Why Does the Secret Service Use Code Names?

Most people are aware that individuals being protected by the U.S. Secret Service are given code names.  This fact is not secret and all it takes is a quick search of the Internet to read a list of code names used by those the agency has protected (protectees).  Recently, a friend asked me why the code names are used if everybody seems to know about them.  The reasons are simple.  Code names were first used before radio communications could be encrypted and during an era when members of the media were less likely to have access to, and subsequently report, such information.  Today, journalists have a great amount of access to political events and will often be standing within earshot of agents who out of necessity are communicating via radio or cell phone.  It does not take a genius to figure out a protectee’s code name when an agent keys up a radio microphones and says the words, “Evergreen is moving to the motorcade” and then Hillary Clinton jumps into a limo.  So, why continue with the use of code names?

Secret Service code names are more than just a tradition

Secret Service code names are more than just a tradition

Tradition is one reason, although not a compelling one by itself.  The more logical reasons involve the need to keep communications clear and concise.  While we tend to think of our own leaders as the focal point of any political event, the fact is the world has many Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Secretaries, etc.  There are often events in which world leaders gather and each has his or her own security detail, staff, and motorcade.  Therefore, if a U.S. Secret Service agent working one of these events were to say, “The President is moving to the dining hall” it may not be clear which nation’s President, or perhaps which former President, is in motion.

Now one may think it would be simpler to just say the last name of the protectee, but that’s not the case.  If one says, President Bush, this could be one of two individuals and they both could be attending the same event.  It is also possible a similar situation could occur if Hillary Clinton were to win the general election and become President.  Additionally, the U.S. Secret Service protects visiting Heads-of-State and some last names may be lengthy or difficult to pronounce.  Thus a simple word representing a protectee makes communications simpler for everyone involved.

The White House Communications Agency assigns the code names, but the major protectees get some say in the matter.  Generally, the protectee is asked to choose a code name from a list of unambiguous words that start with a particular letter.  In the case of the President and Vice President, each family member will get a code name that begins with the same letter.  For instance, Ronald Reagan was Rawhide.  Nancy Reagan used the code name Rainbow.  Ron Reagan was Reliant.

Sometimes protectees will choose a code name they feel represents a certain persona.  Rawhide matched up with the image Ronald Reagan wished to convey.  Deacon is certainly appropriate for Jimmy Carter.  While the ultimate purpose of the code name is not affected by the name itself, I have always thought some code names were better than others.  So, it made me think we should have a poll that ranks some of my favorites.  Here you will find a few code names that I always liked.  Put aside any political feelings you may have and let’s see which code name you think is the best!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in 2017!


image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.


An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.



In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology


3 thoughts on “Why Does the Secret Service Use Code Names?

  1. Mike Fuller Author

    I could think of some Doozies but I try to avoid politics in the blog world. My “blue” humor vocabulary has to confine itself to fictional characters. Sigh. So much fodder out there now.


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