Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Evolving Role of the US Secret Service

The United States Secret Service has been in existence since 1865 and has an annual budget broadly similar to that of FÁS - $1.57 million and a staff of 3.200 personnel. It has two functions – ‘criminal investigation’ and ‘protection’. Almost $800 million of this is spent directly on protection.

The catalyst for setting up the US SS was a need to combat currency counterfeiting. This had become a real problem throughout the Civil War when between ⅓ and ½ of all US currency in circulation was counterfeit and this continued to be its only function until 1894 when it function evolved to include protection and the investigation of the Ku Klux Klan and counter-espionage during World War I.

The US SS today investigates counterfeiting and financial crimes involving identity theft, credit card fraud, counterfeiting, computer-based fraud and attacks on the US financial, banking and telecommunications infrastructure. The protection mission covers the President, Vice President, former Presidents and candidates for President, visiting dignitaries and the families of the Head of State and Vice President.

The protection role began in 1894 with the protection of President Grover Cleveland on a part-time basis. President McKinley received protection during the Spanish-American War and there were three agents present when he was assassinated in Buffalo. The transfer of several agents in 1908 to the Department of Justice served as the foundation team in the establishment of the FBI. A 1917 Act made it a crime to threaten a President. The White House Police force was created in 1922 to secure and patrol the Executive Mansion. The protection of the President role was further enhanced in the 1950’s and in 1965 this was upgraded to include ‘permanent protection’. Following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Jacqui Kennedy and her children were protected for two years and now Presidents and their spouse are protected for the duration of their lives and, in the case of their children – until they are 16 years old. Diplomatic missions now come within the remit of the US SS.

President Woodrow Wilson introduced the espionage mandate in 1915 and in 1948 the US SS was directed to investigate crimes against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, federal land banks, and various farm loan associations. Nowadays it investigates a wide range of crimes against financial institutions, telemarketing and identity theft used in committing these crimes.

The post 11 September 2001 environment in the US has extended the US SS mandate to cover terrorist financing and financial crimes, including money laundering, counterfeiting and other offences that threaten the integrity of the banking and financial systems.

Presidential safety is an enduring concern that began in 1861 with fears for the safety of Abraham Lincoln on his journey from Illinois to his inauguration in Washington DC. More recently, there have been security breaches at White House dinners in November 2009 when two gate-crashers were discovered.

Ten Presidents have been victims of direct assault by assassins with four resulting in death. But only one death has occurred since the US SS began protecting Presidents in 1906.

The direct assault on Presidents protected by the Secret Service included:

Date President Location Assailant
1 Nov 1950 Harry S Truman Washington DC Oscar Collazo and Griseillo Torressola, advocates of Puerto Rican independence.
22 Nov 1963 John F Kennedy Dallas TX Lee Harvey Oswald
5 Sep 1975 Gerald Ford Sacramento CA Lynette Alice Fromme
22 Sep 1975 Gerald Ford San Francisco CA Sara Jane Moore
30 Mar 1981 Ronald Reagan Washington DC John Hinkley Jr
29 Oct 1994 Bill Clinton Washington DC Francesco Duran
10 May 2005 George Bush Tiblisi, Georgia Vladimir Arutyunian

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