Editor’s Note: Most of our understanding of Secret Service work comes from Hollywood. Few of us have ever met a Secret Service Agent, or maybe you have and don’t know it. “Inside the Secret Service” is about life as a Secret Service agent. Our contributor is still a Federal Agent but with a different agency, therefore we have chosen not to reveal his name. These life experiences come from a Concord resident who spent several years as a Secret Service agent. This is his story….
Although still a federal agent, I have been out of the Secret Service for several years now. Yet I still get a lot of questions from friends whenever incidents involving the Service are in the news. The question I have received most often since the election has been in regards to the First Family and how the Secret Service can protect them effectively given the fact that the only family member currently residing in the White House is President Trump. The First Lady and son, Barron, are living in Trump Tower in New York City, pending the completion of his school year. The other Trump kids, to include grandkids (who also receive round-the-clock Secret Service protection) have their own residences.
There has been much criticism recently in social media regarding the cost to taxpayers associated with protecting the Trump family in two different locations; Washington D.C. and New York. Those concerned need not look too far back in Presidential history to see that this is not a situation exclusive to the Trumps’. The Fords, Reagan’s, Bush’s (41 and 43), and Clinton’s, all had kids under Secret Service protection who resided outside the White House, because of college or marriage. So how does the Secret Service manage to protect such large and spread-out families? Well, quite simply, they just do. It’s what the Secret Service does.
As I’ve previously written, the Service has a dual mission; protection and investigations. But when it comes down to it, dignitary protection is what the Service is known for throughout the world. It is the single most important role agents in the Service have. It is the one element of the job that absolutely must be planned out and executed correctly each and every time. Compromise is not an option. All resources which are deemed necessary for the proper execution of the protective mission, regardless of costs, personnel logistics, or equipment availability, are provided, period. Because of the ever changing geographical and logistical fields of protective operations, the Secret Service by necessity is one of the most flexible and swiftly moving agencies in the government. That flexibility and swiftness comes at the expense of the agents.
Agents frequently find themselves traveling cross country or overseas with little advance notice, often missing holidays or other special occasions with family and friends. Furthermore, the intended and verbally confirmed career paths of agents are often altered by the Service, generally due to changes in protection requirements. This can result in an agent being transferred to a geographical location that he or she does not desire. As one can imagine, these changes and uncertainties can be very trying on agents and their families. But, all agents know this coming into the job. They are very patriotic and understand the importance of the Secret Service mission. They commit themselves to a career that is challenging and spontaneous. Agents realize their future will be dictated by the “needs of the Service.”
Protection of the President and First Family falls under the Presidential Protective Division (PPD). This is usually an agent’s most sought after assignment. PPD assignments are usually four to five years. The normal progression (if there is such a thing in the Secret Service) on PPD is that agents new to the detail are generally first assigned directly to the president as shift agents (the agents you see with the president, surrounding him when he is in public, on rope lines working crowds, etc.). After a year to year-and-a-half, agents are then reassigned to a “satellite” detail within PPD. This is also a year to year-and-a-half assignment. There are several satellite details such as, First Lady Detail, First Kids (and grandkids, in the case of the Trumps), Motorcades, Logistics, to name a few. After completion of their satellite details, agents usually spend their last year or so back on the President’s Detail.
Even though the First Family is large and spread out, the protection philosophy doesn’t change. Only the increased number of agents and the geography changes. Because First Lady Trump’s Detail is now operating out of New York City, all protective personnel (which includes shift agents, counter surveillance teams, counter sniper teams, hazmat teams, etc.), other specialized resources, and hard assets (i.e. such as armored vehicles, other essential vehicles Secret Service vehicles, ballistic equipment, etc.) assigned to her detail have also been transferred to New York. The agents on Mrs. Trump’s Detail (and Barron’s) who reside in the D.C metropolitan area have relocated and are on temporary assignment to New York up until the First Lady and Barron move into the White House. Obviously, this is very trying for those agents whose families remain back in D.C.
To offset or mitigate the need for large numbers of PPD agents to be temporarily assigned from D.C. to off-site satellite details, the Service will supplement those details with agents from the field. For example, when Chelsea Clinton attended Stanford University, many agents assigned to the San Francisco and San Jose area, who were planning to transfer to PPD in D.C., were instead assigned directly to the satellite detail of Chelsea Clinton at Stanford, greatly reducing the need to transfer many D.C. based PPD agents to Northern California. After these agents completed their satellite detail at Stanford, they were then transferred to D.C. to complete their PPD assignments.
This same methodology is currently being utilized in New York as well. The New York City Field Office is the largest Field Office in the Secret Service. Many agents from that office who were eligible to transfer to PPD in D.C. have instead been assigned to either the First Lady or Barron Trump satellite details. Again, reducing the need to transfer several agents from D.C. to New York.
The same was done when Former President and First Lady Clinton moved to Chappaqua, New York. The bulk of their detail was comprised of New York City Field Office agents, many of whom had been verbally promised reassignment to either PPD or the Vice Presidential Protective Detail (VPPD) in Washington. Instead, the “needs of the Service” took precedence over the wants of the agents, and these agents ended up assigned to the Clintons.
Logistically and financially this makes sense, but it does detour the career path of many agents who were planning, and looking forward, to PPD or VPPD detail assignments in Washington.
This is the nature of the job. The Secret Service mission is very unique. Agents know prior to being hired that the job requires much travel and relocation throughout ones career. They also know that desired career paths are never guaranteed. The needs of the Service dictate when and where an agent will be transferred. These decisions are driven by the unique and ever changing protective requirements of the Secret Service. As agents, we role with the punches and complete the mission.