The United States Secret Service is a United States federal government law enforcement agency that is part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The sworn members are divided among the Special Agents and the Uniformed Division. Until March 1, 2003, the Service was part of the United States Department of Treasury.
The Secret Service has primary jurisdiction over the prevention and investigation of counterfeiting of U.S. currency and U.S. treasury bonds notes, as well as protection of the President, Vice President, President-elect, Vice President-elect, past Presidents and their spouses (except when the spouse re-marries), certain candidates for the offices of President and Vice President (mostly within 120 days of a general presidential election), children and grandchildren of current and former presidents until age 16, visiting foreign heads of state and government along with their spouses (all called "protectees"), other individuals as designated per Executive Order of the President, and National Special Security Events, when designated as such by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. It also tracks suspicious people and investigates a wide variety of financial fraud crimes and identity theft and provides forensics assistance for some local crimes. The United States Secret Service Uniformed Division (UD) assists in the protection of foreign embassies, the United States Naval Observatory and the White House within Washington, D.C. Due to the discretion of this organization, many details are currently unknown about the Secret Service.
The shoulder patch of the USSS Uniformed Division consists of the presidential seal on white or black depending on the garment to which it is attached. While there is no official patch indicating "Secret Service," Special Agents have occasionally designed and purchased unofficial patches to trade in their extensive collaborations with uniformed law enforcement officers.
The Secret Service was commissioned on July 5, 1865 in Washington, D.C. as the "Secret Service Division," to suppress counterfeit currency, which is why it was established under the United States Department of the Treasury. At the time, the only other federal law enforcement agencies were the United States Park Police, U.S. Post Office Department - Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations, now known as the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Marshals Service. The Marshals did not have the manpower to investigate all crime under federal jurisdiction, so the Secret Service was used to investigate everything from murder to bank robbery to illegal gambling. It was the first U.S. domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency. It no longer has (and has not had for over a century) these responsibilities, which are now vested in the FBI. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested Secret Service presidential protection. A year later, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for protection of the President. In 1902, William Craig was the first Secret Service agent killed while riding in the presidential carriage, in a road accident.
In 1950, President Truman was residing in the Blair House, across the street from the White House, while the executive mansion was undergoing renovations. Two men approached the Blair House with the intent to assassinate President Truman. Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, who were Puerto Rican nationalists, opened fire on Private Leslie Coffelt and other White House Police officers. Though mortally wounded by three shots from a 9 mm Luger to his chest and abdomen, Private Coffelt returned fire, killing Torresola with a single shot to his head. To this day, Coffelt is the only member of the Secret Service to be killed while protecting a U.S. President against an assassination attempt. Collazo was also shot, but survived his injuries and served 29 years in prison before returning to Puerto Rico in 1979. Special Agent Tim McCarthy stepped in front of President Ronald Reagan during the assassination attempt of March 30, 1981 and took a bullet to the abdomen, but made a full recovery.
The Secret Service Presidential Protective Detail safeguards the President of the United States and his immediate family. They are heavily armed and work with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and the military to safeguard the President when he travels, in Air Force One, Marine One, and by limousine in motorcades.
Although today this is the Secret Service's most visible role, personal protection is an anomaly in the responsibilities of an agency focused on fraud and counterfeiting. The reason for this combination of duties is that when the need for presidential protection became apparent in the early 20th century, there were a limited quantity of federal services with the necessary abilities and resources. The FBI, IRS, CIA, ATF, and DEA did not yet exist. The United States Marshals Service was the only other logical choice, and in fact the U.S. Marshals did provide protection for the President on a number of occasions. In the end, however, the job went to the Secret Service.
The Secret Service has over 6,000 employees: 3,100 Special Agents, 1,200 Uniformed Division Officers, and 1,700 technical and administrative employees. Special agents either serve on protective details or investigate financial and homeland security-related crimes.
The United States Secret Service Uniformed Division is similar to the United States Capitol Police and is in charge of protecting the physical White House grounds and foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington, D.C. area. The Uniformed Division was originally a separate organization known as the White House Police Force, but was placed under the command of the Chief of the Secret Service in 1930. In 1970, the role of the force, then called the Executive Protective Service (EPS), was expanded. The name United States Secret Service Uniformed Division was adopted in 1977.
In 1968, as a result of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, Congress authorized protection of major presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees (Public Law 90-331). Congress also authorized protection of the spouses of deceased presidents unless they remarry and of the children of former presidents until age 16.
Congress passed legislation in 1994 stating that presidents elected to office after January 1, 1997 will receive Secret Service protection for 10 years after leaving office. Individuals elected to office prior to January 1, 1997 will continue to receive lifetime protection (Treasury Department Appropriations Act, 1995: Public Law 103-329).
The Service also investigates forgery of government checks, forgery of currency equivalents (such as travelers' or cashiers' checks), and certain instances of wire fraud (such as the so called Nigerian scam) and credit card fraud.
The Secret Service also has concurrent jurisdiction for violation of federal computer crime laws. They have created a network of 24 Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTFs) across the United States. These task forces create partnerships between the Service, federal/state and local law enforcement, the private sector and academia aimed at combating technology based crimes.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 62, which established National Special Security Events (NSSE). In that directive, it made the Secret Service the federal agency responsible for security at events given such a designation.
