The ongoing Secret Service “But in Cartagena, Hookers are Legal!” scandal has put massive and decidedly unwelcome attention on the normally furtive agency charged with guarding the President and other high-ranking federal officials. The decades-old image of inscrutable crew-cutted men in dark suits, sunglasses and earpieces ready to “take a bullet” for anyone they’ve been assigned to protect has morphed into one of inscrutable crew-cutted men in dark suits, sunglasses and earpieces slurping tequila out of some punta’s navel while their buddies perform naked cannon balls in the hotel hot tub.
Kinda like In the Line of Fire meets Girls Gone Wild.
As the scandal continues to expand – Have you ever seen a Washington scandal that didn’t? – let’s slip on our Ray-Bans, cinch our shoulder holsters and crack open a fresh bottle of Patron as we take a Friday Fun Facts look at the U.S. Secret Service!
The Secret Service was formed in 1865 , not to protect the President, but to fight counterfeiting. The Service was a division of the U.S. Treasury Department until 2003, at which time it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.
The Secret Service was not assigned to protect the President until 1902. Prior to that, Presidents had no formal protection at all, or were assigned military or Secret Service guards in response to specific threats.
Personal protection is only one of the modern Service’s many functions. In addition to fighting counterfeiting (which it still does), other responsibilities include investigating credit card fraud, fighting Internet-based crimes, and uniformed security services which it runs out of more than 100 field offices throughout the United States and a dozen-plus foreign countries.
The Secret Service employs more than 3,200 special agents, 1,300 Uniformed Division officers and more than 2,000 technical and other support personnel.
Former Presidents and First Ladies no longer get Secret Service protection for life. In fact, they only get to be shadowed by some inscrutable crew-cutted guy in a dark suit, sunglasses and earpiece for no more than 10 years after leaving office.
The only Secret Service agent to die protecting a President from a would-be assassin was Private Leslie Coffelt of the White House Police Force (now the Secret Service Uniformed Division). It happened in 1950. President Harry Truman was staying in the Blair-Lee House across the street from the White House, which was under renovation. Two Puerto Rican separatists attempted to enter Blair-Lee House and shoot Truman. Coffelt, who was manning the guard booth, was shot three times in the chest with a German 9 mm Luger. As the would-be assassins moved on to shoot at other uniformed guards, the mortally wounded Coffelt staggered from his booth and managed to shoot one of the separatists in the head, killing him instantly. Coffelt himself died in the hospital four hours later.
But Coffelt wasn’t the only Secret Service agent to die in the line of duty. In 1902, Special Agent William Craig was killed protecting President Theodore Roosevelt when the open-air carriage in which they were riding was struck by a speeding trolley car. This is called “taking a trolley car for the President.”
The Secret Service is famous for its use of codenames for those it protects. Samples include:
- EAGLE = Bill Clinton
- LANCER = John F. Kennedy
- RAWHIDE = Ronald Reagan
- SEARCHLIGHT = Richard M. Nixon
- TIMBERWOLF = George H. W. Bush
- DEACON = Jimmy Carter
- RENEGADE = Barack Obama
- TUMBLER = George W. Bush
Movies featuring the U.S. Secret Service include:
- IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993)
- ABSOLUTE POWER (1997)
- GUARDING TESS (1994)
- MURDER AT 1600 (1997)
- TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA (1985)
- THE SENTINEL (2006)
- VANTAGE POINT (2008)
There were also two movies about hapless Secret Service agents trying to supervise a wild teenage Presidential daughter: FIRST DAUGHTER starring Katie Holmes and CHASING LIBERTY starring Mandy Moore. Both were released in 2004.
Have a great weekend!