When you see American secret service agents on Television or in films, maybe you observed that they’re consistantly touching their ears? Well, at least one of our readers did and asked me to learn why.

By the ‘Matrix’ movies, Agent Smith and co touched their ears in order to better mimic the behaviour of genuine FBI agents. Therefore it’s visibly a defining trait of secret service agents, at least in United states. It is clearly something they have been doing for quite a while now. Then again, the ‘Agents’ also did it to better receive signals on the technology who ran the Matrix program itself…

In the real world (assuming, naturally, that this IS the real world hmmm….), the reason that FBI agents touch their ears isn’t that dissimilar. Forrest Wickham, of www.slate.com, has the advice:

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 rather embarrassingly lo-tech answer, FBI guys push their earpieces into their ears as that makes the directions come through louder and clearer. Like an obsessive ‘Spinal Tap’ fan, I cannot help but echo the puzzled query of Marti DiBergi and ask “why not just make the earpieces louder?” but that is obviously a question for another time.

Back to, Mr. Wickham

So that they do not do it to appear sinister, or to receive instructions in the engine world that secretly runs all our existence. They are doing it as, well, their communications is a little bit crappy, evidently.

Then again, I presume that if you’re trying to hear very detailed, very important information in the busy and loud environment, then any earpiece you used would be sternly challenged. It’s hard to hear everything over the sound of large crowds as well.

“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 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”.

Mr. Wickham also offers a bonus explanation. At the end of his article, Wickham tells us why the FBI 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”.

Seems adequate to me.

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