The clue is in the name. The Secret Service. This squad of elite agents, assigned with the task of protecting the President of the United States, doesn’t give much away. Luckily, we’ve put our best people on the case, and we’ve found out what’s really going on. Let’s dig deep into a world of dark glasses, inscrutable expressions and tech that would make James Bond salivate. Here are our top 10 secrets the Secret Service doesn’t want you to know.
10 – Secret offices
On H Street in Washington DC, there’s a dull-looking, 9 storey, tan-bricked, unnamed building. It’s so indistinctive, you could walk past it and not even know it’s there. What is this anonymous building? It’s the headquarters of the Secret Service.
No one knows much about what’s inside, but it’s thought there are many armouries and a joint operations centre. However, most of the Secret Service’s work is done at the White House, probably the most protected building on earth.
For example, there are anti-aircraft missiles under the front lawn, biometric recognition software controlling access to doors, and a fully-equipped doomsday bunker for the president to hide in when really bad stuff goes down.
The White House is designed like an onion, with layers of defence. Its outer perimeter is guarded by special agents and highly-trained canine squads. Within that, there’s the middle ring, patrolled by the Emergency Response Team.
Finally, the inner ring, guarded by agents whose sole job is to protect the President. It’s thought there are 100 agents working at the White House at any one time, although the official number is classified.
9 – Secret arsenal
As you’d expect, the Secret Service has the latest in cutting-edge weaponry at their disposal. When you’re dealing with people who want to harm the President, you have to get the job done first time.
A priority for the Secret Service is limiting collateral damage during a shoot-out. The current sub-machine gun of choice is the P90. It’s compact, well-designed, and can easily be hidden inside a suit. It uses custom ammunition, designed to stay in the target’s body, rather than exit it – which would potentially injure bystanders.
The traditional uniform of the secret service is the dark suit, reflective sunglasses and an earpiece. But why? A suit gives the agent a serious, business-like look, but still more accessible and public-friendly than combat gear. You can conceal weapons in a suit easily, and the sunglasses protect them against liquid being thrown at them and also mean they won’t be dazzled by the sun when scanning the area for threats.
The most important part of the uniform, however, is the earpiece. Agents are being directed by a supervisor in a control centre at all times, making sure they’re always in the right place at the right time.
8 – Not just the President
While protecting the President is the Secret Service’s priority, they don’t just protect him. The First Lady, the Vice President, the rest of the First Family, and all former Presidents all receive official protection. Presidential candidates get their own Secret Service squad while they’re running for office. This became policy after Robert Kennedy was assassinated while on the campaign trail in 1968.
When the President appears anywhere, you can guarantee there will be a large crowd, and the Secret Service have a duty to protect them too. They neutralise all threats so anyone travelling to see the President can feel safe. That’s why they use the custom ammunition we talked about earlier.
Finally, the Secret Service protects Designated Survivors. At big political events like the State of the Union, if say a bomb went off and everyone died, you still need someone to carry on running the country. One member of the cabinet is picked, and they don’t attend the event. Instead, they’re taken to a secure location by the Secret Service, such as Mount Weather in Virginia, and protected until the event has finished.
7 – They’re stuck to the President
When you’re guarding the President, you have to go wherever they go. Literally. Even when the president goes to the bathroom, there’s an armed agent in there with him. Ronald Reagan’s agents even sat in on his prostate examinations.
The Secret Service monitor everything the President eats. They watch his food being prepared, making sure he never eats anything he shouldn’t. Even if he’s pictured ordering food in a takeaway, to show that he’s down with normal people, it’s likely he won’t be able to eat what he ordered.
When the President appears at public events, plain clothed Secret Service agents will be in the crowd, ready to spring into action at a second’s notice if anything strange happens. There will also be agents at the front and back of the President at all times.
Agents call this part of the job ‘working the rope’. It’s the most unpredictable part of the job, as you never know exactly who is in the crowd, and what might be on their mind. Agents say it’s the most stressful part of their job, where they really earn their money.
6 – Brains over brawn
They don’t call these guys Special Agents for nothing. Secret Service agents used to be primarily recruited from the military, but nowadays they go for brains over brawn.
To become a Special Agent is a massively competitive process, and you must fulfil strict selection criteria. You need amazing school grades, a clean criminal record and near-perfect vision. You’ll go through rigorous psychological assessments, including a lie detector test. If you used illegal drugs after the age of 23, you’re automatically disqualified from the process.
