Most people know that the Secret Service protects the President of the United States and other politicians.
But the original purpose of the Secret Service was the suppression of counterfeit currency. In the aftermath of the Civil War, an estimated one-third of U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit. So on July 5, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln – in his last official act – signed the Secret Service into law as a branch of the United States Department of the Treasury.
It wasn’t until almost 30 years after its founding, however, that the Secret Service began protecting President Grover Cleveland. And even then it was only on an informal, part-time basis whenever the president traveled. Not until 1902, following the assassination of President William McKinley, did the agency assume the responsibility of protecting the president around the clock.
The first attempt on a President’s life that the Secret Service foiled occurred on November 1, 1950. Two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to kill President Harry S. Truman. The men were trying to draw attention to the cause of separating Puerto Rico from the United States. Three members of the White House Police (as the guard detail protecting the White House was then called) were wounded in the attack.
Today the Secret Service is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is twofold: to safeguard the nation’s financial infrastructure and to protect important political figures and their families.
Individuals the Secret Service is authorized to protect include:
- The president, the vice president, and those elected to either office;
- The immediate families of the above individuals;
- Former presidents and their spouses or widows (except when the spouse or widow re-marries);
- Children of former presidents, until age 16;
- Visiting heads of states and other distinguished foreign visitors; and
- Major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within 120 days of a general presidential election.
The Secret Service also has primary jurisdiction to investigate federal financial crimes, including:
- counterfeiting of U.S. currency or other U.S. Government obligations;
- forgery or theft of Treasury checks, bonds or other U.S. securities;
- credit card, telecommunications, computer or identify fraud; and
- computer-based attacks on the nation’s financial, banking and telecommunications infrastructure.
Becoming a Secret Service agent isn’t easy. To even be considered, applicants must generally be U.S. citizens between the ages of 21 and 36. Male applicants born in 1960 or later must have registered with the Selective Service System, or be exempt by law from having to do so.
Applicants must also be physically fit, have visual acuity no worse than 20/60 (and capable of correction to 20/20 in each eye), and be able to obtain Top Secret clearance.
Those who are able to complete the the 17 weeks of training can look forward to “long hours in undesirable conditions on short notice.”
But you get to carry a gun. And maybe stop a bullet.