Secret Service

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Secret Service

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.

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