New York Times
HOW THE "SECRET SERVICE"
DOES ITS WORK.
No One knows Who the Men Are on Chief Wilkie’s Staff, but Their Operations
Extend Over an Endless Variety of Fields.
With the Congress and the President each trying to give the other the jui-jitsu in the matter of the Secret Service controversy and the writers of fiction still at work accrediting to it the handling of huge problems of international intrigue, it is interesting to get behind the scenes and endeavor to get a view of what is actually going on among Uncle Sam’s detectives and to definitely outline the duties that they regularly perform.
There is no branch of the Government’s work which is so little understood by the man in the street as is the Secret Service, or that is so hedged about with romance and glamour and unreality. There are some two or three things with reference to that division of the Treasury Department that are not published in annual reports, and because of these reservations it is surmised that there is a strange and intricate machine, extending its wires to every corner of the globe, working darkly but relentlessly and accredited with doing all sorts of things from the obtaining of grounds for divorce for navy officers to changing the map of the world through the making and bracing of race compacts.
As a matter of fact, there is hardly a germ of fact in any of these conceptions, for the Secret Service is in reality but a detective bureau with the prevention of counterfeiting as the principle excuse for its existence, but authorized also to investigate any violation of a United States statute under direction of the Department of Justice. The watching of counterfeiters is the matter of eternal vigilance and occupies the greater part of the time of the force, but the work done under the Attorney General may show upon its face as of more importance because of the spectacular results, such as in the prosecution of the land fraud cases in the West.
At Washington there are a couple of rooms in the Treasury Building with "Secret Service Division" emblazoned over the door set aside for the service. In one of these sits Chief John E. Wilkie and his assistant, W. U. Moran. The other is occupied by a dozen clerks. The doors are always open and any casual stranger may wander at leisure through them and endeavor to draw upon his imagination to the extent of seeing the mighty wheels go around.
In thirty-seven other cities in the country there are branch offices located in the various Post Office buildings, and in each of these is an official in charge. The words "Secret Service" appear over the doors, yet they are as democratic and open to the public as is the Washington office.
Other than the men in charge of these offices and the Chief and his assistant in Washington, however, there is no information to be had as to who are the men in the Secret Service. Here is the first mystery. Nobody knows who are the men who actually carry on the work. The Blue Book of the Government departments does not have their names, and members of Congress have placed none of their constituents on the list. The men themselves, scattered from Maine to California, never mention the fact that they are in the Secret Service, and they are so often changed from one place to another that the crooks have great difficulty in getting acquainted with them.
The number of men in the service is known only to the men who are directly in charge of it. There are probably four or five to each office, or perhaps a force of not more than 200 men altogether.
Annual Cost of the Service
To maintain this service, Congress appropriates annually amounts ranging from $115,000 to $125,000. This appropriation, as is stipulated, is for the purpose of detecting counterfeit money and for the safeguarding of the President. On the face of it these are the sole duties of the Secret Service, but long ago it was found that there were many occurrences in the business of conduction the affairs of the Government where the services of a thoroughly trained and competent investigator was needed. Private detective agencies were found unsatisfactory, as there was little way of knowing their reliability and trustworthiness. The natural place to turn was to the Secret Service, and, while no provision is made by Congress for this work, there is nothing to prohibit it so long as the expense is not paid out of the Secret Service appropriation.
So it came about that when the Department of Justice needed a man whose reliability had been proved and who could be held more responsible than a detective employed on the outside, a man was asked for from the Secret Service division. He was detailed to the given case, probably working directly under some United States Attorney, and was paid out of funds in the hands of the Department of Justice for just such purposes. All the men in the Secret Service are kept on a per diem basis in order that they may be transferred in this way and their services paid for by whatever branch of the Government is getting the work done.
In a like manner the various departments in Washington came to call on the Secret Service whenever things went wrong and an investigation was found to be necessary. For example, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing not long ago suspected that something was wrong in its ink contracts. It was paying 45 cents a pound for its ink solids, and there was a suspicion that the material was not the best on the market. An investigation showed that one individual had the power to throw the contract where he chose by giving a judgment in favor of a given ink. A Baltimore concern had long had the contract. It was ultimately revealed that the ink expert had been throwing the contract to this concern and getting a rake-off of 10 cents a pound, while the company sill made an enormous profit, for the better ink was afterward contracted for at 15 cents a pound.
