The term secret agent is defined as a spy or anyone involved in covert espionage, surveillance or intelligence activities. The term secret service agents specifically refers to those employed in this capacity by the United States (U.S.) Secret Service. No other countries use this term to refer to agents they employ in comparable capacities. Secret service agents normally are involved in one of two activities: They are assigned to protect government officials or foreign diplomats or are instrumental in government investigations that usually involve counterfeiting or other financial crimes. Their jobs may involve domestic or international matters or a combination of the two.
Secret service agents in the field of protection often provide personal security to the U.S. President and Vice President and their immediate families. They may also protect past U.S. Presidents or major candidates for these offices as well as foreign dignitaries and diplomats visiting the United States. They are usually highly visible to the public and are often seen walking or standing next to their assigned person or persons.
Other agents focus on counterfeiting crimes. They work to investigate and prevent the counterfeiting of U.S. currency and bond notes. In fact, when the agency was established in 1865, counterfeit prevention and elimination was its sole purpose. Secret service agents also investigate other financial fraud crimes and identity theft.
To qualify to apply for these positions, candidates must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 21 and 36. A minimum of three years of work experience in law enforcement, criminal investigation or a combination of the two specialties normally is required. A bachelor’s degrees, preferably in fields related to law enforcement generally is required as well. Qualifications vary by specific job title.
Becoming a secret service agent is a long process. If the application requirements are met, the next step involves a battery of tests and investigations. These include background checks, government polygraph tests and drug screening, and most positions require an applicant to successfully gain top secret clearance. Applicants must also pass psychological, medical and physical exams. Passing a written exam and undergoing numerous interviews are also part of the qualification process.
If candidates qualify, they must be willing to travel extensively and frequently relocate. The ability to quickly analyze situations and choose smart solutions are important skills. Being able to adapt to a variety of situations and maintain composure in volatile circumstances are highly valued attributes for secret service agents as well.