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  • The US President stands at his presidential podium, giving what could possibly be the

  • speech of his career to a massive crowd of assembled reporters and supporters.

  • It's a rousing speech, one that would touch the hearts of millions and inspire generations

  • to come.

  • But not everyone was just here to listen.

  • Out in the crowd, a man in a long coat is hiding a revolver in his pocket.

  • He intends on accomplishing something that hasn't been done successfully since the

  • death of John F. Kennedy: The assassination of a US President.

  • He waits as the speech drones on.

  • All eyes are on the President.

  • Then, he chooses his moment, and begins to push through the crowd in front of him.

  • He wants a clear shot.

  • When he's at the front of the crowd, he pulls his weapon out of his coat, and draws

  • a bead on the man behind the podium.

  • The air is suddenly filled with shocked and terrified gasps.

  • A gunshot rings out, but it isn't from the would-be assassin's gun.

  • An eagle-eyed secret service agent had noticed what had been going on from the start.

  • He saw the telltale signs - the shiftiness, the sudden panic, the man reaching into his

  • coat.

  • He'd neutralised the threat with one well-placed shot from his standard issue Glock 19 9mm

  • pistol - a 2019 replacement for the Sig Sauer that'd been a secret service mainstay since

  • 1998.

  • Agents already positioned among the crowd apprehend the injured suspect, while others

  • escort the president off the stage and into a secure location.

  • Certainly a scary situation for all involved, but thanks to the hard work and expertise

  • of the secret service, there were no fatalities.

  • The US Presidency is one of the most powerful global political positions.

  • Due to America's prominence on the world stage, the US President is sometimes even

  • nicknamedThe Leader of the Free World.”

  • A presidential order can save lives or start wars, and a single presidential tweet can

  • collapse a stock market.

  • Because of the United States' power, its partisan division, and its long history of

  • questionable foreign policy decisions, you don't become the president without making

  • a lot of enemies - some of which would really, really like to see you compromised, captured,

  • held hostage, or even worse, killed.

  • It's the sworn duty of the secret service to protect the US President and those around

  • him at any cost, up to and including their own lives.

  • And as it turns out, the secret service have been around for an incredibly long time, with

  • over 150 years of history at their backs.

  • But a lot has changed in the last century and a half, and no organization can stick

  • around that long unless it changes with the times.

  • That's what we're looking at today - The Evolution of the Secret Service, an exploration

  • into what made them the iconic group they are today.

  • Our tale begins all the way back in 1865.

  • It was April 14th, a mere few days after the conclusion of the civil war, and President

  • Lincoln was performing one of his final official acts as president before his own assassination

  • by John Wilkes Booth later that very night.

  • He signed the decree that would first bring the Secret Service into existence.

  • You may be thinking, “Pretty ironic that he'd create the secret service and then

  • be assassinated immediately afterwards”, but protecting the President wasn't actually

  • the Secret Service's primary directive.

  • You see, in the post-Civil War era, the United States had some big problems.

  • Among these was rampant counterfeiting.

  • These days, bills are built with a number of complex systems in mind to prevent counterfeiting,

  • but back in those days, no such technology existed.

  • As a result, it became a popular and profitable crime.

  • By the end of the Civil War, it's estimated that one third to even half of the currency

  • in circulation in the US was counterfeit, and it was becoming a major threat to the

  • financial stability of the country.

  • These bands of self-interested criminals were coming closer to ruining the Union than even

  • the Confederacy itself.

  • The government needed a new task force specifically to deal with the counterfeiting threat, and

  • so the secret service was born, at first a subsidiary of the Treasury Department.

  • They proved to be effective at this task, and as a result, two years later in 1867,

  • they had their purview expanded to chase down anyone who perpetrated fraud against the US

  • government.

  • But of course, their power and reach was still somewhat limited in the 1800s.

  • Congress was terrified of the looming possibility of centralisation, and they wanted to give

  • power to the states rather than consolidating it to the federal government.

  • But of course, things couldn't stay that way forever.

  • While the secret service was making life harder for counterfeiters and fraudsters, in 1881,

  • tragedy struck once again, and President James A. Garfield was assassinated.

  • This was the second US presidential assassination in 20 years, and it was starting to make the

  • country look bad.

  • Suddenly, congress started drafting some informal measures on tightening presidential security

  • and devoting a branch of law enforcement specifically to protect the president, but this was still

  • considered a much morepart timeaffair than a permanent shift for the secret service.

  • There were still plenty of fake bills to hunt down.

  • In 1894, the Secret Service began the on-and-off duty of protecting then-President Grover Cleveland,

  • and they were effective in thwarting any attempts on his life.

  • It was during this period that the secret service built up their reputation for being

  • avid protectors of the highest seat of federal power, and this would serve them well with

  • what would happen not long after: The assassination of President Cleveland's successor, William

  • McKinley, in 1901.

  • While McKinley's murder at the hands of assassin Leon Czolgosz was the inciting incident,

  • the factors that led up to this change had been brewing for around thirty years at this

  • point.

  • First of all, the United States had evolved from a newly independent country, to a survivor

  • of civil war, to a major imperial power on the world stage.

  • They had appearances to keep up, and showing weakness while in such a position of power

  • could be incredibly dangerous.