During training, you’ll learn how to neutralise attackers. You’ll learn the right pressure points to hit if you want to take someone down. You’ll learn the right wrist joints to attack, with your special martial arts training. You’ll even learn the special move to employ in a crowd situation. Hand on the President’s belt, ready to pull him out of harm’s way.
Even when you’ve landed the job, you never stop training, plus, you’re not allowed to drink alcohol within 10 hours prior to your shift. You can’t protect the president with a hangover.
5 – No sworn oath
Contrary to what they tell you in Hollywood movies, Secret Service agents do not swear an oath to lay down their life for the President. However, they’re trained to protect the president at all times, and if that involves taking a bullet, so be it. During their training, agents have fake bullets fired at them, so they know what it feels like to be hit, and overcome the natural instinct to flinch.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was the victim of an assassination attempt in Washington. While the shots were still being fired, Special Agent Jerry Parr reacted quickly enough to cover the President, then push him into his waiting car. Agent Timothy McCarthy also acted quickly to become a living shield, taking a bullet to the stomach to protect the president. Reagan was also hit by a bullet, but not fatally.
If Parr and McCarthy had reacted a split-second later, or if they had flinched from the gunfire, it could have been a different story.
4 – Advanced recon
As we mentioned earlier, the hardest part of the Secret Service’s job is protecting the President when they’re at events with large crowds. As a result, all events are planned to the smallest detail, and everything they can do to minimize the possibility of an attack is done.
For example, before the President’s inauguration ceremony, every inch that the President will travel is meticulously scoured. Mailboxes are taken away and manhole covers are welded shut so no one can place a bomb underground. They even remove the doorknobs from rooms overlooking the route, so no one can set up a snipers position. The Secret Service will position their own snipers on roofs around the route.
It’s even harder when the President has to make an unscheduled visit to a natural disaster site, such as after a hurricane or flood. In this case, they try to get the President in and out as quickly as possible, usually using the Presidential helicopter, Marine One.
More about that later.
3 – Transport secrets
We’ve all seen the Presidential motorcade, the seemingly endless parade of black stretch limos. But, there’s only one President. What is going on there?
A motorcade consists of up to 30 vehicles. There’s the lead car, travelling 5 minutes ahead to clear the way. There are several Secret Service cars, armed to the teeth with agents. There’s a communications car at the back, also containing a military aide and a doctor. In the middle, there is Stagecoach, containing the president. However, there are also identical decoy cars, so no one can know for sure which one he is in.
Since 9/11, there’s also a car called the ‘barrage jammer’. It jams cellphone reception in the area, so would-be terrorists can’t communicate. It also makes detonating remote bombs a lot harder.
For air travel, nothing’s more secure than Marine 1, the Presidential helicopter. It has a range of 580 miles and a top speed of 183 mph.
To help it fly through storms and into disaster zones with zero visibility, it’s said the Marine 1 has added secretive tech called ‘LADAR’. LADAR consists of laser beams that create a 3D map of the area around the helicopter. LADAR can also detect chemical and biological poisons in the air, keeping the president safe at all times.
2 – They know where you are
If you’re interested in the President, it’s safe to say the Secret Service is interested in you. For example, agents maintain a database of inks, working with ink manufacturers to keep it up to date. If the president receives a threatening letter, agents can identify the ink, deducing which country or state the letter was sent from.
When the President is travelling in the motorcade, there’s a car filming the crowd. If someone does anything they shouldn’t, like throw something at the motorcade, they will easily be identified on video.
The Secret Service uses numerous codenames for the people they protect, making it harder for outsiders to track who they’re talking about. President Trump’s codename is Mogul, Melania’s is Muse. Barack Obama’s is Renegade. Richard Nixon’s codename was Searchlight, which is pretty ironic seeing as he’s famous for orchestrating a cover-up.
1 – They’re able wingmen
It seems when you’re the leader of the free world, you automatically become extremely attractive to the opposite sex. Helpfully, the Secret Service often act as wingmen for their charges, protecting them from their wives as well as bullets.
After President Lyndon Johnson was caught by his wife entertaining a young lady in the Oval Office, the Secret Service installed an emergency buzzer system. If Mrs Johnson was nearby, an agent would press the buzzer and LBJ could quickly get rid of his guest.
Bill Clinton was another famously extra-marital President. To make sure his wife, Hillary, never walked in on him while he was up to no good, his Secret Service team would coordinate with Hillary’s agents. Even today, one of Bill’s lady friends has her own Secret Service codename. She’s known as Energizer, presumably because she keeps Bill full of life, plus she keeps on going, and going, and going…
What secret did you find the most enlightening? What do you know about the Secret Service that we didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments section down below.