. Other criminal activities that have fallen under the purview of the Secret Service include telecommunication fraud, computer crime, and fraudulent identification usage.

The effects of globalization combined with advances in communications, technology, and transportation have allowed such crimes to expand to new areas, both geographic and technological. Open economies, growing interdependence, and the instantaneous nature of financial transactions can all be exploited by criminals. The explosive growth of these crimes has resulted in the evolution of the Secret Service into an agency that is recognized worldwide for its expertise in the investigation of all types of financial and electronic crime.


See alsoAssassinations, Presidential ; Counterfeiting .

secret service

views updated Jun 27 2018

secret service. The British secret service traces its history back to Elizabeth I's secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham; but, being secret, there is no way of telling if it is really older than that. Walsingham used it mainly to sniff out foreign-aided catholic plots. The playwright Christopher Marlowe is supposed to have been one of his spies; or murdered by one; or both. (Espionage is a confusing field.) Most later ministers used covert intelligence to a greater or lesser extent, though never in a formal, institutional fashion. The only British secret service agency with a continuous history from the 17th cent. onwards was the Post Office, which used to open letters, decipher them, reseal them, and send them on their way. During the Napoleonic years these activities were stepped up, as one might expect, in circles where French revolutionary contagion was thought likely to catch on. This continued through to 1820, when suspicions of agent provocateur activities by a number of government agents, including one known as ‘Oliver’, provoked such public outrage that the practice was discontinued.

For most of the Victorian years Britain had virtually no secret service, mainly because it was thought to be immoral, counter-productive, and foreign. (There was a ‘secret service fund’, but that was spent on other things.) It started up again around the turn of the 20th cent., with the formation first of the London police Special Branch in 1881–7, to look after American-Irish and continental anarchist dynamiters; and then of MI5 and MI6 in 1909, in response to the German threat. The First World War saw their activities expand enormously. Afterwards they became a permanent though invisible feature of the British political scene.

Their achievements have been mixed. They undoubtedly contributed to the allies' victory in the Second World War. Hitler admired them hugely, crediting their successes at lying and deception to the influence of the English public school. On the other hand they made some terrible errors; were almost immobilized by Russian ‘moles’ in the 1950s and 1960s; and are strongly suspected of having plotted treacherously against Labour governments in 1924 (the Zinoviev letter) and 1976.

Bernard Porter

secret service

views updated May 18 2018

se·cret serv·ice • n. 1. a government department concerned with espionage.2. (Secret Service) (in the U.S.) a branch of the Treasury Department dealing with counterfeiting and providing protection for the president.

Secret Service, US

views updated May 09 2018

Secret Service, US US law enforcement agency within the Treasury Department. It is charged with the job of stopping all counterfeiting and forging of US money, and with the protection of the president, vice president, president-elect and presidential candidates and their families.

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United States Secret Service