The U.S Secret service (USSS)

A federal agent authorized to work with state officials and carry out criminal investigations is the U.S. Secret Service (USSS). The agency, which has its main headquarters in Washington, D.C., has more than 150 offices both inside and outside the US. Criminal inquiry and investigation are the two main goals of USSS (Harlow, R. (2011). Investigating money crimes, forgery, cyberattacks, and identity theft are all included in the former. The president, vice president, members of their families, international guests, the White House, and the vice president's residence are all protected. The USSS is also in charge of protecting National Special Security Events like national conventions, international conferences conducted in the US, and inaugurations of presidents. Since 1865, USS has developed into a federal agency with statutory authority to protect federal officials and conduct criminal investigations. For example, in 2002, the congress moved the USSS to the department of Homeland security. While current USSS has been established with improved organisational structure, there is need to redress employee’s discipline and threatening statements made by mental patients under treatment so as to effectively carry out criminal investigations and protection functions.

Structure and function of Secret Service

Structure of Secret Service

The US Secret Service is structured into administrative function and criminal investigation and protection function led by Chief operating officer and Deputy Director respectively. In the article, U.S. Secret Service: Selected Issues and Executive and Congressional Responses. Congressional Research service. Reece notes that the staffs are composed of special agents, administrator’s professionals, uniformed division law enforcement and technical staff (Reece, 2017). Special agents are responsible for protection and criminal investigation while informed Division Officers only take part in protective missions. ATPS (Administrative, Professional and Technical) staff offers assistance in both investigative and protective missions. The chief of USSS directs activities of the agency, the White House police and Treasury Guard. According to the 1954 appropriations, the chief is allowed to have 3546 employees for president’s protection, investigation of counterfeit crimes and other mandates.

The Secret Service is branched into White House Detail, Filed Offices and Protective Research Section. Field officers are divided into four regions each served by an inspector headquartered in Washington D.C (Reece, 2017). The work of the inspector is to supervise work in districts of the chief and can close cases as they deem necessary. Reece notes that the White House Detail entails secret service agents who mainly have a year or two in field office service (2017). The protective research section on the other hand is filed regular agent and special clerks. This Section has a photography department with an expert photographer. The USSS is further made of technical specialists with specialised training and qualification in security, communication, lie detection and photography agents must complete basic training in treasury laws, investigation of forged check, counterfeit techniques, police subjects, basic investigation and self-defence.

Functions of Secret Service

The two main purposes of USSS are to conduct criminal investigations and protect federal state officials and their families. Initially, the function of investigation was limited to US currency counterfeiting. However, the mission has transformed and expanded over time through presidential department and action of the congress. During its initial stages, USSS was mainly involved in investigation of crimes not related to financial systems such as the criminal activities of Ku Klux Klan during the mid-19th century and espionage activities during World War 1(Ansley, 1956). With time, USSS now conducts investigations related to counterfeiting and other crimes related to financial activities. Criminal invetsiagtion by the agency may include analysis of evidence, false identification documents and finger prints. The agency’s investigative support further develops and implements programs for criminal investigation. Within this program is the provision of intelligence analyses by Research Special Program that supports USSS investigations. Also, the agency is mandated by the congress to offer forensic and technical assistance to the National Centre FOR Missing and Exploited Children.

With increased amendment of U.S laws during the 1960s, the USSS was permitted to investigate criminal activities perpetrated by financial institutions insured by the federal government. Another key change was the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It establishment ensured that international trafficking and possession of counterfeit US currency is a crime similar to those committed within United States (Ansley, 1956). Additionally, Congress establishment the US PATRIOT Act after the September 11 attack by terrorists. The act permitted USSS to establish electronic crime taskforce at national level to help the private sector, law enforcers and learning institutions in detecting and preventing cyber-attacks.

Counterfeiting has been a problem for the federal government for a long time. Before the establishment of the federal banking system, the problem continued to negatively impact US economy. According to Ansley, it was not until 1806 that the congress established the Enforcement Counterfeit Act (ECA) to allow investigation of individuals involved in counterfeiting (Ansley, 1956). This mandate was given to US marshals and district attorneys and later transferred to the (TREAS) department of treasury in 1860. During the Civil War when incidences of counterfeiting were high, the treasury Secretary established the Secret Service Division with the objective of renewing confidence in money system. Key tasks were to investigate counterfeiting and forging of US currency. In 1889, the mission of Secret service Division was expanded to cover espionage activities that were high during the Spanish American war and World War. However, these expansions were removed at the end of each conflict.

