What's So Secret About the Secret Service?

How far back would I have to go in its history to find out when, if ever, the Secret Service was such a secret?

There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for its name. It was created to track counterfeiters and halt the rampant spread of counterfeit US money after the Civil War, so I guess “secret” is an era term meaning something like investigator/spy/counteragent.

Amusingly, one could decide to go into public service by joining the Secret Service.

Perhaps that, in and of itself, is secret, huh?

You can be a confidential investigator for public schools, too.

The first rule of the Secret Service is you don’t ask about the Secret Service.

One could even join the uniformed branch of the Secret Service.

Prior to the creation of the FBI and the CIA, the Secret Service did what those agencies later did, including espionage and counter-espionage both foreign and domestic. So it made more sense to have a name like “Secret Service”; much of its work was clandestine.

These days it has a much narrower role and the work it does is fairly public, so the name seems incongruous. I’m sure it’s not at all worth the effort to rename it though.

Acording to this, the “secret service” took over the role of the “secret service”: it inherited the name along with the role.

That doesn’t answer the qwuestion, but it pushes it back a little.

The phrase is British in origin. When the House of Commons appropriates money for public expenditure, it did so (and still does so) under various headings - for the pay and allowances of the army, for the maintenance of forts and arsenals, etc, etc. From at least as far back as the 17th century, one of the regular headings was “for secret service”. It was understood in Parliament that this was mainly money used to pay bribes and rewards to informers and, in the nature of things, a detailed accounting of expenditure could not be given. Parliament recognised the necessity for this but was also uncomfortable with it, since it was an area of expenditure that could not be properly scrutinised. Significant increases in the amount of the appropriations for secret service that the government requested were always criticised, and taken as an indicator of the poor state of the country, the growing discontent of the populace, etc.

By the early nineteenth century, “secret service” referred not just to the money appropriated, but to the officials and agencies involved in spending it. The secret service included a number of different agencies, or branches of agencies, though none of them (in the UK) actually had “Secret Service” as part of their name until the Secret Service Bureau was established in the early twentieth century. By then, of course, the US already had a government agency with the name “Secret Service”.

Beware the BBB- The Black Budget Bureau!

I would like to join the uninformed branch of the Secret Service. “They don’t tell me anything!”

Is there a second rule?

Obligatory theme music for the thread:

"Who has got the secret-est Service?
The one that makes the other service nervous?
Fucking-A, man!


Maybe the Secret Service is a front for the Department of Public Relations.

Yes. The second rule is there is no first rule.

For years in England they denied officially the existence of MI5. Canadian judges just recently learned about a data processing centre that CSIS allegedly didn’t feel they needed to know about.

I mention the origin of the name in my Staff Report here: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2910/is-the-secret-service-responsible-for-keeping-the-president-from-getting-drunk

Great read, thanx for the link … ummmm … so who’s watching for counterfeiting now?

The Secret Service. Presidential Security isn’t their only job or even their main job. I’ve worked with them on several occasions with counterfeiting operations. I have also helped out with a couple of presidential details. The agents that are working cases will get pulled off their fulltime job to help with security when there is a presidential visit.