Origins of the Secret Service

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The Secret Service protecting the President at a parade

Everyone knows that the Secret Service is a federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security, charged with conducting criminal investigations and protecting the nation’s leaders. Mainly we think of a group with earpieces dressed all in black and surrounding the president. What you may not know is that the agency was originally founded to combat the then-widespread counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

With a reported one third of the currency in circulation being counterfeit at the time, the Secret Service was created on July 5, 1865 in Washington, D.C., to suppress counterfeit currency. Chief William P. Wood was sworn in by Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch. It was commissioned in Washington, D.C. as the “Secret Service Division” of the Department of the Treasury with the mission of suppressing counterfeiting.

The legislation creating the agency was on Abraham Lincoln’s desk the night he was assassinated. At the time, the only other federal law enforcement agencies were the United States Customs Service, the United States Park Police, the U.S. Post Office Department’s Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations (now known as the United States Postal Inspection Service), and the United States Marshals Service. The Marshals did not have the manpower to investigate all crime under federal jurisdiction, so the Secret Service began investigating a wide range of crimes from murder to bank robbery to illegal gambling.

After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. A year later, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for presidential protection. In 1902, William Craig became the first Secret Service agent to die while serving, in a road accident while riding in the presidential carriage.

The Secret Service was the first U.S. domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency. Domestic intelligence collection and counterintelligence responsibilities were vested in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) upon the FBI’s creation in 1908.

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Secret Service Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Task Force

The Secret Service is divided into two main parts: Investigative Mission and Protective Mission. The Investigative Mission of the USSS is to safeguard the payment and financial systems of the United States from a wide range of financial and electronic-based crimes. Financial investigations include counterfeit U.S. currency, bank & financial institution fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, illicit financing operations, and major conspiracies. Electronic investigations include cybercrime, network intrusions, identity theft, access device fraud, credit card fraud, and intellectual property crimes. The Secret Service is a key member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) which investigates and combats terrorism on a national and international scale, as well as of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) task force which seeks to reduce and eliminate drug trafficking in critical regions of the United States. The Service also investigates missing and exploited children and is a core partner of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

 

Over the years the Secret Service has taken on many roles and grown to be a massive and vital department that serves the United States. It is an interesting history rooted in greed and counterfeiting that developed the service that protects our nation and nations leaders to this day!

For an extensive timeline of the Secret Service checkout the official website: https://www.secretservice.gov/about/history/events/

The 1895 Chicago Counterfeit Stamps

One of the few scandals the U.S. Post Office encountered in history was the “Chicago Counterfeits” scandal. It all started in 1895 when a man named Edward Lowry responded to a Canadian newspaper ad that stated, “We have $115 U.S. two cent stamps which we cannot use here, will send them by express C.O.D. Privilege of examination for $100.”

Does something about that sound illegal to you? You wouldn’t be wrong.

Mr. Lowry contacted the Postal Inspector James Stuart with an inquiry about buying the current 2c stamps at less than their 2c value, the possibility as suggested by the advertisement.

Of course, Stuart found this suspicious and investigated the issue. A Secret Service agent named Captain Thomas Porter joined Stuart’s investigation. As it turns out, many other people had also seen the ad and ordered the stamps – which Porter and Stuart had to confiscate as a consequence.

A rogue printing operation was in the works. Porter discovered a woman named Mrs. Lacy and her daughter Tinsa McMillan who had a printing production set up in their apartment.

Guess what they found? Stacks of gummed paper, a perforation machine, a copying camera, and all the other possible tools you could need for producing (fake) stamps.

Finally they arrested Tinsa McMillan – the brains behind the whole operation. She had set up the stamp-copying production illegally to make a profit. Ms. McMillan was sentenced to 1.5 years in a reformatory.

This whole scandal was why the Post Office added watermarks to stamps, a story we will continue in another article.