TBT: Secret Service Operatives – the Early Days

BostonBankNote

 

The Secret Service history dates back to the Civil War when they were informally created to detect, investigate, and arrest counterfeiters. The early days were fraught with detectives who had less than ethical standards and tactics that disregarded the rights of a citizen. In less than ten years after its establishment, a reformation was demanded and a whole new breed of Secret Service Operative came into existence.

Who was this new breed of operative?

Operatives tended to have military, police, or detective experience and come from a law-abiding middle-class background. These men were successful in life prior to being appointed and often had a job history that indicated an ambition to do more.

 

Unlike their predecessors, they adapted their behavior to bureaucratic routine, followed orders, and obeyed rules. They were talented detectives, highly tolerant of paperwork, and committed to organizational goals.

 

They were a  tough, capable, and honorable breed, with high standards of personal integrity, who felt it their duty to interact with criminals for the greater good of society.

 

“Employees will be judged by the character they sustain, by the results they accomplish, and by the manner in which they accomplish them.” – Elmer Washburn, Chief of the Secret Service 1874-1876

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Operative in the 1880s

  • Avoid “any appearance of impropriety or disgraceful behavior.”
  • Criminals are not personal acquaintances; they are enemies of the social order.
  • Submit weekly reports to the director. They must include accounts of your actions and expenses every hour of every day.
  • Do not accept gifts or gratuities to perform or forgo official duties.
  • Do not deliver or give permission to use counterfeit money to any unauthorized person.
  • All arrests must be in strict conformity to civil law and with the cooperation of the local policing institution.
  • All financial transactions must be reported, even those with criminals.
  • Report all criminal transactions: what was paid for counterfeit money, from whom it was purchased, where they deal was made, the kind of bogus money purchased, and how much counterfeit was obtained.SecretServiceBadge1
  • Record “all charges for information and assistance,” including names and residences of each person receiving these sums.
  • Purchasing counterfeit money must be done for the smallest, practical amount.
  • “Authority must be had from this Office before any bargain is made for information or assistance, unless the operative can clearly make it appear that the interest of the service would have suffered materially by the delay necessary, in order to obtain such authority.”
  • “Operatives will neither promise, either by word or implication, immunity from punishment, nor anything in mitigation of sentence, to any person for any offense he may have committed.”
  • Suspects must be warned about their rights – everything they said will be documented and used against them in court. Suspects needn’t answer any questions until a lawyer is obtained. (This was long before the Miranda Rights became required in 1966.)

Throw Back Thursday: Secret Service History

silhouette-407659_640

“The detection of crime, when entered upon with an honest purpose to discover the haunts of criminals and protect society from their depredations by bringing them to justice, is held to be an honorable calling and worthy of commendation of all good men.”

– Hiram C. Whitley, Chief of the Secret Service, May 1869 – September 1874

 

While many people today think of the Secret Service as primarily protecting the President, that duty did not actually become a part of their repertoire until 1894. Until 1902 it was conducted only informally and part-time, and even then, only two operatives were assigned full-time to the White House. So what did they do from their creation in 1865 until 1902, and beyond?

 

Before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was given exclusive authorization of currency production in 1877, our  our government was in a precarious situation. Prior to the formation of said currency, one third to one half of all money in circulation was counterfeit. Determined to ensure the safety of the new national currency, the Secret Service was tasked with detecting and bringing to justice the counterfeiters whom were so talented at creating the illegal tender.

 

Enter the heroes of my series in progress. Each hero is a Secret Service operative from the early days when detecting counterfeiters was their man job and concern. My current hero is working a case in 1883. Researching the cases of these amazing heroes has been a revealing and enjoyable adventure.

 

More posts will be devoted to these amazing heroes of our early economic system, but for now here are few interesting facts gleaned from my research of the Secret Service prior to 1901:

  • The number of operatives in the Secret Service ranged between fifteen men in 1865 and a high of thirty-five in 1898 for the entire United States. A large portion of that time the number of operatives was well below thirty.

 

  • The badge below was issued in 1875 and was the first to feature the “Service Star” – the official emblem still used today. SecretServiceBadge1
  • The star’s five points each represent one of the agency’s five core values: justice, duty, courage, honesty, and loyalty.

 

  • Secret Service operatives not only located and shut down counterfeiters, they also investigated nonconforming distillers, smugglers, mail robbers, land frauds, and other infractions against the Federal government.

 

  • Secret Service operatives were not initially allowed to arrest criminals, therefore they had to work in conjunction with local police.

 

  • U.S. Marshall’s once earned extra income through the reward money granted for the capture of counterfeiters. When the Secret Service took over that duty, tension developed between the two agencies. Eventually this faded, but in those early days working together was not always done amicably.

 

Pin It on Pinterest