The United States Secret Service was founded in 1865 as a branch of the United States Treasury to investigate and prosecute crimes related to counterfeiting of American currency. In the mid-1800s, it was estimated that up to 30% of the currency in circulation may have actually been counterfeit. The need for an investigative body to safeguard the American economy was vital. This mission comes as a surprise to many Americans, who associate the law enforcement organization with the protection of the President of the United States.
In fact, the Secret Service performs two vital missions: safeguarding of the integrity of American currency and providing protection for the president, his or her family, and visiting dignitaries. In 2003, as part of the general reorganization of Federal law enforcement under the Homeland Security Act, the Secret Service was incorporated in the Department of Homeland Security. As part of its mission, it cooperates with numerous other federal agencies, although the workings of the department itself are generally obscured so that it can operate more effectively.
5,000 people are employed by the Secret Service in a variety of positions. Many employees are highly educated in addition to being well trained. As part of the anti-counterfeiting work of the agency, forensic document examiners, economics professionals, and others work together to safeguard the United States Treasury. In addition to the counterfeiting of hard currency, the Secret Service also investigates securities fraud, financial fraud in general, money laundering, and electronic fraud.
In 1902, the Secret Service also took up protection duties for the president. The protection arm employs intelligence professionals, bodyguards, and general law enforcement personnel who are expected to act quickly and professionally in a variety of situations. The agency protects current presidents and their close families, and also offers protection to former presidents, the president-elect, and high profile visiting officials. In some instances, Secret Service protection may also be extended to high profile officials such as candidates for the office of the president who have received credible threats to their lives.
Like any law enforcement agency, the Secret Service is not foolproof, but it is highly effective. Several public assassination attempts have been foiled by the actions of these officers, and countless other plots have been uncovered and stopped. Agents can be found in field offices in all 50 states as well as abroad, and generally dress and behave so that they blend into their environments. Employment with the organization requires an extensive background check, along with a willingness to lead a fast paced and sometimes highly stressful life.