  • Three presidents assassinated in a 36 year period was not a good look for the US - it

  • screamed disorder, incompetence, and worst of all, chaos.

  • Speaking of chaos, the other major factor in the secret service becoming a centralised

  • law enforcement agency was the rise in anarchist attacks on the Union since the 1870s.

  • The Chicago Haymarket Riot in 1886 was a particularly sobering reminder, and fears of violent insurgency

  • led to many members of the public and the government feeling unsafe.

  • Something clearly needed to be done - the US seemed to be facing a national security

  • threat that was greater than the desire for state sovereignty.

  • In the words of McKinley's iconic successor, Theodore Roosevelt, “When compared with

  • the suppression of anarchy, every other question sinks into insignificance.”

  • Coupled with the growing fear of foreign threats, this was finally enough to make congress enshrine

  • the secret service with the duty of permanent presidential protection.

  • President Roosevelt was also a strong believer in centralisation, coming from the perspective

  • that more could be achieved with a truly united America, and this served as a major push behind

  • the secret service's new responsibilities.

  • However, despite recognising the importance of the secret service as an institution, Roosevelt

  • wasn't actually a huge fan of them on a personal level.

  • Roosevelt was once quoted as saying that the secret service was a, “very small but very

  • necessary thorn in the flesh”, an archaic term for an inconvenience.

  • This is likely because Roosevelt was pretty much the perfect example of a rugged, manly

  • outdoorsman, and probably frowned on the idea of needing protection.

  • In fact, Roosevelt was once shot during a speech by an attempted assassin, and yet persevered,

  • finishing the speech before seeking medical attention.

  • But this wasn't the end of the secret service's evolution as an organisation.

  • There are a few key dates in the 20th century that show important changes.

  • In 1930, the secret service took over the White House Police Force, and seven years

  • later, they took over the Treasury Police Force.

  • This all makes sense, seeing as - when you want to run a tight ship and prevent everything

  • from espionage to assassination - it's beneficial to keep everything under the control of a

  • single, centralised group.

  • The secret service would later run into a predicament with President John F. Kennedy.

  • Much like Roosevelt, Kennedy didn't like the idea of having the secret service surrounding

  • him constantly.

  • Their cautious security protocols would keep him boxed in, and prevent him from cultivating

  • hisman of the peopleimage.

  • Kennedy liked to shake hands and wave to his citizens from topless convertibles in motorcades,

  • courses of action that the secret service advised against.

  • Of course, this difference of opinion would later have fatal results, with the assassination

  • of President Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

  • Nearly a decade later, in 1971, the secret service swore in its first five female agents.

  • After the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the passing of the controversial Patriot Act, the secret

  • service was also tasked with managing a national network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces in

  • order to clamp down on perceived cyber threats to US national security.

  • In 2003, the parent department of the secret service also shifted - they now worked under

  • the department of Homeland Security rather than the Treasury Department.

  • In 2013, President Obama - himself a historic figure as the first Black US President - made

  • history by appointing Julia Pierson, the first female head of the secret service.

  • However, this appointment was sadly short lived.

  • In 2014, there were a number of severe presidential security breaches, including an armed man

  • climbing over the White House fence and breaching the Executive Mansion.

  • This led to Julia Pierson resigning from her position.

  • Views on the secret service can be complex.

  • While they have been undeniably useful in thwarting assassination attempts, including

  • a plot to murder President Obama, they've had some vocal critics in their time.

  • Iconic World War II war hero, General Patton, described them as “a bunch of cheap detectives,

  • always smelling of drink.”

  • The Secret Service themselves have even at times gone by the unflattering self-given

  • nicknamebabysitters with guns.”

  • But given that there's only been one successful presidential assassination since they started

  • doing their work - compared to three before - It's safe to say that they're doing

  • at least something right.

  • So, we've already discussed how the secret service went from counterfeiting cops to presidential

  • protectors, but who exactly does their protection mandate cover?

  • The President and the Vice President are obvious top priorities, but they also cover their

  • immediate families; former presidents, spouses and minor children under age 16; major presidential

  • and vice presidential candidates and their spouses; and foreign heads of state and their

  • spouses when they're visiting the U.S.

  • But it doesn't just stop there.

  • The secret service are also responsible for protecting so calledNational Security

  • Events” - typically extremely high profile events that would be attractive targets to

  • insurgents looking to make a violent point to a large audience.

  • One prominent example is the Super Bowl, one of the most popular United States sporting

  • events.

  • In these cases, the secret service will be given full control over the security of the

  • event, and coordinate with local law enforcement to ensure safety for all involved.

  • And there you have it: the 150 year journey of the secret service.

  • Next time you see one of these silent, suit-wearing bodyguards, complete with shades, sidearms,

  • and earpieces, you'll know more about them than you ever did before.

  • And in case you were wondering, despite their evolution, they still stay true to their roots

  • even today.

  • The secret service collaborates with 46 Financial Crimes Task Forces, and they're still the

  • nation's leading law enforcement agency in the fight against counterfeiting.

  • After all, you've gotta respect the classics.

  • Now check outHow do they Actually Print Counterfeit Money?”

  • AndDay in the Life of a Secret Service Agentto uncover some secrets of your own!

The US President stands at his presidential podium, giving what could possibly be the

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The Evolution of the United States Secret Service

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/02
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