What is the Secret Service?

The United States Secret Service was founded in July 1865 to combat the rampant counterfeiting of United States currency. Nearly half of all currency in circulation in 1865 was counterfeit, and William Wood was appointed the first director of the Secret Service, according to the Secret Service website. Since then, the organization’s mission has evolved.

Counterfeiting and Fraud

The Secret Service had to oversee the damaged and fragile economy of the United States after the Civil War. Reconstruction was a drain on the economy, and counterfeiters sought to profit from it. Worse, the Ku Klux Klan and other nefarious organizations sought to perpetrate frauds upon the government in an attempt to derail United States efforts. After the Compromise of 1877, Congress passed a law that made counterfeiting illegal. Five years later, the Secret Service was attached to the Department of the Treasury by act of Congress, and this pairing lasted until 2003.

Protection of the President

Before the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, the Secret Service’s protection of the president was informal. Thereafter, Congress requested that there be a full-time protective detail, which began operations in 1902. At that time, there were only two men assigned. During the next 11 years, the protective detail expanded both in size and scope. By 1913, the president-elect was receiving protection. Four years later, the protection was expanded to include presidential families.

The next great expansion of Secret Service powers and responsibilities came after the Kennedy assassination. It was the first time that a president’s widow and children received protection after his death. Shortly thereafter, it became a federal crime to attempt an assassination or even just to hint at it. Before that, murder was almost exclusively a state crime.

Other Duties

In the digital age, fraud and counterfeiting have moved into cyberspace. The Secret Service’s mission has expanded yet again. In 1995, the Secret Service created two new task forces dedicated to online crimes: the Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Financial Crimes Task Force. Since that time, when there was only one of each task force, the Secret Service has added several dozen more because of the spread of cyber crimes. Additionally, with the ease of laundering money on the Internet, these task forces work together, empowered by the Bank Secrecy Act, to crack down on organized crime, tax evasion, and other similar crimes, according to the Department of Treasury.

The Secret Service also helps other agencies by lending its powerful forensic capabilities to them. For example, they maintain a database of more than 12,000 ink types and also have the most extensive database in the world when it comes to handwriting analysis. They also process and analyze audio and video recordings and were pioneers in implementing facial-recognition software.

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The Secret Service has been an integral part of United States security and law enforcement for more than 150 years. From a mere two men to a world-spanning organization that is completely dedicated to the ideals of its parent country, it has protected citizens and society alike. All of the Presidents of the United States since Grover Cleveland have enjoyed its protection, full-time or otherwise, and the country, as a whole, is safer because of it.