West Pine Bluff Rotary Club members got a rare opportunity to go behind the scenes Thursday with a United States Secret Service agent.
Agent Aaron Longnecker was the guest speaker at the club’s weekly meeting at the Pine Bluff Country Club. For the past three years, Longnecker has lived in Conway with his wife, 13-year-old stepdaughter and 10-year-old stepson. He works in the Little Rock field office.
During his 16 years with the Secret Service, Longnecker’s career has taken him a long way from his home state of Kansas. After leaving his job as a state trooper to join the Secret Service, “looking for a better way to make a living,” Longnecker has had several assignments. He trained five years in the Kansas field office before going to Washington, D.C., then to Southern California where he was assigned to the personal security detail for former President Gerald Ford. Considering the job and the “amazing weather,” Longnecker said, “it was the best four years of my life.”
Longnecker was assigned to the field office in San Francisco for six years before transferring to Little Rock to be closer to family. He’s still five hours away, but Longnecker joked that, “by Secret Service standards five hours is like next door.”
Longnecker said that he hoped his presentation would demystify some common perceptions about the Secret Service.
“Most people see us as a bunch of men … and women who guard the president, who stand around with a thing in our ear and talking to our sleeves,” he said.
While that is partly true, Longnecker said, “we actually do a whole lot more.”
Longnecker said that as a field agent he probably spends only 10 percent of his time providing protection. The other 90 percent is spent doing the kind of work for which the Secret Service was originally established. According to Longnecker, the original purpose for the agency, established in 1865, was to investigate the printing of counterfeit money—mostly in the South.
Longnecker said the Secret Service did not become involved in presidential security until well into the 20th century, after being asked by Congress to provide some unofficial personal security for President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Protection for presidents, dignitaries and heads of states did not become a law until the Truman administration,” Longnecker said.
Longnecker explained that even now, a good percentage of time is still devoted to investigate a more high- tech version of counterfeiting.
“That’s still the backbone,” he said.
Secret Service agents also investigate other crimes; especially electronic crimes like hacking, account take-overs, Phishing and child pornography.
“There’s something new every day, Longnecker said. “We have to stay on our toes and evolve.”
Longnecker took a few minutes to mention the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. He said he has been asked where he was when it happened. The 46-year-old Longnecker said he simply replies, “ I wasn’t alive.”
For obvious reasons he did not elaborate, but Longnecker said security for presidents today is far superior to security during Kennedy’s time.