What’s the Secret Service?

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The Secret Service, part of the US Department of the Treasury, protects government officials, visiting heads of state, and combats counterfeiting. Its role expanded after President McKinley’s assassination in 1901. The agency also investigates financial fraud and maintains a presence in international locations.

As part of the United States government’s Department of the Treasury, the Secret Service is often associated with the protection of current and past presidents, as well as members of the sitting president’s immediate families and former officials. In addition to providing protection to key government officials and their families, the agency is also frequently called upon to provide protective services to visiting heads of state, upcoming presidential candidates, and other protective posts as needed. It also plays a vital role in the task of limiting the activity of counterfeiters even within the country.

The origins of the Secret Service can be traced back to the period just after the American Civil War. At the time, much of the currency circulating across the nation was in fact counterfeit. On July 5, 1865, under the aegis of the Treasury Department, the agency was created with the task of eliminating the vast proliferation of counterfeiting operations within the country. By the mid-1870s, agents had greatly reduced counterfeit currency production within the nation, as well as created a framework that would help contain the threat of counterfeiting undermining the economy.

After President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, public outrage demanded that the government take steps to protect the lives of anyone who held the office of president. Congress charged the Secret Service with this task in 1906. Over time, the protection afforded by the Service was extended to family members and other persons important to government function. With these new duties, the agency’s ability to interact and function within state and local law enforcement jurisdictions has been greatly expanded.

At various times in the 20th century, the agency has been called upon to appoint agents to protect important documents, visiting heads of state, and important works of art that are brought into the United States for public display. Training as an agent is among the most intensive and comprehensive programs in existence, with only a small proportion of applicants accepted into the program and even fewer completing their training.

The Secret Service’s authority on financial matters in the United States has also expanded over the years. In the late 20th century, the agency was granted additional powers to investigate matters relating to cases of false identity, credit fraud, and fraud involving the use of bank debit cards. It was also granted the authority to investigate matters affecting all federally insured financial institutions, including savings and loan operations.

Today, the Secret Service maintains a presence in a number of locations throughout the United States as well as a number of liaison offices in international locations. Among some of the international sites where the facilities are located are famous cities such as Paris, London, Rome and Bangkok. With nearly 5,000 employees, the agency is made up of a pool of highly qualified experts in fields as diverse as psychology, forensics, security, electronic engineering, and communications.

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