Most of us are aware of the existence of the Secret Service—the government agency best known for providing security detail for the President of the United States. For that reason, it may seem silly to call it a “secret” when it’s so well-publicized.
Yet, in reality, there are decades’ worth of secrets hidden amongst its history. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes at the Secret Service that the average citizen doesn’t know. After reading these facts, you’ll understand why the organization’s title is actually pretty fitting…
1. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the same day that he founded the Secret Service: This certainly seems like a bit of cruel irony, though the Secret Service wasn’t created to protect the president. It took another 36 years before Congress added that to the agency’s duties!
2. The Secret Service was originally responsible for preventing counterfeit currency: The agency was initially part of the Treasury Department, largely because as much as one third of American currency following the Civil War was counterfeit.
3. The Secret Service paved the way for the FBI: In 1908, among the first crop of “Bureau of Investigation” (as the FBI was originally known) recruits, were nine agents who had simply been pulled directly from the Secret Service.
4. The Secret Service isn’t only located in Washington D.C.: In fact, every state has its own Secret Service field office (there are nine in California alone). The Secret Service is located in territories like Puerto Rico and Guam, as well as a few foreign nations, such as Russia, too.
5. Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to keep his disability a secret for years thanks to the Secret Service: Polio caused him to spend his terms in a wheelchair, but he didn’t want the world to view him differently because of it. Unseen to the public, agents went to great lengths to abide by this request, even going so far as to destroy paparazzi cameras.
6. Presidents have kept affairs under wraps thanks to the aid of the Secret Service: The fact that some presidents had mistresses has been an open secret for decades. They remained “secret” for so long, however, because agents were so skilled in sneaking these women in and out of the White House undetected.
Cecil W. Stoughton / Wikimedia Commons
7. The current president isn’t the only one protected by the Secret Service: Protection covers former presidents and their families (especially including children of former presidents who are under 16 years old), and foreign heads of state visiting the United States.
8. Agents can track the President’s movements thanks to pressure pads under the carpet: Even when they’re standing outside the Oval Office, the Secret Service still knows exactly where the President is at all times thanks to this technology!
Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons
9. The Secret Service once allowed an armed man in an elevator with President Obama: Though the Secret Service eventually removed the man from the elevator, he still managed to spend several minutes with the President before they discovered he was carrying a weapon.
10. Nobody within the Secret Service’s ranks has ever betrayed the organization: The FBI, CIA, and even the NSA have all been infiltrated by foreign spies at various points over the years, but—as far as we know—no such thing has ever happened to the President’s security detail.
11. A car that once belonged to Al Capone was repurposed for Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Secret Service: World War II took a toll on the nation’s finances, so when the Secret Service needed a new armored car, they temporarily used one they’d acquired from the notorious gangster.
12. The Secret Service has their own “backup” Air Force One: In case there’s a major problem that requires a different course of action, a similar plane to Air Force One can drop off the president in secret locations that only the Secret Service knows about.
13. The Secret Service’s forensics team is extremely advanced: In particular, the agency claims the biggest ink library on the planet! That, combined with their high-tech audiovisual technology, has helped them fight all sorts of crimes.
14. It wasn’t illegal to threaten the President of the United States until 1917: That same year, it also became illegal to threaten the President’s family, and the same for the Vice President. Then, in 1922, President Warren G. Harding established a special police force that would protect the whole White House; it was eventually folded into the Secret Service.
connormah / Wikimedia
15. They don’t wear sunglasses for the reasons you think: Rumor has it that Secret Service agents cover their eyes to ensure that potential shooters can’t tell where they’re looking. In reality, they’re just trying to protect their eyes from the sun like the rest of us!
16. Before the President arrives at a hotel, it needs to be thoroughly examined: Even if someone is determined to be a threat to important diplomats in the vaguest way possible, they’d be asked not to work at the hotel during the President’s stay.
U.S Department of State / Wikimedia Commons
17. President Ronald Reagan played Secret Service agents four times during his film career: Plenty of famous actors have played agents, including Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, and Clint Eastwood, but only one of them would someday be protected by those agents as a real-life president!
