You see them in movies and on TV—suit-clad agents with sunglasses and fancy earpieces. But the real Secret Service is a federal law enforcement agency that protects the president and other senior officials, and investigates financial crimes. The agency was founded in 1865 to fight counterfeiting, which was rampant following the Civil War.
A few high-profile breaches and scandals have hurt the agency’s reputation in recent years. But in July, Congress passed the Secret Service Improvement Act, with bipartisan support. It calls for ramping up training, hiring, and other changes.
In the meantime, some Secret Service officers have been disciplined for a variety of violations. For example, an agent who tweeted photos of a woman who was sleeping in the White House received a one-year suspension in 2016. The Secret Service has also reprimanded employees who have been late to work, violated security protocols, and drunk at off-duty events.
Another issue is the use of firearms by Secret Service agents. Some have been shot in the line of duty. For example, an agent named Leslie Coffelt was killed in 1950 when Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman, and an agent named Tim McCarthy was shot in 1981 by John Hinkley during his attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
In addition to the threat of being shot, Secret Service agents have to deal with the possibility that they might be exposed to dangerous materials or toxins while on assignment. To combat this, the Secret Service requires its employees to wear protective suits and take regular decontamination training. The agency also prohibits its employees from having visible body markings, such as tattoos, and branding, such as piercings, except for wedding bands.