Although the United States Secret Service is best known today for the agency’s work in protecting the President, it didn’t start out that way. When the agency was established in 1865, the original responsibility of the Secret Service was to address the major problem of counterfeiting of U.S. currency. Although the agency’s responsibilities quickly expanded into investigations of fraud within the first couple of years, it remained part of the federal Department of Treasury until 2003, when it was integrated into the Department of Homeland Security. Today, the Secret Service has many responsibilities that generally fall into two types of missions: protection and investigation.
Not until almost three decades after the Secret Service was founded did it begin to branch out into the role of protecting the President. Even then, in 1894, this protection of President Grover Cleveland was informal and done only part-time. Only in 1901, after President William McKinley was assassinated, did Congress task the Secret Service with full-time protection of the President. The Secret Service took up this mantle in 1902, and this protective service was officially funded by the Sundry Civil Expenses Act for 1907.
In a little over a century, the protective responsibilities of the Secret Service have increased considerably. Today, the agency is responsible for protecting the current President and Vice President of the United States and their families, as well as former Presidents, their spouses and their children under age 16. Because the Secret Service provides lifetime protection to former Presidents of the United States and their spouses, these individuals are known as “permanent” protectees and have a permanent security detail.
Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates and their spouses are also protectees of the Secret Service, as are visiting foreign heads of state. Unlike permanent protectees, these individuals will not need a security detail indefinitely. The visiting heads of state will return home, and candidates will lose elections. As a result, they are assigned temporary protection in the form of special agents sent from the Secret Service’s more than 100 field offices across the United States and its territories.
In addition to protecting people, the Secret Service plans the security of all events that are designated as National Special Security Events, which include Presidential Inaugurations, State of the Union Addresses, funerals of former Presidents and Super Bowl games.
You might assume that the only investigative duties the Secret Service has are those related to threats against the safety of the President of the United States or against other individuals under the agency’s protection. In fact, the Secret Service’s modern investigative missions are varied. While the agency still investigates counterfeiting, it also plays a part in investigating crimes that attack finance, banking and cyber infrastructure.
Financial cybercrime is a major focus of the Secret Service. The agency investigates such diverse matters as credit and debit card access device fraud, identity theft, ATM cashout attacks, compromises to the security of retail checkout systems or business email accounts and crimes involving cryptocurrency. To address these varied types of cybercrime, the Secret Service has established numerous specialized programs and divisions, including the National Computer Forensics Institute, the Network Intrusion Forensic Analyst Program, the Electronic Crimes Task Force and, at the University of Tulsa, the .S. Secret Service Mobile Device Forensic Facility. The Secret Service also partners with outside government agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), nonprofit organizations like the National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance and private-sector organizations as needed to address matters of cybercrime.
Not all of the Secret Service’s investigative missions revolve around digital forensics and cybercrime. In the agency’s forensics lab, it uses a variety of high-tech and low-tech tactics to investigate crimes. The lab is home to the Forensic Information System for Handwriting, as well as the International Ink Library, the largest ink library of its kind, where 12,000 ink samples reside for use in investigations. In the Secret Service forensics lab, professional specialists analyze latent fingerprints, interpret the results of polygraph tests, use 3D modeling and simulation software and so much more in their efforts to investigate crimes of different natures.
The forensics laboratory of the Secret Service is so advanced that, since 1994, the agency has also been responsible for lending assistance to government agencies at the local, state and national levels concerning matters that involve missing children.