We went inside Secret Service boot camp where recruits get top secret training for their 'zero-fail mission'

Business Insider 3 weeks ago
  • We got an inside look at the United States Secret Service's 6-month boot camp.
  • Senior video correspondent Graham Flanagan spent three days at the James J. Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, where he observed recruits at various stages of training.
  • According to the Secret Service, about one in every 100 applicants makes it through the agency's intense vetting process to become a recruit. The base salary for new agents and officers is $47,000 per year.
  • After spending three months at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in either Artesia, New Mexico or Glynco, Georgia, recruits return to Laurel for three more months of Secret Service-specific training.
  • Although we were allowed to film inside the academy, much of the training remained secret. According to the training center's deputy chief, Michael Buck, this was intended to avoid "giving people specifics into our protective methodologies ... we don't advertise our playbook."
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Man: You OK, man?

Man: You mother f-----.

Recruit: Put the bat down! Police! Drop the bat!

Christopher Fagan: I want you to take all the notions that you have about what we do in the Secret Service that you've seen on the movies and on TV shows, and I want you to throw it out the window. The Secret Service is the premier law-enforcement agency in the world. It is by far the best protective agency that's ever been. The Secret Service has a zero-fail mission. That is now your responsibility. That is now the weight on your shoulders. Now you have to earn it every single day.

Narrator: This is Secret Service boot camp. Before they join the Secret Service, all recruits have to graduate from the agency's six-month training program. Training happens here, at the James J. Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, located about 20 miles north of Washington.

Fagan: Welcome to the James J. Rowley United States Secret Service Training Center.

Narrator: On day one, a new class of recruits arrives at the academy.

Fagan: Have a seat. Every one of you sitting here right now, there was about 100 other applicants that tried to get the seat that you have earned. How did you earn that seat? You earned that seat by getting through our very, very difficult and in-depth vetting process. And you should be congratulated. And I hope you celebrated, because the celebration time is over. Now's the time for business. Everybody clear on that? On Saturday, you will depart...

Narrator: Before they begin their Secret Service-specific training, these recruits will spend three months at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico.

Recruit: Get back in the building, now!

Narrator: Before returning to Maryland for three more months of focused training... that includes driving, marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and realistic threat scenarios.

Fagan: You're gonna hear a phrase over and over and over again throughout your training, in particular this week. The Secret Service has a zero-fail mission. What that means in layman's terms, ladies and gentlemen, is this: You don't get a bad day in the Secret Service. There's plenty of other pursuits out there, noble pursuits. Lawyers, plumbers, firemen, doctors. If one of those folks has a rough night the night before, stays out late, they have to deal with their boss, some kind of disciplinary action. If you have a bad day and you don't do your job, you're going to change the world. Is there anyone that doesn't want to proceed at this point? All right. Then let's get down to business.

Narrator: We spent three days at the training center, where we observed recruits at various stages of training.

Fagan: It's going to be a long week. Narrator: For the new class, their first week focuses on a physical evaluation.

Recruit: Let's go! Let's go! Don't stop! Don't stop! Narrator: And getting rid of any bad habits they may have brought into the academy.

Fagan: We left yesterday without chairs being pushed in, and now we can't pay attention to detail one minute after the detail's given out. And we're laughing and joking in here. It is going to be an extremely long week. Do not make plans for Friday getting out of here on time, 'cause that ain't happening.

Narrator: Although we were allowed to film inside the academy, our access was limited, and we were only able to film certain aspects of training, the rest of which remained secret.

Michael Buck: There's certain things that we will not be able to show yourself or any other members of the media here, and that's really for the safety of our protectees. We don't wanna advertise our playbook, so to speak.

Narrator: For example, we weren't able to film any training that incorporated this partial replica of Air Force One, used to create specific scenarios where the president is threatened. Buck: We don't want to give people specifics into our protective methodologies that we have in place for some of our protection. Clearly, some of those things we cannot share. And that's really to make sure that we're not giving any sort of an advantage to any of our adversaries out there.

Clip: The United States Secret Service, America's first line of defense against the counterfeiter and their crimes.

Narrator: The Secret Service was founded in 1865. It's primary mission: to combat the counterfeiting of US currency.

