The US Secret Service is world-renowned for the physical protection it provides to the US’s highest elected leaders and other government officials. To safeguard Secret Service protectees, the agency does not generally discuss the specific types and methods of its security operations.
In general, permanent protectees, such as the president and first lady, have details of special agents permanently assigned to them. Temporary protectees, such as candidates and foreign dignitaries, are staffed with special agents on temporary assignment from Secret Service field offices. All current former presidents are entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection.
The protection of an individual is comprehensive and goes well beyond surrounding the individual with well-armed agents. As part of the Secret Service’s mission of preventing an incident before it occurs, the agency relies on meticulous advance work and threat assessments developed by its Intelligence Division to identify potential risks to protectees.
Advances in technology and the world’s reliance on interdependent network systems also have changed the Secret Service’s protective responsibilities. No longer can law enforcement rely solely on human resources and physical barriers in designing a security plan; agencies also must address the role and inherent vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures upon which security plans are built.
In general, for protective visits, teams of Secret Service personnel travel in advance and conduct site surveys, which assess needs for manpower, equipment, hospitals and evacuation routes for emergencies. Fire, rescue and other public service personnel in the community are alerted.
Before a protectee arrives at any site, a lead advance agent coordinates all law enforcement representatives participating in the visit. Intelligence information is discussed and emergency options are outlined. Prior to the arrival of the protectee, checkpoints are established and access to the secured area is limited.
The assistance of the military, federal, state, county and local law enforcement, and the public safety organizations is a vital part of the entire security operation. During protective visits, Secret Service and local law enforcement personnel form a network of support for members of the detail working in close proximity to the protectee. A Secret Service command post acts as the communication center for protective activities, monitors emergencies and keeps all participants in contact with one another. After the visit, agents analyze every step of the protective operation, record unusual incidents and suggest improvements for the future.
Protective research is an integral component of all security operations. Agents and specialists assigned to conduct protective research evaluate information received from law enforcement, intelligence agencies and a variety of other sources regarding individuals or groups who may pose a threat to Secret Service protectees. These agents review questionable letters and e-mails received at the White House and maintain a 24-hour operation to coordinate protection-related information.
Protection for Presidential Candidates
In regard to presidential campaign, the Secret Service is authorized by law (18 United States Code 3056) to protect:
Major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within 120 days of a general presidential election. As defined in statute, the term “major presidential and vice presidential candidates” means those individuals identified as such by the Secretary of Homeland Security after consultation with an advisory committee.
The Secret Service provides protection for major candidates, unless declined. The Secret Service has no role in determining who is to be considered a major candidate. The Secretary of the Homeland Security determines who qualifies as a major candidate and when such protection should commence under the authority of Title 18, United States Code, Section 3056. This determination is made in consultation with an advisory committee comprised of the following individuals:
Speaker of the House
House Minority Whip
Senate Majority Leader
Senate Minority Leader
One additional member chosen by the committee