The U.S. Secret Service, best known for its stone-faced agents who protect the president and his family, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The agency marked the occasion during a July 2015 ceremony in the nation’s capital, with speeches from Secret Service Director Joe Clancy and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
The country’s four living former presidents – Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – delivered video messages thanking the Secret Service, and President Barack Obama sent a letter expressing his gratitude.
The Secret Service was founded as a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1865, making it one of the nation’s oldest federal investigative law enforcement agencies. While guarding the president is its most visible mission, it’s far from the only one.
The agency was created to stop counterfeiters following the Civil War, when up to half of the U.S. currency in circulation was fake, according to the Secret Service website. The Secret Service took on its presidential protection role in 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley in Buffalo, N.Y.
Today, the agency protects the president, vice president, foreign dignitaries and others. It also investigates crimes against the U.S. financial infrastructure, from counterfeiting to credit card fraud.
By law, the Secret Service is assigned to protect the president, vice president or others in line for those offices, and their immediate families. They also guard former presidents and their spouses for up to 10 years after they leave office and children of former presidents until age 16. Visiting heads of states, and major presidential and VP candidates also receive protection 120 days prior to elections.
On the financial side, the Secret Service investigates counterfeit schemes, forgery or theft of U.S. Treasury checks, bonds or other securities, as well as cyber crimes, identity theft and other offenses affecting federally insured financial institutions.
In 2014, the agency prevented $3 billion in fraud losses and seized $120 million in assets, according to its annual report. It recovered $58 million in U.S. counterfeit currency worldwide and broke up 188 counterfeit manufacturing plants.
The Secret Service, which is now a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has about 3,200 special agents, as well as 1,300 officers in its Uniformed Division, and more than 2,000 professional, technical and administrative personnel.
To be considered for a special agent position, candidates must be a U.S. citizen and age 21 to 37 at the time of appointment. Other employment requirements include possessing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, and passing a medical exam, drug screening, lie detector test and background check.
Once hired, special agent trainees attend a 10-week course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. That’s followed by 17 weeks at the Secret Service training academy outside Washington, D.C.