The U.S. Secret Service has faced incredible public scrutiny following the relief of 12 agents during President Barack Obama’s visit to the Summit of Americas in Colombia. For an agency that prides itself on secrecy, that was a major public relations blow.
Here’s a look at the U.S. Secret Service:
* History – Originally an operating arm of the U.S. Dept. of Treasury, the Secret Service was initially charged with investigating counterfeiting of U.S. currency. Its role changed to include investigating major financial crimes against the United States. Following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress added presidential security to the role of the agency. In a 2003 government reshuffle, the agency was transferred to the Dept. of Homeland Security. The presidential protection division is charged with the safety and security of the chief executive, former presidents and other senior members of government as delineated in federal law 18§ 3056. With the approval of the Secretary of Homeland Security, protection is also extended to major political candidates during an election campaign. Currently, GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich receive agency protection.
* 2012 Colombia prostitution scandal – The removal and ultimate dismissal of nearly a dozen agents assigned as an advance team in Colombia was the largest scandal in the history of the Secret Service. Within two weeks after the scandal involving 12 advance agents, including two supervisors, was announced, the Secret Service completed its internal investigation. Nine agents resigned or were forced out of the agency and two were cleared of any wrongdoing, Associated Press reported. The agents were accused of failing to pay a prostitute at the Hotel Caribe prior to Obama’s official arrival at the Summit. While the formal investigation may be completed, Congress and the Dept. of Homeland Security are expected to continue probing whether the president’s security was ever compromised during the incident. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., announced on Sunday that his Homeland Security Committee would hold formal hearings on the matter to promote full disclosure, the LA Times reported.
* Heroic Service — The most public role of the Secret Service is protecting the American president and his family, although President Theodore Roosevelt only had two agents assigned to his detail, according the Secret Service archives. Since that responsibility was assumed in 1902, only two agents have died in the line of duty. Other agents have been wounded protecting the president, most recently Timothy McCarthy who took a bullet to the abdomen during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. McCarthy recovered and finished his career with the agency. Because of collegiate football connection, McCarthy received the 1982 NCAA Award of Valor for his bravery.
* Law Enforcement – In 2001, President George W. Bush signed legislation that gave the Secret Service the lead investigative role in combating electronic crimes, including identity theft. According to the agency, that responsibility is broadly interpreted to include passport crimes, credit card, bank fraud and check fraud of U.S. currencies around the world. The agency plays a lead role in combating 4-1-9 fraud, better known as Nigerian pay-in-advance schemes.
Dan McGinnis is a freelance writer, published author and former newspaper publisher. He has been a candidate, campaign manager and press secretary for state and local political campaigns for more than 30 years.