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10 Interesting Things You Never Knew About the Secret Service

The Secret Service, officially known as The United States Secret Service (USSS), has been around for more than 150 years. And all this time, the agents here have been considered more than just bodyguards.

Many high-profile public figures and celebrities have bodyguards, but when it comes to security and protection, nobody does it better than the Secret Service. Keeping the President of the United States safe requires specific cautionary measures and a level of vigilance that is in another league entirely.

This is a job that the Secret Service definitely takes very seriously. But things sometimes happen, both funny and tragic. Here are 10 interesting things about the Secret Service that may surprise you!

Lincoln assassination
unattributed; based on the depiction from a mechanical glass slide by T. M. McAllister of New York, c1865-75Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1. The Secret Service Was Founded on the Same Day President Lincoln Was Assassinated

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth. If Lincoln had been protected by highly trained professionals, he might have had better luck and survived. While he couldn’t benefit from such a service, the former president did pave the way by authorizing the legislation that would lead to the founding of the Secret Service.

This said, on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law as one of his final official moves as president. And here’s the interesting thing. The Secret Service was originally founded as a subdivision of the US Treasury Department, meant to fight against rampant counterfeiting following the Civil War.

It wasn’t until the assassination of former President William McKinley in 1901 that the Secret Service agents were responsible for providing protection for presidents.

2. What’s it Like To Be a Secret Service Special Agent?

As Gerard Butler, Channing Tatum, Clint Eastwood, and many other Hollywood guys have shown, you can’t mess with a Secret Service special agent. They are truly willing to take a bullet to save the lives of others.

So being one of them isn’t all that exciting all the time. According to the former agent Johnathan Wackrow, “The best way to describe the job of a Secret Service agent is a prolonged period of monotony only broken up by moments of complete terror.” Wackrow was part of the security detail for 14 years, with more than four years protecting then-President Barack Obama.

The USSS saved former President Ronald Reagan during an assassination attempt in 1981. They helped Jackie get back into the convertible when Kennedy was shot in 1963. They rushed Trump off the stage when someone in the crowd yelled “gun” during a rally in 2016.

Here’s another point of view shared by Lt. Christopher Fagan: “The USSS has a zero-fail mission. In layman’s terms, this would mean that you don’t get a bad day in the security detail. But if you do, and you don’t do your job properly, you’re going to change the world. But not for the better.”

3. Secret Service Agents Posed As Students To Protect Chelsea Clinton

It sounds funny, and some may even say that this only happens in the movies, but plain-clothed special agents posed as normal students to have Chelsea Clinton under constant surveillance during her four years at Standford University.

Her dorm was equipped with bulletproof windows, while her secret code name was “Energy.” Whilst Chelsea had her own room, she shared a dormitory with two agents. According to inside information, she was allowed to have a normal social life as long as the Secret Service knew of her plans in advance.

It’s also reported that her security detail had a nondescript Jeep, dressed casually, and kept watch from a distance.

the secret service
Photo by DavidCarpio from Shutterstock

4. It’s Still a Dude’s World

In 1971, Phyllis Shantz, Holly Hufschmidt, Laurie Anderson, Kathryn Clark, and Sue Baker became the first five female special agents. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the first woman — Julia A. Pierson — was designated to lead the agency. On March 27th, 2013, she became the 23rd director of the Secret Service.

However, women make up less than a quarter of the agency’s staff of over 7,000 special agents. The USSS insists, though, that it’s trying.

According to a spokesperson, “About 24% of Secret Service employees are women. The agency is actively and continually recruiting to promote a diverse mix of employees. Participating in career fairs, hosting information sessions, and visiting colleges are all part of these efforts.”

5. They Gave Birth to the FBI

At the start of the 20th century, the idea of a federal enforcement agency was regarded as controversial. However, the rise of interstate communication, transportation, and commerce was forcing the issue.

In the past, when the Department of Justice needed to start an investigation at a national level, they would borrow special agents from the USSS, who were both highly trained and dedicated. There was a problem, though. The security detail reported to their own director and not to the attorney general (who obviously wanted to have more control over such investigations).

That’s how in 1908, as a consequence of Congressional constant intervention, the attorney general hired nine Secret Service agents naming them “special agents of the Justice Department.”

These guys would form the Bureau of Investigation, which would later be called the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

6. It’s Not That Easy To Become a Special Agent

It’s been reported that only one in every 100 applicants makes its way into special agent training, and many of them are out once they start the courses at the James J. Rowley Training Center.

All trainees undergo a six-month training program after they are thoroughly evaluated. They are also given a polygraph. They undergo extensive firearms training, hand-to-hand combat training, driver’s training (they learn things like evasive maneuvering), and basic federal law enforcement training.

Those who make it that far spend between three and five years in a field office (abroad or at home). And only then may there be a chance for them to move to the next phase of their career, which is serving in a protective division assignment. The best are sent to the Presidential Protective Division (PPD), where they usually serve a minimum of six years.

7. Only One Secret Service Agent Has Died While Protecting The President

During his presidency, Harry S. Truman moved into Blair House, a building located across from the White House, while his official residence was being renovated. On November 1st, 1950, officer Leslie William Coffelt, a White House police officer, was standing guard outside the building when two Puerto Rican activists approached and opened fire.

During the attack, several officers were harmed, but Coffelt was the only one who died from his injuries. He fatally shot one of the suspects, while the other was caught and incarcerated, only to be exonerated 27 years later in 1979. He was deported to Puerto Rico and died there in 1994.

double eagle coin
US Mint (coin), National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

8. The Secret Service Has Been Chasing A Rare Coin For Over 60 Years

At the end of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt hired famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design a new gold coin. It features an American eagle and was inspired by an ancient Greek coin. The new gold coin was worth $20. However, nearly a century later, one of these has a face value of $7–$10 million.

By the time Roosevelt became president in 1933, the government had given up on the gold standard, and around 445,000 double eagle coins were withdrawn from circulation and melted into gold bars.

The coins designed by Saint-Gaudens were never lawfully released. However, in 1944, the Secret Service discovered that some of them did slip into public circulation. Since then, the security details have been trying to find as many of these coins as possible.

9. They’re at the Super Bowl Even if the President Isn’t

At a time when terrorism is an ever-present national threat, huge events like the Super Bowl, where thousands of people gather, pose a pretty significant potential risk as a terrorist target.

In 1998, former president Bill Clinton instituted the National Special Security Event measures to help federal agencies fight against terrorist attacks on such events as the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl.

Following 9/11, President George W. Bush reviewed the procedures, and since then, the Secret Service has been calling in to conduct background checks on all vendors, performers, and personnel.

The special agents also carry out extensive counterterrorism security procedures to keep the event free of terrorist disasters.

10. That Guy in a Cap May Not Actually Be Listening to Music in His Headphones

The image of a Secret Service special agent wearing a black suit and sunglasses, with a finger on a coiled-wire earpiece, isn’t quite accurate. In reality, agents usually dress for the occasion. Sometimes it’s a tuxedo or a suit, but the jeans-and-jacket combination is just as common.

The earpiece itself varies from the coiled-wire type seen in movies to one that looks like iPod earbuds. When it comes to sunglasses, they aren’t worn, so the would-be assassins cannot see where agents are looking. Or that’s at least what the Secret Service claims: they are worn for the same reasons everyone else does: to protect their eyes from the sun.

You may also want to read John F. Kennedy: 6 Incredible Facts Few People Know.


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