A.T. Smith, Assistant Director, Office of Investigations, U.S. Secret Service, Washington, D.C.
n April 14, 1865, five days after the formal end of the American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln met with Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch to combat the United States’ overwhelming counterfeit currency problem. The idea of creating the U.S. Secret Service was born the very day that Abraham Lincoln traveled to Ford’s Theater and was assassinated.
As one of the oldest federal investigative law enforcement agencies in the United States, the Secret Service was—and still is—mandated with the mission of suppressing counterfeiting and protecting America’s financial payment systems (among other duties including protection of the president, the vice president, and former elected leaders). Today, as the financial payment methods evolve, so does the Secret Service. In addition to its original mandate of combating the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, the passage of new legislation in 1984 gave the Secret Service authority for investigating credit card and debit card fraud and parallel authority with other federal law enforcement agencies in identity theft cases.
Also in 1984, Congress assigned concurrent jurisdiction to the Secret Service to investigate financial crimes as they relate to computers. In 2001, Congress, through the USA Patriot Act, directed the Secret Service to establish nationwide electronic crimes task forces that partners law enforcement, the private sector, and academia in detecting and suppressing computer-based crime. Furthermore, the USA Patriot Act increased the statutory penalties for the manufacture, the possession, the dealing, and the passage of counterfeit U.S. or foreign obligations. The USA Patriot Act allows Secret Service enforcement action to be taken in protecting the U.S. financial payment systems while combating transnational financial crimes directed by criminal organizations. In fiscal year 2010, the Secret Service arrested 1,217 suspects for cybercrime-related violations, with a fraud loss of $507 million. As the original protectors of the U.S. financial payment systems, the Secret Service exercises broad investigative bjurisdiction over a variety of cybercrimes and financial crimes.
Secret Service Task Force Strategies
To protect the U.S. critical financial infrastructure from cybercriminals and financial criminals, the Secret Service has adopted a multipronged approach. The Secret Service, joining with law enforcement partners, has successfully dismantled some of the largest known cybercriminal organizations by working through the agency’s established network of 31 Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTFs) and 38 Financial Crimes Task Forces (FCTFs). The Secret Service ECTFs focus on identifying and locating international cybercriminals involved in network intrusions, bank frauds, data breaches, and other computer-related crimes. With the recent additions of the two international ECTFs in Rome, Italy, and London, England, local law enforcement members are able to leverage their task force participation into Europe, where cybercriminals have operated with impunity. In addition, the ECTF state and local law enforcement partners are provided with computer-based training, tools, and equipment to enhance their investigative skills.
Over the last several years, the Secret Service has partnered with Dutch law enforcement in fighting eastern European–based cybercrime. The Secret Service sends cybercrimes agents to work with the Dutch on a three-week temporary assignment rotation. These embedded agents provide the Secret Service a year-round presence with the Dutch, which allows for the sharing of information on criminal tactics, techniques, and cyber intelligence.
Reciprocity exists; the Dutch officers of the National High Tech Crime Unit are sent to the United States to work with Secret Service personnel within ECTFs located throughout the country. This international “law enforcement exchange program” enables a robust sharing of information between the two organizations. This Secret Service law enforcement exchange model has recently been expanded to the Ukraine. Although this partnership is in its developmental stage, it already has paid huge dividends in the large amounts of data seized and has given investigators a foothold into a previously lawless refuge. In an effort to strengthen foreign membership to the ECTFs, the Secret Service also has met with law enforcement representatives from Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Colombia, China (Hong Kong), Australia, New Zealand, and Russia to identify areas where they can work together to combat cybercrime.
Complementing the ECTFs are the Secret Service’s 38 domestic FCTFs, which focus on preventing the exploitation of financial instruments by organized criminal groups. The FCTFs are not dedicated to electronic crimes, but they work closely with financial institutions and local law enforcement to solve traditional financial crimes schemes. Simply stated, the FCTFs arrest criminals and prevent monetary loss to financial institutions. Furthermore, this law enforcement alliance combats financial crimes by multiplying investigative resources, physical effort, and intelligence toward specific criminal targets engaged in illegal financial activity.
The 38 FCTFs also provide an external gateway to the Secret Service’s eInformation Network. The eInformation Network enables the Secret Service to communicate with its partners through several unique online resources. The eInformation’s eLibrary website is a secure website for law enforcement and qualified financial crime investigators to review specific financial documents. The eInformation’s U.S. Dollars Note Search site is a secure website designed to provide qualified financial institutions and law enforcement officers the ability to conduct a search of the Secret Service counterfeit note database. These websites provide a unique collection of resources on a variety of financial institution topics and may be accessed only by registered members. These critical FCTF law enforcement coalitions reinforce strategic investigative alliances, aid in identifying patterns and trends, and allow for the sharing of methodologies in fighting financial crimes.
Education, Computer Forensics, and Law Enforcement
The Secret Service provides several avenues for state and local police officers to obtain the necessary education to fight today’s cybercriminals. The agency provides law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges with cyber-training at the agency’s National Computer Forensic Institute (NCFI) in Hoover, Alabama. At the NCFI, law enforcement officers can become certified computer forensic examiners and master the intricacies of extracting data from digital media storage devices. Additionally, by collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Emergency Response Team, the Secret Service is maximizing partnerships with academia to study computer viruses and malware, infecting computers worldwide. In 2007, the Secret Service established a partnership with the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Forensic Laboratory Center of Information Security, to create the Cell Phone Forensic Facility. This facility expands the capabilities of law enforcement to pursue a broader range of digital forensics, specifically involving cellular telephones, PDAs, and skimmers. The university supplies a qualified set of interns who specialize in information technology and digital forensics to assist law enforcement officers during investigations.
The Mission Continues
Today, cybercriminals are operating in nearly every civilized nation in the world. Current trends related to cybercrimes indicate a significant increase in network intrusions worldwide. Cybercriminals’ ability to obtain personal data, mount cyber attacks against the United States government and financial institutions, or anonymously spread malicious software is alarming. However, these problems are not insurmountable; agents in the Secret Service and their law enforcement partners are committed to disrupting and dismantling these criminal networks. In particular, the successful investigations of Heartland and TJX Intrusions, as well as the arrests of cybercriminals Maksym Yastremskey, Albert Gonzalez, Vladislav Horohorin, and Lin Mun Poo, have highlighted the agency’s international law enforcement partnerships. Additionally, the most recent openings of the Secret Service’s office in Tallinn, Estonia, and Beijing, China, further the agency’s mandate to combat transnational cybercrime through the 24 foreign offices and 31 ECTFs. The Secret Service will aggressively continue its mission to safeguard U.S. financial infrastructure and payment systems and preserve the integrity of the U.S. economy. The Secret Service is proud to partner with city, state, and international law enforcement to accomplish this mission.
Please visit the Secret Service website at http://www.secretservice.gov for more details and a complete list of resources. ■
Please cite as:
A.T. Smith, "The U.S. Secret Service Partners with State, Local, and International Law Enforcement to Pursue the World’s Most Wanted Cybercriminals," From the Assistant Director, The Police Chief 78 (December 2011): 16–17.