The Real Poop
Look, up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it copyright infringement? No, it's a Secret Service agent, pacing the roof while he scopes out good vantage points. What's he looking for? A good spot to take a selfie? A launching point for his hang glider?
Actually, this federal Secret Service agent is part of the president's protective detail advance team, preparing for the president's upcoming visit. The agent and his team are traversing the entire motorcade route, looking for spots where bad guys could lie in wait for the president's limo. This small detail and hundreds of other small details add up to one big picture: protecting the most important person in the nation.
These brave men and women are trained to do everything to keep their leader alive—up to and including taking a bullet. In exchange, they get paid millions of dollars per year and a fancy house and ponies and rainbows and—
Actually, no; Secret Service agents make an average of less than $50,000 a year (source). There's not a single pony to be had.
Okay, so we've established that the Secret Service protects the president, but the president isn't the only body of national importance. There's actually a long list of people, some of whom will surprise you.
Besides the president, there's the vice president, plus the members of their immediate families, and foreign dignitaries like the Pope or the Queen of England. Finally, the major presidential and vice presidential candidates, along with their spouses, get protection within 120 days of the general election.
In addition, the Secret Service is the lead investigative agency on the financial crime beat. That's actually kind of how they started (source). The Secret Service goes after counterfeiters, Treasury bond and securities thieves, and credit card fraudsters.
Computer and telecommunications fraud, identity theft, and some other bank-related crimes also fall within the Secret Service's purview. They even get involved in fraudulent ID documents and foreign securities cases.
Long story short, these agents are incredibly busy. Good thing the Secret Service has roughly 3,200 professional presidential protectors on staff working in the D.C. headquarters as well as in field offices across the country and beyond. In total, the Secret Service staffs 150 offices throughout the world.
The Secret Service is actually a self-contained federal law enforcement agency—it's not part of the FBI or CIA. However, since 2003, the Secret Service has operated under the Department of Homeland Security's oversight. Before that it was a part of the Treasury Department.
"Wait," you say, and then follow with "what?" You might also wonder why it's called the "Secret Service." Well, in 1865, the Treasury Department launched its "Secret Service Division" (oh) to combat the massive epidemic of currency counterfeiting. At the time, roughly one-third to one-half of the circulated currency was fake. Sounds like today's counterfeiters have some catching up to do.
Let's say you're hired as a Secret Service agent. You're freshly appointed and off to your initial training. What can you expect? First, you're ferried off to the Georgia-based Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, where you complete the ten-week Criminal Investigator Training Program (source). This course provides you with a good framework for the rest of your training.
Next you get schlepped off to the eighteen-week Secret Service academy course near D.C. (source). Now you're learning about the nitty-gritty of protective and investigative work. You'll get a nice mix of physical protective techniques, financial fraud detection, conditioning, emergency medicine, and intelligence techniques—all wrapped up in one neat package.
Clearly, Secret Service agents' jobs aren't for slackers or workers who are content with a predictable nine-to-five job. Agents must have an excellent work ethic, incredible attention to detail, and an almost annoying degree of persistence. They must also accept the fact that in protective situations, they're the last line of defense between those they're protecting and people with evil, violent intentions.
This job is not for everyone. This job isn't even for a lot of people. This job is specifically for those who want to be both bodyguard and police officer. There's a lot riding on you here, so don't think you get all of the benefits of being near the leader of the United States and none of the responsibilities. Because if you have a bad day, so does the entire nation.