5 Surprising Facts About the Secret Service

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The Secret Service scandal that erupted in April 2012 severely tarnished the image of one of most respected agencies in the United States government. When we think of Secret Service agents, we picture stone-faced men in sharp suits, forming a perimeter around the U.S. president. Yet the Secret Service operated for decades before it began protecting the president, and its current responsibilities go far beyond presidential security, and even extend into other countries. Here are five surprising facts about the United States Secret Service.

5. President Lincoln Founded Secret Service To Fight Counterfeiting

The Secret Service's original duties included the investigation of counterfeiters.

Secret Service agents surround President Reagan’s car during the 1981 inaugural; Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.

President Abraham Lincoln created the Secret Service on April 14, 1865. In one of American history’s bitter ironies, Lincoln was assassinated later that day. Lincoln didn’t have presidential protection in mind for the Secret Service; instead, he formed the agency to deal with counterfeiting. At the time, nearly one-third of the currency in circulation was counterfeit. To this day, the Secret Service’s main function is protecting the economy, not the president. Here’s the agency’s official mission statement spelling that out: “The mission of the United States Secret Service is to safeguard the nation’s financial infrastructure and payment systems to preserve the integrity of the economy, and to protect national leaders …”


4. Three Presidents Were Assassinated Before Secret Service Gave Protection

The Secret Service did not begin full-time presidential protection until 1901.
As noted above, President Lincoln was assassinated on the day he created the Secret Service. It took the assassinations of President James Garfield in 1881, and William McKinley in 1901 before Congress requested Secret Service protection for the president. In 1902, the Secret Service initiated presidential protection — with a total of two full-time agents assigned to the White House. A few years later, in 1908, the agency began protecting the president-elect. Following Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, the Congress authorized the Secret Service to protect major presidential and vice presidential candidates. In fact, the agency began protection of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in May 2007, a full year and a half before Election Day, the earliest protection ever provided a candidate.


3. Secret Service Leads Fight Against Computer Fraud In U.S. and Abroad

The U.S. Secret Service boasts an impressive conviction rate for its arrests.

Secret Service agents flank President Barack Obama.

In 1984, Congress authorized the Secret Service to investigate credit and debit card fraud, identity theft and computer fraud. That role has been expanded several times since, most notably with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. There are now more than two dozen Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Forces operating in the United States alone, and the agency has created similar task forces in Europe. The agency’s arrest and conviction record is astounding; between 2003 and 2008, agents made more than 29,000 arrests for counterfeiting, computer fraud and other financial crimes. The conviction rate: 98 percent.


2. Secret Service Has More Than 6,500 Employees

The Secret Service has more than 6,500 employees.

President Barack Obama addresses Secret Service Uniformed Division officers before a group photo at the White House, April 4, 2011.

Many people probably assume the Secret Service employs a few hundred special agents. In fact, the agency has more than 3,200 agents, at more than 150 offices in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to the plainclothes special agents with the cool earpieces and sunglasses, the Secret Service employs some 1,300 officers in a Uniformed Division responsible for protecting the White House, the vice presidential residence, the Treasury Department and foreign diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C. Some 2,000 other individuals offer technical and administrative support. Minimum job requirements vary for different positions. To be considered for hire as a special agent, you must be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 21 and 37, and must be able to pass one of the most stringent background checks in the federal government.


1. The Secret Service Maintains A Top 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List

The Secret Service maintains a Most Wanted Fugitive list.

Secret Service agent stands guard seconds after 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list gets all the glory, but the Secret Service also maintains a 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List. The Secret Service fugitives are wanted for computer, bank and identity fraud. The agency will take help wherever it can find it in collaring these fugitives. In March 2012, a police officer in Peabody, Massachusetts, making a routine traffic stop arrested Miguel Jesurum, accused of being one of the ringleaders in a $250 million cellphone scam. Here’s a link to the current Secret Service Most Wanted List.

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