Most people are familiar with gentlemen wearing black suits and dark sunglasses who follow the President of the United States. They are regular stand-ins in most action movies, and their quiet but menacing watchfulness is hard to miss even in the briefest of new casts involving the President.
Even the name might lend an aura of mystique to the Secret Service and make some believe that it is a secret society assigned to the protection of the President from ages past. In reality, the Secret Service is a law enforcement agency of the Federal Government that, in addition to providing protection for the President of the United States and their families, also enforces laws relating to coins, obligations, and securities of the United States Government.
The Secret Service is actually the oldest branch of federal law enforcement in the United States. It was initially established in 1896 as a branch of the United States Treasury. Following the Civil War, counterfeiting of U.S. currency was a huge problem for the Federal Government. Up to half of all the currency in circulation in the years following the war is thought to have been fake.
To combat this problem, the Secret Service was created under the direction of the United States Secretary of Treasury. It was not until the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 that the Secret Service was authorized to protect the President under Title 18 of the United States Code 3056. The protection duties of the Secret Service not only fell to the President, but extended to the President’s family, as well as the Vice President, both Presidents elect and Vice Presidents elect, and any visiting foreign dignitaries.
In keeping with its original mission as the law enforcement arm of the United States Treasury, the Secret Service is authorized to arrest and detain anyone involved in the violation of laws concerning the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, Federal banks, as well as fraud involving the electronic transfer of funds, fraud involving credit and debits, and falsification of identification and related documents.
The law that authorizes the Secret Service also gives them authorization to carry firearms, and they are allowed to make arrests with or without warrants. When compared to the stereotype that many people have of the Secret Service, they actually have a very difficult job to do for which they must be extremely qualified. The process for selecting the Secret Service is rigorous, and the qualifications are high.
Besides the educational requirements, potential applicants to the Secret Service must be between the ages of 21 and 37, and they must be United States citizens with excellent vision, correctable to 20/20. Anyone applying for the Secret Service must be registered with Selective Service, and they must pass a medical exam in addition to a physical fitness test.
For a more detailed examination of a potential applicant’s knowledge for the position, the Federal Government administers a Treasury Agent Enforcement Test. To make the process even more selective, any potential applicant is required to have a top secret level security clearance which involves a polygraph test, a background check, a drug screening, and a series of very in depth interviews that serve as psychological evaluation.
The pay is considered pretty well for the Secret Service agent, with a range between $47,000 and $74,000 depending on qualifications. The Agency provides extra pay for knowledge of a foreign language, but this is of course tested. For anyone considering applying, the application process may be daunting, but the power and authority that the Secret Service is invested with is considerable, and the service they provide for the country is essential.
Gary Leonard writes for several education sites that offer homeland security online programs.