Prior to the 2008 Presidential election, the Secret Service generally protected major candidates over the 120 days preceding an election. On May 3, 2007, the Secret Service announced that Senator Barack Obama would also have protection following a request from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, due in part to racially motivated threats against the candidate.
The Kennedy assassination spotlighted the bravery of two Secret Service agents. First, an agent protecting Mrs. Kennedy, Clint Hill, was riding in the car directly behind the Presidential Limousine when the attack began. While the shooting was taking place, Hill leapt from the running board of the car he was riding on and sprinted up to the car carrying the President and the First Lady. He jumped on to the back of the moving car and guided Mrs. Kennedy off the trunk she had climbed on and back into the rear seat of the car. He then shielded the President and the First Lady with his body until the car arrived at the hospital.
The other agent whose bravery was spotlighted during the assassination was Rufus Youngblood, who was riding in the vice presidential car. When the shots were fired, he vaulted over the back of the front seat, threw his body over Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would become president, and sprawled over him to minimize chances he might be injured. Youngblood would later recall some of this in his memoir, Twenty Years in the Secret Service. That evening, Johnson called Secret Service Chief James J. Rowley and cited Youngblood's bravery.
The period following the Kennedy assassination was probably the most difficult in the modern history of the agency. Press reports indicated that morale among the agents was "low" for months following the assassination. Nevertheless, the agency overhauled its procedures in the wake of the Kennedy killing. Training, which until that time had been confined largely to "on-the-job" efforts, was systematized and regularized.
The Reagan assassination attempt also highlighted the bravery of several Secret Service agents, particularly agent Tim McCarthy, who leapt in front of Reagan after six bullets had been fired by the would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr. McCarthy took one .22-caliber round in the chest, which was successfully removed by surgeons at George Washington University Hospital (also where Reagan was taken and recovered). For his bravery, McCarthy received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1982. After the near-successful assassination of Ronald Reagan, it was very clear that the Secret Service needed to increase its efficiency to protect the President. Thus, in the 1980s, the number of agents increased dramatically and more advanced forms of security technology were deployed by the Secret Service.
Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Betty Ford, and Nancy Reagan will continue to receive full-time protection for life, as former First Ladies. Laura Bush will be the first to receive protection for only ten years.
Due to the importance of the Secret Service's protective function, the personnel of the agency receive the latest weapons and training. The agents of the Protective Operations Division receive the latest military technology (See: the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976, codified in the notes of Title 18, Section 3056 of the U.S. Code Annotated). Due to specific legislation and directives, the United States military must fully comply with requests for assistance with providing protection for the president and all other people under protection, providing equipment, and even military personnel at no cost to the Secret Service.
The Uniformed Division has three branches: the White House Branch, Foreign Missions and the Naval Observatory Branch. Together they provide protection for the following: The President and Vice President of the United States and their immediate families, presidential candidates, the White House Complex, the Vice President’s Residence, the Main Treasury Department building and its annex facility, foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington DC metropolitan area.
Special Agents and Uniformed Division Officers carry the SIG Sauer P229 pistol chambered for the .357 SIG cartridge. In addition to their primary weapon, they are also trained on several close-combat weapons such as the Remington Model 870 shotgun, the IMI Uzi, FN P90, and the HK MP5 (including the MP5KA4) submachine guns among others. They are also issued radios and surveillance kits in order to maintain communication with a central command post and other personnel.
Basic strategies include:
The Counter Assault Team typically operates in heavily-armed, five-man teams that augment an existing protective detail. In the event of an assault, their purpose is to engage the attacker(s) while the protective detail evacuates their principal to safety. Out of the generally 35 vehicles in the Presidential motorcade, anywhere from 2 - 6 Suburbans may contain CAT members, depending on the threat level that day. The purpose of a CAT is not to win a firefight, but to completely overwhelm the enemy right up until the point where the protectee has escaped. Then a local SWAT team (also travelling with the motorcade) will take over.
An incident in which Secret Service Protective Tactics were employed occurred in the early hours of April 30, 2008. The Irish Prime Minister (the Taoiseach)—who was visiting Washington, D.C. to address a joint session of Congress and to meet President Bush—was staying at the Mayflower Hotel when a fire alarm was activated. U.S. Secret Service agents entered the Irish PM's room and told him to evacuate. The Taoiseach was swiftly taken by his security detail to an awaiting motorcade where he was secured and briefed on the situation and spoke with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. Deeming the area to be unsecure, Secret Service agents advised the Taoiseach that he would have to be evacuated to a secure area. Thirty minutes later, the delegation was permitted to return to their rooms, along with 700 other guests, after the incident had been declared safe.
On August 20, 2002, Director Brian L. Stafford recognized the bravery and heroism of 67 Secret Service employees in the New York Field Office, by awarding the Director's Valor Award to employees who assisted in the rescue attempts in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The Secret Service has agents assigned to approximately 125 offices located in cities throughout the United States and in select foreign cities.