After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress directed the Secret Service to protect the President of the United States. Protection remains the primary mission of the United States Secret Service. In the modern Secret Service, the division directly responsible for the personal security of the President and the First Family is the Presidential Protective Division (PPD). This division continually maintains a close perimeter of agents around its protectees. It also conducts advance security surveys for Presidential trips and major events. Since 1992, PPD has included a special unit known as the Counter Assault Team (CAT). CAT was created in the late 1970s within select field offices to neutralize an attack on a protectee as quickly as possible. Until it was incorporated into PPD, CAT was part of the Special Services Division.
Today, the Secret Service is authorized by law to protect:
- the President, the Vice President, (or other individuals next in order of succession to the Office of the President), the President-elect and Vice President-elect;
- the immediate families of the above individuals;
- former Presidents, their spouses for their lifetimes, except when the spouse re-marries. In 1997, Congressional legislation became effective limiting Secret Service protection to former Presidents for a period of not more than 10 years from the date the former President leaves office.
- children of former presidents until age 16;
- visiting heads of foreign states or governments and their spouses traveling with them, other distinguished foreign visitors to the United States, and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad;
- major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and their spouses within 120 days of a general Presidential election.
How Protection Works
Certain Secret Service protective methods are generally the same for all individuals protected. Permanent protectees, such as the President and the First Lady, have details of special agents assigned to them for a 3 to 5. Temporary protectees, such as candidates and foreign dignitaries, have details of special agents on temporary assignment from Secret Service field offices.
The Secret Service does not discuss methods or means in any detail, however generally speaking, the advance team surveys each site to be visited. From these surveys, the members determine manpower, equipment, hospitals, and evacuation routes for emergencies. Fire, rescue, and other public service personnel in the community are alerted. A command post is established with full communications facilities. The assistance of the military, federal, state, county, and local law enforcement organizations is a vital part of the entire security operation.
Before the protectee’s arrival, the lead advance agent coordinates all law enforcement representatives participating in the visit. Personnel are posted and are alerted to specific problems associated with the visit. Intelligence information is discussed, identification specified, and emergency options outlined. Prior to the arrival of the protectee, checkpoints are established, and access to the secured area is limited.
During the visit, Secret Service and local law enforcement personnel form a network of support for members of the detail surrounding the protectee. The Secret Service command post acts as the communication center for protective activities, monitors emergencies, and keeps all participants in contact with one another. After the visit, agents analyze every step of the protective operation, record unusual incidents, and suggest improvements for the future.
Protective research is an important ingredient in all security operations. Technicians and engineers develop, test, and maintain technical devices and equipment needed to secure a safe environment for the Service’s protectees. Agents and specialists assigned to protective research also evaluate information received from other law enforcement and intelligence agencies regarding individuals or groups who may pose a threat to protectees. This information is critical to the Service’s protective planning.
The Secret Service Uniformed Division, initially a force comprised of a few members of the military and the Metropolitan Police Department, began formalized protection of the White House and its grounds in 1860. This unit was under the direction of the White House Military Aide until 1922 when President Warren G. Harding prompted the establishment of a White House Police Force.
It was not until 1930, after an unknown intruder managed to walk into the White House dining room, that President Herbert Hoover recognized the need for the White House Police and the Secret Service to join forces. President Hoover wanted the Secret Service to exclusively control every aspect of Presidential protection; therefore, Congress placed the supervision of the White House Police under the direction of the Chief of the Secret Service.
In 1970, Public Law 91-217 expanded the role of the White House Police, newly named the Executive Protective Service, to include protection of diplomatic missions in the Washington, D.C. area. Congress later added the protection of the Vice President’s immediate family to the Executive Protective Service’s growing responsibilities in 1974.
After several name revisions, the force officially adopted its current name, the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division in 1977. While protection of the White House Complex remains its primary mission, the Uniformed Division’s responsibilities have expanded greatly over the years.
They now protect the following:
- the White House Complex, the Main Treasury Building and Annex, and other Presidential offices;
- the President and members of the immediate family;
- the temporary official residence of the Vice President in the District of Columbia;
- the Vice President and members of the immediate family; and
- foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and throughout the United States, and its territories and possessions, as prescribed by statute.
Officers of the Uniformed Division carry out their protective responsibilities through special support units (Countersniper, Canine Explosive Detection Team, Emergency Response Team, Crime Scene Search Technicians, Special Operations Section, Magnetometers) and a network of fixed security posts, foot, bicycle, vehicular and motorcycle patrols.