Andy Patrick/U.S. Secret Service
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Mark Staff
We have a pop quiz on U.S. History today.
Don’t panic. It’s easy. The test consists of a single, multiple-choice question.
Complete the following statement:
The United States Secret Service began operating on July 5, 1865 to __________.
A. guard the U.S. Capitol.
B. provide Presidential protection.
C. suppress counterfeit currency.
D. hang portraits of former presidents on the White House walls.
If you answered A, please take a refresher course.
If you answered B, that’s a very good guess, but you are incorrect.
If you answered D, please leave the country immediately.
The correct answer is C.
Here’s the ironic twist. It was President Abraham Lincoln and his Treasury Secretary, Hugh McCulloch, who created the Secret Service on April 14, 1865. In those days, there was no standard U.S. currency; the states each issued their own mediums of exchange. With so many different currencies flying around, it was very difficult for law enforcement to get a handle on counterfeiting. President Lincoln and Secretary McCulloch established the Secret Service to combat that problem, not to protect the president. That very evening, Lincoln stepped out to take in a performance at Ford’s Theater. We all know what happened next.
In fact, Secret Service did not begin protecting the president until almost 30 years later, in 1894, but only on a part-time, informal basis. It wasn’t until 1902 that they took on full-time responsibility for presidential protection, but get this: The entire White House detail consisted of two agents.
Now those mysterious men in black with dark glasses who always seem to be talking to themselves are all over the place when POTUS (that’s short for President of the United States) is around, not to mention the vice president, their families, visiting heads of state and all sorts of important people. They still have jurisdiction over counterfeiting and other financial crimes too.
To civilians like us, Secret Service appears rather foreboding and intimidating. The dark suits, the attitude—heck, they have the same initials as those infamous elite Nazi troops in World War II. It’s their job to be that way, but when you strip away the “terminator” shell, Secret Service operatives are like any other police, intelligence or military personnel. They are people who answer a calling for law enforcement and service to their country.
Andy Patrick is one of those people. These days, he is president of Advance Point Global, a Hilton Head based corporate security consultancy. In that role, Patrick draws on his past experience as a Secret Service agent.
What drives somebody to choose such a career might bemuse ordinary folks like us but, if you ask Patrick, it’s no different than somebody who likes working with numbers choosing to be an accountant? He joined the Air Force out of high school and served for eight years, earning his college degree along the way. After that, Patrick joined the New York State Police.
“It was during college that I recognized the fact that I wanted to get into federal law enforcement,” said Patrick. “I was intrigued by the Secret Service because of their dual mission: investigation and protection. I could be arresting a counterfeiter in a crack house one day, and standing next to the president the next. I think that’s what attracted me, the diversity. I had served in the military, but I still wondered if I’d done enough. Joining Secret Service helped me to fill that gap.”
Secret Service’s dual mission structure is unique among law enforcement agencies, and most special agents will participate in both areas throughout their careers. The investigative side is charged with protecting the integrity of the U.S. financial system. Advances in technology have dramatically broadened that mission’s scope in modern times.
Today, Secret Service has investigative jurisdiction over financial fraud, access device fraud, computer crimes, securities fraud, telecommunications fraud, and identity theft in addition to its counterfeiting responsibility.
The protection assignment has also expanded well beyond keeping POTUS safe. Secret Service’s protective charges now include the vice president and others in the presidential line of succession, the president- and vice president-elect and all of their immediate families, former presidents and their spouses, visiting heads of state, and many others. Secret Service also provides security at events designated by the Department of Homeland Security.
By the way, they don’t all wear those dark suits all of the time. A Uniformed Division supports the protective mission with counter sniper support, explosives detection, and emergency response units. The agency also employs civilian personnel from all areas of expertise to support investigations and protection.
You can probably imagine that getting a job with Secret Service is not as simple as filling out an application and providing three references and a lock of hair. While they do recruit on college campuses just like any civilian company, the similarity ends there. Applicants undergo a rigorous selection process that includes polygraph tests and a rather thorough background check.
“It took about three years from the time I submitted my application to my actually coming on board,” said Patrick. “My polygraph test took over three hours, and the background check looks at every place you’ve ever been.” So if you’d rather not discuss that little thing that happened in college, Secret Service might not be the job for you. “They have a way of flushing it all out of you,” Patrick said.
You probably want to know if Patrick has ever worked presidential protection. He has. During the Bush (43) Administration, he traveled with the president and managed advance intelligence operations. That is, he was responsible for assessing threat potential and other security issues wherever the president was scheduled to be, and would be the liaison to the protective detail. Later, Patrick was assigned to Vice President Dick Cheney’s protective detail. “I had the opportunity to be on two protection details. Very few agents get to do that,” he said.
Obviously, protecting the president or vice president of the United States puts Secret Service agents in a unique position. Most of us will never meet, let alone spend nearly every waking hour with the leader of the free world, but they do. How close do they get? How well do they get to know the president?
“I’ve been alone on an elevator or in other close proximity with both Bush and Cheney, and a few former presidents,” said Patrick. “How well you get to know them really depends on the individual and the situation. We’re there to do a job, but we’re also not there to ignore them when spoken to. If you’re the detail leader, you’re standing next to the president nearly every hour of the day. If he has a question about something—not necessarily security either—who’s he going to turn to? The guy standing next to him.”
Patrick says it wouldn’t be right to pick favorites, but admits it is pretty special to be able to know these people as…well…people. “You see people with their guard down to a certain extent in a way that most people never would,” he said.
“Former President Bush, in my mind, is a very special person. There are a lot of things about him that most people don’t realize, and they speak volumes about who he really is. Just his strength of character and the strength of his convictions; witnessing that on a personal level helps you understand who he was as a Commander in Chief.
“Vice President Cheney is not the person that a lot of people want to characterize him to be. He’s a very personable, intelligent person, and usually the smartest one in the room.”
A Secret Service agent sees the world through a very different lens than the rest of us. Patrick’s perspective of September 11, 2001 gives us a quick glimpse through that lens. On the one hand, it was as personal and emotional for him and his fellow agents as it was for you and me. On the other, it was another day at the office.
“We had an office in Tower 7 and we lost one person there on 9/11,” said Patrick. But agents are trained to not let the shock of a situation prevent them from doing their job. Think about it. What did you do on 9/11? You were probably frozen in front of your TV for hours. You didn’t expect it.
“We look at things differently than everybody else,” said Patrick. “We’re always on alert. Always turned on. We’re aware that a threat is always there.”
It’s got to be a stressful way to go through life, and Patrick admits that although he loved his job with Secret Service and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, he doesn’t miss it. “I’m just glad that I was able to serve my country, and now I can use that experience to help others through my business. It’s also good to be home with my family every day.”