The most well-known duty of the Secret Service is the role that they play in protecting the country’s presidents, as well as other members of the presidential party. The agency was created in Washington on July 5, 1865 as a part of the US Department of Treasury. In 2003, the Service’s governing body became The US Department of Homeland Security.
Secret Service Missions
The Secret Service was the first US domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency, but handed over most of these responsibilities to the FBI when it was created in 1908. The department currently has two primary missions:
Investigation of Financial Crimes – At the time of its conception, approximately one third of the currency circulating in the United States was counterfeit. The Secret Service was established by Abraham Lincoln, on the same day that he was assassinated, to suppress the circulation of fake currency. Their mission continues to include the prevention and investigation of financial crimes.
Physical Protection of Designated Individuals – By 1885, the agents had started attending presidential inaugurations. Their original orders were to assist local police to stop petty crime along the route, while the military and other policemen accepted the responsibility of guarding the president.
After the assassination of President William McKinley, in 1901, Congress saw the need for formal presidential protection. The Secret Service was the only government agency with the necessary resources and abilities to provide the detail at the time, and their full-time guarding of the US president began in 1902.
The Expansion of the Secret Service Protection
As more threats began to be issued, the need to expand the number of people that the Secret Service was protecting started to arise. In 1913, the president elect became a part of the protection detail and by 1917, the president’s immediate family was added to the list. As the vice-president became a greater target, he was given full-time protection in 1951.
After the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1965, Congress added major presidential and vice-presidential candidates and nominees. They also included the spouse of deceased presidents (unless they remarry), and all their children up to the age of 16. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a bill to establish the Secret Service’s responsibility for security at designated events.
The department is currently responsible for protecting the president, the vice-president and their immediate families, former presidents and their spouses, presidential and vice-presidential candidates, as well as visiting heads of foreign countries and foreign diplomatic missions.
The President of the United States appoints the Secret Service Director personally, and agents’ training includes time in the field conducting investigations and time on a protective detail. Any of the persons assigned Secret Service protection are free to decline it, except the president, vice-president, and the elects. The agency also investigates thousands of threats against the president each year.