Homeland Security: The U.S. Secret Service

By CTU Faculty

This post is part of Colorado Technical University’s Homeland Security blog series in which Dr. Nadav Morag outlines areas within the field. From the government at federal, state and local levels, to the private sector, homeland security is a wide-ranging field. This week, he explores the Secret Service, an agency that does a lot more than protect the president.

CTU Homeland Security Degree - US Secret ServiceThe Secret Service is almost always associated in the public mind with the protection of the president of the United States. That, indeed, is the organization’s most public role. But the Service has a dual role, and a large and critical part of its function has to do with the protection of the national economy and financial infrastructure. The Secret Service is thus both a security/protection agency as well as a law-enforcement agency, and it sometimes suffers from a “split personality,” since many of its personnel spend part of their careers in the security/protection mission of the organization and other periods within the law-enforcement/investigative branch of the Service.

As part of its law-enforcement/investigative mission, the Secret Service is tasked with protecting the national financial infrastructure by combatting currency counterfeiting, financial and electronic crimes and identity theft. This was the original mission of the Service, which was established in April 1865 by President Lincoln and thus made part of the Department of the Treasury. The Service performs this function by offering its expertise on counterfeiting and financial and electronic crimes with other federal law-enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, as well as with state and local law-enforcement agencies conducting investigations in these areas. The Service also coordinates the activities of federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies as part of its Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTF). The Service also conducts its own independent investigations in these areas and, in particular, has direct jurisdiction over the counterfeiting of various U.S. obligations and securities (these include currency, treasury checks, food coupons and postage stamps). Finally, the Service also provides advice to the financial sector and other private-sector entities to help them combat electronic fraud and financial crimes.

While the Secret Service started out as an anti-counterfeiting agency, Congress added protection of the president to the organization’s mission in 1901, and since then, it has protected every American president. As part of its security/protection mission, the Secret Service also protects foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, the vice president and family members of the president and vice president. In addition, the Service provides security for presidential and vice presidential candidates, the president-elect and vice president-elect, former presidents (for a period of 10 years after they leave office) and other individuals designated by executive order of the president. Finally, the Service’s protection mission includes serving as the lead agency in running National Special Security Events (NSSE), which are events of major national or international significance. These can vary from the State of the Union address, to the Olympics, to NATO summits, to Democratic and Republican National Conventions. The Service also has a uniformed division that is responsible for security at the White House and other key sites.

Due to the importance of financial crimes in supporting the infrastructure of terrorism, and due to terrorism threats to the national government in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Service was brought under the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2003 and now serves as one of DHS’s constituent agencies. Others include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The Secret Service recruits three types of personnel: special agents, uniformed officers and support personnel (administrative, professional and technical). Special Agents constitute the core of the organization and serve as investigators and protective personnel (thus mirroring the Service’s two primary missions). Uniformed officers provide site protection and crime-scene investigations, and support personnel provide services in areas like administration, legal support, fingerprint analysis, information technology support and intelligence and psychological analysis.

Overall, the Secret Service serves a vital function in both its protective and investigative missions and serves alongside a variety of other federal law-enforcement agencies.

Image Credit: Flickr/Glyn Lowe Photoworks