The different departments used the Secret Service on similar work and paid for the service rendered out of their emergency funds. Last year, however, Congress developed an unfriendly spirit toward the Secret Service and inserted a clause in the Sundry Civil bill stipulating that none of the money so appropriated should be spend for investigations on the part of the Secret Service. The President wrote an urgent letter to the Speaker and to Mr. Tawney of the Appropriations Committee, but these letters were suppressed and ignored. The bill passed with the antagonistic clause still intact.
There were many charges with reference to the work of the Secret Service. A man working in a dry goods store in Mr. Tawney’s district had confided to his sweetheart at the next counter that he was a Secret Service man in disguise, and the girl had told it and the report came out that the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee was being tracked by these men. It was shown, however, that the Secret Service had no man in all Minnesota at this particular date, and the charges were withdrawn. A midshipman in the nave was off on leave and had failed to keep the department posted as to his whereabouts. The secret Service was asked to find him and did so, reporting to the department. It happened that this midshipman had committed the irregularity of stealing somebody’s wife in the meantime and the efforts of the Secret Service were construed as being directed toward making out divorce cases for Government officials. Some thrills went through Washington society and others through Congressional districts, and the service came in for a drubbing at the hands of Congress and a hot defense on the part of the President.
As a result of the action of Congress last year the Secretary of the Treasury among others complains strongly that his department is being greatly handicapped by the fact that its different bureaus are not able to avail themselves of the use of the Secret Service men. Mr. Cortelyou calls attention to the necessity of the aid of these men in detecting fraud at the mints in such cases as the ink contract at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and many others. Other departments have similar frauds to detect and are likewise clamoring. The President is bombarding Congress with messages and that body is retaliating by refusing to receive them.
But to return to the working of the mystic, phantom men of Chief Wilkies’s staff. No one knows who these men are except the directors of their actions. If a man tells you he is a Secret Service sleuth you could have no better evidence of the fact that he is not. The men in the service say nothing about it, while the man outside of it will often slyly drop a hint that will impress his fellows and enable him to surround himself with an air of mystery and an importance which is popularly attributed to the post.
Appointments Through Merit.
No man is appointed through influence. The fact that he owed his appointment to anybody is held to mitigate against his usefulness. He must be a man upon whom there is no string that could pull him aside from the performance of his duty. The men are picked up here and there whenever a man is found with particular capabilities. The greater number of them come from the claim departments of railroads, express companies, and such. It is necessary that these men have more or less knowledge of law, and they are often recruited from clerks of courts and lawyers. A few, but very few are graduate detectives from police forces.
There are men of all sorts of trades and qualification, as many roles must be played. Counterfeiting is mostly done by printers, and often it is necessary to employ the method known as "roping," which means getting the facts of a man’s manner of life and habits by getting a job, working with him, and forming a personal acquaintance with him. A man must be a practical printer to handle this job. Other tasks would require other qualification.
Another interesting member of the Secret Service force is the "shadow." Shadows are like poets; they are born not made. The shadow must have just the qualifications that make him the least conspicuous man on the street. He must e a man who is absolutely regular and uninteresting, and who would never catch your eye if you met him on the street forty times a day. The man he is shadowing is likely to see him that many times. He must have the ability of always being apparently about his own business and oblivious of his victim. Yet he must be a man of prompt judgment, quick in action, able to extricate himself from all sorts of difficulties, and not betray himself.
The great majority of cases as handled by the Secret Service are merely matters of efficient investigation and require little of subterfuge. Timber frauds are suspected in the West and the detective is anxious to make out his case before anybody is aware that an investigation is one. He goes to the nearest town, probably with a sample case full of cigars. He is ostensibly a traveling salesman. He lounges about the town for a few days waiting for expense money from his "house," and in the meantime secures the affidavits from the people he is after.