The USSS protective function of state officials and their families is highly influenced by congressional mandates and unofficial decisions. As the number of state officials and events requiring protection increase, the USS protections activities have also grown to meet these demands. Some of the most recent changes include the 2008 extension of protection to former president who was a former candidate of the office of president (Reese, 2017). The extension also allowed the protection of vice president who was running as independent candidate. The protective function of secret service division can be traced back in 1894 when president Grover Cleveland requested part time protection. SSD protection was also given to President William McKinley during the Spanish American War. Congress asked SSD to protect the president following the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 and later allocated funds for protection using the Sundry Civil Expenses Act of 1907. One year later the protection was expend to cover president elect. Other changes saw the extension if protection to cover president family and creation of White House Police Force to patrol the state mansion.

Review of relevant literature

Lack of discipline among employees of USSS is a key issue of security concern in the organisation. Incidences of agents engaging in sexual relationships with female foreign nationals (FFNS) have well been documented. The 2015 report by Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (2015) notes the widespread soliciting of prostitutes by USSS employees in the course of their duty. One of the best known of the cases is the Cartagena Misconduct of 2012. One personnel solicited prostitutes prior to a residential visit to summit of Americas in Cartagena, Columbia. The investigation that followed revealed that thirteen employees solicited female foreign nationals (FFNs) to their rooms. Only two of the thirteen employees did not have security clearances and therefore could access USSS facilities.

In a testimony by the then director Mark Sullivan before SENATE Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, it was argued that the misconduct in Cartagena was caused by few agents and does not reflect a widespread problem in the system. He insisted that USSS has zero tolerance for employee misconduct and denied knowledge of other such incidences other than the 2008 misconduct where USSS personnel were removed from the agency (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 2015). Later after the incidence, two USSS personnel admitted to having solicited FFNs. One had sexual relationship with FFNs from Ireland, Russia, Italy and New York and the other admitted to having romantic relationships with a Colombian national. Another senior employee later admitted having relationships with FFN from El Salvador, Panama.

The widespread misconduct of USSS employees has further been brought to light by emails uncovered during USSS investigation. On April 9 2012, a senior employee sent emails to 54 recipients within the organisation on matters of logistic for the trip to Cartagena. He wrote “see logistics below. Our motto for this trip is una mas cerveza por favour” (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (2015), meaning one more beer please. Another wrote on April 2012 sent an email to a senior special agent saying “Re: Saludos de (the name of supervisory agent). The agent replied “Pleyclb bosque (club name). These emails not only shed light on evidence of misconduct, but also show the carelessness and lack of concern when such incidence are publicised. The indication is that most of the employees believe that their actions are not serious and would not be severely punished.

When traveling outside US, any behaviour that makes an agent vulnerable to pressure and coercion by foreign individuals is a critical issue of security concern. The most common of such misconduct is solicitation of sex without payment. However, the refusal to pay an FFN for sexual services does not help mitigate security risks of such behaviour. An agent who engages in sexual activities without payment does guarantee for safety from pressure and coercion. After the Cartagena misconduct, USSS developed penalties and standards of ethical and professional conduct detailing two types of sexual offenses. The first involves solicitation of payment for sexual services and the second relates to sex without payment. Committing the former crime can lead to penalty of forty five days with unpaid leave while the latter can attract punishment of four days unpaid leave. This penalty reflects the need for discipline for agents who engage in casual sex behaviours.

Another bone of contention in USSS relates to threatening statements made by patients under treatment. In the text, Threats to Secret Service Protectees: Guidelines on the Mental Health Services Provider's Duty , Brakel and Topelsohn argue that the problem confronts both the definition of presidential threats statues and health provider’s duty to warn USSS on such statements (1991). The protective responsibility of secret service suggests that an inquiry must be made to determine the seriousness of a threat and decide how to proceed with investigations. In relation to presidential threats, the problem is complicated by the fact that most of the individuals who attract the attention of secret service tend to have mental problems. This not only makes it harder for the agent to protect the president while balancing the mental challenges of the individual, but also poses challenge to health practitioners treating such people. Brakel and Topelsohn note that the most comer threats come from people with chronic mental problems and more than three cases of previous psychiatric hospitalisations (1991). This way, the special agent must assess the mental state of the threatener to determine the right action to take.

