Why Do Secret Service Agents Always Touch Their Ears?

What’s your favourite feature of this radio accessory? Personally, I like the design job – Its cooler than an Inuit’s underpants!

When you see American secret service agents on TV or in films, have you noticed that they are always touching their ears? Well, at least one of our readers did and asked me to find out why.

In the ‘Matrix’ movies, Agent Smith and co touched their ears in order to better mimic the behaviour of real secret service agents. Therefore it is obviously a defining trait of secret service agents, at least in America. It is clearly something they have been doing for quite a while now. Then again, the ‘Agents’ also did it to better receive signals from the machines who ran the Matrix program itself…

In the real world (assuming, of course, that this IS the real world hmmm….), the reason that secret service agents touch their ears is not that different. Forrest Wickham, of http://www.slate.com, has the answers:

Are those earpieces uncomfortable? No, it’s just so they can hear better. Pushing in an earpiece makes for a tighter seal, which could mean the difference between hearing or missing a Secret Service codename or another agent’s message about the president’s position while standing in a noisy room. While earpieces are not uncomfortable, they do sometimes come loose, requiring readjustment.

There you have it, a somewhat embarrassingly lo-tech answer, secret service guys push their earphones into their ears because that makes the instructions come through louder and clearer. Being an ardent ‘Spinal Tap’ fan, I can’t help but echo the bemused query of Marti DiBergi and ask “why not just make the earpieces louder?” but that’s obviously a question for another time.

Back to you, Mr. Wickham:

“Earpieces aren’t the only communication devices the Secret Service uses, and not all earpieces have the same design. Some devices, for example, look like iPod ear buds. The one-ear headphone, http://www.iphoneearpiece.co.uk, often shown in the movies is standard and comes with a curly wire that runs down under their shirt to a hidden microphone worn in different locations depending on the circumstances of the assignment. One standard spot is just under the shirt sleeve. (That explains why agents are always lifting their wrists to their mouths.) Earpieces also come in different colors, and some agents choose a device that matches their skin or hair”.

So they don’t do it to look sinister, or to get instructions from the machine world that secretly runs all our lives. They do it because, well, their equipment is a little bit crappy, apparently.

Then again, I suppose that if you were trying to hear very specific, very important information in a busy and loud environment, then any headset you used would be severely challenged. It’s hard to hear anything over the sound of large crowds as well.

Mr. Wickham also offers a bonus explanation. At the end of his article, Wickham tells us why the secret service guys always seem to be wearing sunglasses.

“Why are Secret Service agents always wearing sunglasses? To keep the sun out of their eyes. While the Service has often cultivated a certain mystique, preferring to remain “cloaked in silence and mystery,” spokesmen insist they wear shades merely for their traditional purpose, and not, say, to keep would-be assassins from knowing which way they’re looking. The Secret Service has no set uniform, but agents say that wearing sunglasses on a sunny day helps them to scan a crowd for suspicious behavior”.

Sounds good enough to me.

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