Varied Kinds of Work
All sorts of work is necessary and the motto of the Secret Service man is to push it to the earliest possible completion. There has been much illegal fencing of Government land in Nebraska, for instance. In order to determine who were the offenders it was necessary to resurvey great tracts of country. Technical men were pressed into service and actually did the work of running these lines. They go under ground and work as miners or into financial institutions as clerks. All variety of man is needed, and whatever emergency is met with there is just the man for the work.
Contrary to the accepted belief, there are practically no Secret Service men in Washington. There is the regular detail of two that watch over the President, but often there are no others in the capital. There is little occasion for it, for counterfeiting is rarely attempted there. Too many people are technically judges of the genuineness of money. There are larger forces in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and men are called in from these posts when they are needed.
The final task in saddling the crime on the individual is through the time-honored method of "sweating." Chief Wilkie holds that when a man has committed a crime the knowledge of it is always with him. His mind dwells constantly upon it and hungers for an opportunity to talk of it. He knows that he has committed the crime, and usually he knows that the detective knows it. The advantage is all on the part of the detective, and if the man is but led the right way he is sure to tell all about it.
A case in point occurred during the exposition at St. Louis. An engraver by the name of Crahan was arrested at the race track for passing counterfeit money. On him was found twenty-nine one-hundred dollar bills that were bad, and plenty of good money. He explained that he had found the bad money in an envelop, and as a proof of hi contention said he had advertised for its owner. This proved to be correct. He said that he had seen no reason why he should not use money out of this envelop in making his bets, as he had plenty of his own with which to replace it. He was locked up and his case investigated. A fatal error in the man’s story was found in the fact that the advertisement had been inserted two hours before the time he claimed to have found the money.
At the end of a week Chief Wilkie took the man in hand. He started by asking the man to keep perfectly quiet until he had finished his talk. Then he outlined the story of the manner in which Crahan had become a counterfeiter. He told him that he had been an engraver in Washington and an artist at his work. He had been studious and intelligent, but above all an artist, and the excellent examples of the engraver’s art as shown on the Government money had appealed to him.
He had finally traced these designs and had been interested in developing their perfection. He had printed the money in black and it had looked well. He had gotten to wondering how it would look if put into the colors that are used by the Government. He had tried it and thr results had been pleasing to his artistic sense and gratifying to him as a workman. He had wondered if they would pass. This would be the test of his workmanship. He had tried te bills and their acceptance had proved the merit of his work. He had not started out with the idea of being a counterfeiter, but had drifted into it.
Chief Wilkie’s Methods.
As the story advance the accused man assume an attitude of acquiescence. The explanation of how he had drifted into crime had never occurred to him, but it was so pleasing that he melted under it, and in the end told the whole story. Later he used Chief Wilkie’s story of his fall as a plea for commutation of his sentence, and got it reduced from fifteen years to eight.
The Secret Service never forgets and never stops work on a case that it has once taken up. It is said always to get its man sooner or later. The offense is ever revived and kept alive, as an indictment against a man may be, and sooner or later he will return and be caught. There are no counterfeits of any importance that have escaped detection for long. An occasional man may make a few bills and pass them and lose his nerve and retire. He may never be found out, but if he keeps it up for any length of time he will be caught.
An estimate has been obtained from banking institutions from all over the country, and upon them is based an approximation of the amount of bad money in circulation. For paper money it is estimated that there is but one counterfeit for every $100,000 in currency. In coin it is figured that there are probably $3 of bad money to every $100,000. This is regarded as as near an approach to an absence of counterfeit money as can be reached.
On the whole the Secret Service appreciates the greater part of the misunderstanding of its sphere and finds it highly helpful in carrying out its work. Particularly is this true of the many and well-nigh impossible performances through which it is put by fiction writers, who invariably make its men out as the most remarkable individuals of the age, and the grinding of their machine as ruthless and inevitable and unerring as the cycles of time. All this does much toward intimidating men who might otherwise be violators of the law and correspondingly aids the service. The difficulty with Congress, however, takes on a different aspect, for Congress appropriates the money that oils the machine.