Although mental problem is common with those who threaten the president, there are those who must be punished and those who should not be taken serious. However, deciding those threats that must be taken serious is not easy for federal agents. A distinction must be made between those mentally handicapped threatener that can actually cause harm and those who cannot (Brakel & Topelsohn, 1991). For mental health practitioners, decision must be made on whether the threats enforce the problematic psychological needs, whether they are for mere attention seeking or the threatener has intentions to carry out the threats. Inquiry must be made to decide the seriousness of threats in any given circumstance. If the statements are seen as dangerous to the protectee, monitoring and intervention measures such as arrest may be used. The threatener may also be put under surveillance or place in mental health hospital. For serious direct danger characterised by serious disturbance and risk, the individual may be denied clinical intervention. This implies that the secret service is empowered to enforce a federal criminal stature as seen necessary.

Strengths and weaknesses of USSS

USSS has continued to make significant strides in security and efficiency of its core missions. Through the Research Management Division, USSS has established a program that lets agents authentic to DHS (Harlow, 2011). This program is an innovative step for improved sharing of meaning with DHS. This is in addition to the enhanced secret service capabilities to detect non-approved services using sophisticated technology attached to the systems of the agency. Additionally, USSS has deployed quality virtue private network solution to simplify access and improve security performance using computer check before permitting connectivity to USSS network.

Intoxication of USSS agents during work has been identified as a problematic issue of the agency to effectively conduct investigations and protect state leaders. On March 4, 2015, two USSS supervisors were intoxicated after a retirement party of a fellow supervisor. They interfered with crime scene of a bomb threat outside the White House grounds. The agents were Marc Connolly, a deputy special agent and the second in command to president’s protective division and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in Washington. The secret service is notable for ignoring those who are willing to investigate incidences of misconduct and violations. This weakness has been noted in a report chaired by Elijah Chapez (2015), who notes that there is a high percentage of people refusing to report misconduct believing that nobody would pay attention. According to the report, employees fear reprisal as the main reason for not reporting criminal sexual activities, foreign contracts and alcoholism. Supervisors and the employees see USSS as a competitive agency that can cause fear of retaliation.

Summary and conclusion

U.S Secret service is the federal agent responsible for criminal investigation and protection of state officials. These two main functions have change over time from the counterfeiting and presence of security personnel around the protectee to include extensive research on the place to be visited. The functions involve collaboration between state and local agencies and analysis, prediction and mitigation of future attacks. The agency is authorised to take part in planning and implementation of operations. The organisation is structured into two core divisions: administrative and criminal investigation and protection. The chief operating officers head administrative roles while deputy director is in charge of investigation and protection. The organisation comprises of special agents, administrators and technical staff. Despite recent congressional changes and amendments, the organisational experiences some challenges that hinders effective criminal investigation and proper protection of federal officials. Cases of criminal sexual behaviour by employees has been marked a security concern. However, employees engaged in sex with FFNs have stated that such acts were seen as non-threatening to the organisation. Also, the organisation must address the pommel of mentally challenged individual who issue threatening state net to the president. There is need to distinguish statements that pose serious threat and those that are merely uttered to seek attention.


Ansley, N. (1956). The United States Secret Service. An Administrative History. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 47(1), 93-109.

Brakel, S. J., & Topelsohn, L. (1991). Threats to Secret Service Protectees: Guidelines on the Mental Health Services Provider's Duty to Report. J. Contemp. Health L. & Pol'y, 7, 47.

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (2015). United States Secret Service--an agency in crisis. United States House of Representatives.

Harlow, R. (2011). Two missions, one secret service: the value of the investigative mission. NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL MONTEREY CA DEPT OF NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS.

Reese, Shawn. (2017). U.S. Secret Service: Selected Issues and Executive and Congressional Responses. Congressional Research service.

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