At the close of the Civil War, between one third and one half of all U.S. paper currency in circulation was counterfeit. On July 5, 1865, the Secret Service was created as a bureau under the Department of the Treasury to combat this threat to the nation's economy. Within less than a decade, counterfeiting was sharply reduced.
During its early years, the Secret Service investigated many cases unrelated to counterfeiting. These cases included the Teapot Dome oil scandals, the Ku Klux Klan, Government land frauds, and counterespionage activity during the Spanish American War and World War I. As other federal law enforcement agencies were created, the investigative jurisdiction of the Secret Service became limited to Treasury-related crimes.
In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York. He was the third President killed in 36 years, and the public demanded protection for U.S. Presidents. As a result, Congress directed the Secret Service to protect the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, Congress finally enacted legislation making presidential protection a permanent Secret Service responsibility.
Protective responsibilities expanded greatly since that time, and the Secret Service completed a number of temporary protective duties. These assignments included providing security for the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Gutenberg Bible, and other valuable documents during World War II; providing protection for a number of foreign leaders who visited the U.S. during World War II; and providing protection for Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" while on exhibit in the United States.
The Secret Service continues to suppress the counterfeiting of currency and securities of the United States and of foreign governments. The Service is also responsible for investigating the fraud and forgery of U.S. checks, bonds, and other obligations. In 1984, Congress passed legislation expanding Secret Service investigative jurisdiction further to include fraud related to false identification documents and devices; fraud and related activities involving credit and debit cards; investigative authority relating to computer fraud; and, at the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, authorization to investigate fraud associated with the electronic funds transfer system of the U.S. Treasury. In 1990, Congress further expanded the Service's jurisdiction regarding criminal violations against federally insured financial institutions to include savings and loan investigations.
Secret Service protective responsibilities have increased dramatically since the days of President Roosevelt. Today the Service protects:
- the President, Vice President, the President-elect, Vice President-elect, and their immediate families;
- former Presidents and their spouses;
- children of former Presidents until age 16;
- visiting heads of foreign states or governments and their spouses, and other distinguished foreign visitors to the U.S.;
- major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates and their spouses;
- other individuals at the direction of the President.
The first formal attempt to provide security at the White House occurred during the Civil War. The "Bucktail Brigade" (members of the 150th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers) and four officers from the Metropolitan Washington Police Force were assigned to protect White House property. On September 14, 1922, President Warren G. Harding created the White House Police under the supervision of the White House military aide's office. President Hoover decided that White House Police officers and Secret Service agents at the White House could better coordinate their efforts if they were under centralized control. In 1930, Congress placed the White House Police under the supervision of the U.S. Secret Service.
White House Police responsibilities expanded sharply in 1970 to include security for foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington, D.C., area. At the same time, the force was renamed the Executive Protective Service. In 1977, the name was changed again to the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division.
Today, Uniformed Division officers provide security at the White House, the Vice President's residence, buildings in which Presidential offices are located, the U.S. Treasury Building and the Treasury Annex, foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and foreign diplomatic establishments in other parts of the U.S. as the President may direct. Uniformed Division officers carry out their protective responsibilities through a network of foot patrols, vehicular patrols, and fixed posts. They provide additional assistance to the overall Secret Service protective mission through special support programs such as the canine, magnetometer, and countersniper units.
The Secret Service has approximately 4,600 employees, including the Uniformed Division. The Service has field offices located throughout the continental U.S.; in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico; and liaison offices in Paris, France; London, England; Bonn, Germany; Rome, Italy; and Bangkok, Thailand.
The Service has more than 1,900 special agents who are rotated throughout their careers between investigative and protective assignments. Agents assigned to investigative duties in the Service's field offices also serve as a source of additional manpower for temporary protective details, such as those for candidates or visiting foreign dignitaries.
Numerous specialists in a wide variety of occupations contribute their expertise to the Secret Service's investigative and protective missions. They include security specialists, electronics engineers, communications technicians, research psychologists, computer experts, armorers, intelligence analysts, polygraph examiners, forensic experts, and professionals in many other fields.
Because of the magnitude of its responsibilities, the Secret Service relies heavily on the support of outside organizations and individuals. State, county, and local law enforcement organizations are valued partners of the Service in every phase of its investigative and protective operations.
Ordinary citizens also assist the Service in various ways: by learning about counterfeiting and forgery; by taking steps to protect themselves from these crimes; and by reporting any suspicious occurrences to their local police or Secret Service office. The support of all Americans helps the Secret Service succeed in its dual investigative and protective missions.