Clip: The famed Secret Service, whose foremost duty is protecting the president of the United States and his family.

Narrator: The Secret Service began its protective mission after the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley.

Gus Gennerich: I am the president's personal bodyguard. I go where he goes. I wanna say that anybody who has no business with him better look out. And believe me, I don't mean maybe.

Narrator: Since the Secret Service began its protective mission, the president has remained a target. Since 1901, President Kennedy has been the sole president to die at the hands of an assassin, despite numerous attempts by others. Like in 1994.

Woman: Oh, my God! 

Narrator: When a gunman opened fire on the White House while President Clinton watched a football game inside.

Man: Put it down! Put it down!

Buck: Due to the weight of our protective mission, we have to make sure that anyone in those positions is truly worthy of trust and confidence, which is our motto here. We're getting ready to go into another campaign year, so we have to build up our workforce in order to help support that.

Narrator: The base salary for new agents and officers starts as low as $47,000 a year. Potential recruits apply on the Secret Service website, but most applicants are eliminated during an intense vetting process.

Fagan: Generally, it takes quite a long time in order to get through our screening process. The very in-depth background checks, qualification to obtain a top-secret clearance and maintain one, to undergo a polygraph examination, successfully pass that. They have a lot to be proud of just for the fact that they're sitting here.

Recruit: Stay right there.

Instructor: One thing to understand, guys: This is not a video game.

Narrator: In this exercise, recruits interact with a video screen that plays a scenario involving a potential threat to a protectee.

Recruit: Sir, drop it! Stop moving! Stop moving!

Narrator: And are judged on how quickly they're able to assess and respond to the threat.

Instructor: So, there's the gun I knew I was gonna find. What can I do with this?

Narrator: Recruits also engage with role players, who create realistic law-enforcement scenarios.

Man: All right, I'll just hang out over here, officer.

Recruit: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Narrator: Working in motor vehicles plays a big part in training, in what the academy calls "protective transportation." Recruits train behind the wheel of high-speed Dodge Chargers and Chevy Suburbans.

Thomas Murach: The Secret Service's mission is to get protectees safely from point A to point B. The training that we provide enhances that mission, that foundational driving that they are going to need to be effective Secret Service agents.

Instructor: All right, is everybody ready? All right.

Narrator: Recruits also experience a rollover simulator to prepare them for what it's like inside a vehicle that's flipped over.

Instructor: Next four up.

Narrator: The instructor allowed us in the simulator.

Graham Flanagan: I'm upside down.

Narrator: To experience it from the inside. Recruits spend hours on the firing range. They cross paths with active agents who've come back to the academy for in-service training.

Recruit: Drop the weapon!

Narrator: Recruits engage in water-based scenarios, including being challenged to escape from this apparatus. Which simulates being trapped in a helicopter that's flipped upside down underwater.

Instructor: You guys good? You still wanna be here?

Recruits: Yes, ma'am!

Instructor: You guys ready to do some team tactics?

Recruits: Yes, ma'am!

Narrator: Recruits learn control tactics used to detain and subdue an assailant.

Recruit: Drop the knife! Drop the knife! Drop the knife!

Narrator: Male and female recruits train together throughout basic training. Of the approximately 7,000 people in the Secret Service, less than 25% are female.

Instructor: I'm gonna come around and check your seals one more time.

Narrator: One of the most challenging parts of training occurs when the recruits are exposed to tear gas. We couldn't bring our camera inside the gas chamber, but we did convince an officer to shoot inside with an iPhone, showing us what it's like for recruits when they're exposed to the gas.

Graham Flanagan: [coughing]. Holy s---! Oof. It's burning my eyes. 

Narrator: We weren't allowed to interview recruits during training or to film at graduation. Once training is complete, these future agents and officers begin their zero-fail mission against the backdrop of an intense election year in a nation divided by politics.

Fagan: We protect the Office of the President. We're not political appointees. It doesn't matter to us who the people elect. We're gonna protect those individuals with the same zealousness that we would regardless. Political opinions don't come into play at all. What we're focused on is training, preparing them to do the job that they're gonna need to do, and that's all that counts for us.


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