18. Only one Secret Service agent in history has died trying to save the President’s life: During an attack against President Truman by two Puerto Rican nationalists in 1950, three agents were shot, including Private Leslie Coffelt.
AaronY / Wikimedia Commons
19. Secret Service wards pick their code names: The president and his family members choose their own code names, and they share the same first letter, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Renaissance” to her husband’s “Renegade.” Other code names have included “Tumbler” (George W. Bush), “Lancer” (John F. Kennedy), and “Searchlight” (Richard Nixon).
20. The Secret Service has foiled four different assassination attempts since John F. Kennedy’s assassination: The first was George Wallace, who at the time was running for President while serving as governor of Alabama. Then, there were two assassination attempts against Gerald Ford, and finally one against Ronald Reagan.
21. There is an “Electronic Crimes Task Force” to study cases of hacking: This may be a relatively recent addition to the Secret Service’s usual purview, but hacking poses a very real threat to the government, so it’s only natural that the Secret Service would have its own experts.
22. A great deal of people have been targeted by the Secret Service for fraud: The agency has its own special “most wanted” list for these kinds of crimes, including one suspect who is believed to have used stolen identities to pilfer over $21 million!
U.S. Secret Service / Wikimedia Commons
23. A sex scandal in Columbia spelled trouble for some Secret Service agents: One of the more bizarre events of the agency’s history occurred in 2012 when a Columbian prostitute said that she’d been offered access to sensitive information in exchange for her services!
24. Secret Service agents have been known to cut loose, too: Agents attending a retirement party for one of their own nearly lost their lives when they got too close to a suspected bomb… while driving drunk.
25. It’s sometimes up to the Secret Service to protect people with adversarial relationships with the United States: Despite the fact that people like former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are considered by some to be enemies of the U.S., that doesn’t change the agency’s responsibility to protect them when they visit.
Daniella Zalcman / Wikimedia Commons
26. A life in the Secret Service means sacrificing much of your personal life: Considering the fact that the agency requires long, often inconvenient hours, it should come as little surprise that agents’ home lives are often difficult. Thus, the divorce rate among members is high.
Cordell and Cordell / Flickr
27. Lyndon B. Johnson was known for being cruel to his agents: President Johnson was reputedly quite abrasive to staff members in a number of ways, but in one instance, he asked an agent to protect him as he used the bathroom—before urinating on the man’s leg. “That’s all right, son,” he allegedly said. “It’s my prerogative.”
Yoichi Okamoto / Wikimedia Commons / YouTube
28. The presidential motorcade has a “death car”: It might sound like something out of a Mad Max movie, but sadly, it’s real. The origin of this vehicle lies in JFK’s assassination, when lack of proper footage made it difficult to crack the case. Today, the death car constantly films the rear of the President’s car, just in case…
29. Secret Service agents don’t always wear suits: While they’ll almost carry firearms or some other kind of weapon, agents sometimes dress differently for different occasions, even if that just means a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
30. Secret Service agents watched over George W. Bush’s daughters while they went out partying: Twins Barbara and Jenna Bush once used fake IDs to get into a number of bars in Austin, Texas. Before they were arrested, the Secret Service removed them.
31. In 2012, the Secret Service failed to stop an intruder who jumped over the White House fence: The intruder, who had left his family a suicide note, was stopped and detained—but not until after he made it inside the White House!
Nnimow / Wikimedia Commons
32. There are three distinct phases to the career of a Secret Service agent: The first six to eight years of an agent’s tenure are spent in an office. Then, they spend four to seven years on protective detail, before spending the rest of their career back in a field office or transferred to headquarters.
33. The Presidential car is named “The Beast”: This customized Cadillac has enough protective measures, communication devices, and other defensive modifications to make the Batmobile blush. Apparently, it’s all necessary to keep the President safe!
34. Secret Service agents used to let Jackie Kennedy bum cigarettes off of them: Preferring to keep her smoking habit a secret, First Lady Kennedy usually took cigarettes from an agent named Clint Hill, who was frequently her driver and was even in the car with her when her husband was assassinated.
One of the most amazing things about the Secret Service is that there’s still so much more to learn about the agency. Who knows what other “secrets” they have?
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