The Secret Service is much in the news these days as a result of the election of a new US president. Many celebrities and high-profile public figures have bodyguards, but when it comes to protection and security, nobody does it better than the Secret Service. Keeping the commander-in-chief of the United States safe requires a level of vigilance and cautionary measures that is in another league entirely.
The Secret Service takes this job very seriously. But sometimes, things do happen, both funny and tragic. Here is a list of 10 facts about the Secret Service that might surprise you.
10. The Secret Service Was Born The Same Day President Lincoln Died
President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 at the hand of John Wilkes Booth. Had Lincoln been protected by a highly trained security detail, he might still be with us today—at the ripe age of 207 years old.
While he was not able to benefit from such a service, Lincoln did get the ball rolling by signing off on the legislation that would lead to the formation of the Secret Service. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln authorized the measure as one of his final official acts as president.
The Secret Service was originally created as a branch of the US Treasury Department, designed to combat rampant counterfeiting following the Civil War. It was estimated that one-third to one-half of the currency in circulation was counterfeit at that time.
It wasn’t until the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 that the Secret Service was tasked with protecting presidents. On March 1, 2003, the Secret Service was transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security.
9. The Secret Service Probed Eminem For His Lyrics
The rapper Eminem is known for his controversial, provocative songs. But in 2003, a particular lyric in a song called “We Are American” caught the attention of Secret Service officials. Eminem sings: “(Expletive) money, I don’t rap for dead presidents. I’d rather see the president dead.”
It is routine for the Secret Service to look into anything that could be construed as a threat to the president. As one Secret Service spokesman put it: “We don’t have the luxury to do otherwise.”
“Dead presidents” is slang for US money, which mostly features the images of deceased presidents. An unfinished version of the song was leaked and circulated on the Internet mainly via hip hop chat forums when it was picked up by the Secret Service’s radar. The Secret Service ultimately decided not to pursue an investigation.
8. Secret Service Agents Posed As Stanford Students To Protect Chelsea Clinton
It sounds comical, but plainclothes Secret Service agents posed as students to keep a close watch on Chelsea Clinton during her four years at Stanford University. Chelsea’s dorm was outfitted with bulletproof windows, and her Secret Service code name was “Energy.”
Two agents shared a dormitory with Chelsea in rooms flanking hers. It’s reported that the Secret Service cut her some slack in allowing her to have a social life as long as she informed them of her plans in advance.
7. A Magician Robbed Secret Service Agents Blind
Apollo Robbins is regarded by his peers to be the best at what he does—pickpocketing. Not criminally, but as a performer referred to in the business as a “theatrical pickpocket.”
Robbins has impressed many famous people with his skills, including Jennifer Garner and Penn Jillette. Robbins’s most impressive stunt, however, may have been in 2001 while attending a dinner with Jimmy Carter. While briefly chatting up Carter’s security detail, Robbins managed to surreptitiously relieve the agents of a watch, badge, keys, and a copy of Jimmy Carter’s itinerary.
6. Ronald Reagan’s Acting Career May Have Indirectly Saved His Life
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. outside a Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. Thanks to the decisive action of Secret Service agent Jerry S. Parr, President Reagan was rushed to the hospital and treated for injuries that could have turned fatal had Parr not followed his instincts.
What’s even more remarkable is that Parr, who had been an electric-power lineman by trade, developed a childhood fascination with the Secret Service after watching a 1939 film called Code of the Secret Service. This film starred a young Ronald Reagan portraying a Secret Service agent named Brass Bancroft. The fact that Parr grew up to become a Secret Service agent who ended up saving that same actor as an actual president must have been incredibly surreal.
5. Only One Secret Service Agent Has Been Killed While Protecting The President
During his presidential term, Harry S. Truman took up temporary residence in Blair House, a building situated across from the White House, while the White House was being renovated. Officer Leslie William Coffelt was a White House police officer standing guard outside the building on November 1, 1950, when two Puerto Rican nationalists approached and opened fire. Several officers were hit, but Coffelt was the only one to die from his injuries.
Coffelt shot one of the suspects, who was hit in the ear and killed. The other was caught and sentenced to prison, only to be pardoned 27 years later in 1979. He was deported to Puerto Rico, where he died in 1994.
4. Secret Service Busted Producers For Counterfeiting During Rush Hour 2 Filming
In 2000, production for the Rush Hour 2 movie staged a scene in which $1 billion dollars in fake prop cash would be dispersed into the air. The problem was that the fake bills were a bit too realistic. Extras and passersby present on the set took some of the bills and spent them.
Of course, the Secret Service was not pleased and promptly issued a cease-and-desist order against prop maker Independent Studio Services, Inc. The agents also confiscated $100 million of the phony money.
3. The Secret Service Has Been Hunting A Rare Coin For Over 60 Years
At the dawn of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design a new double eagle gold coin inspired by that of Greek antiquity. The face value was $20. But now, nearly a century later, the coins are worth $7–$10 million apiece.
By the time that Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, the government had shifted away from the gold standard and 445,000 double eagle coins were recalled and melted into gold bars. The coins were never lawfully released, but in 1944, the Secret Service discovered that some coins had slipped into public circulation through internal malfeasance.
Since then, the Secret Service has sought to track down and retrieve as many of these coins as possible.
2. The FBI Was Born Out Of The Secret Service
Before 1908, the US Department of Justice had to tap reserve personnel from the Secret Service to conduct federal investigations on its behalf. This loan system was used until Congress forbade the practice, fearing it would cultivate espionage and internal spying within the government.
After some litigation and opposition, Attorney General Charles Bonaparte eventually put together a small cadre of detectives culled from the Secret Service to perform investigations on behalf of the Department of Justice. This became the forerunner of the FBI.
1. The Secret Service Oversees Security At The Super Bowl
At a time when the threat of terrorism is ever present, major events such as the Super Bowl, where several thousand people will be gathered, run a high potential risk as a terrorist target.
The Secret Service has been called in to conduct 11,000 background checks on all personnel, vendors, and performers. The agents also implement extensive counterterrorism security measures to safeguard the Super Bowl and ensure the event is unsullied by a terrorist disaster.