Created By: Discar on February 22, 2013 Last Edited By: Discar on July 9, 2013
Troped

Over The Top Secret

Classified above top secret.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Do We Have This One?, Needs a Better Description

General Maynard: Mr. President, I'm here to bring you up to speed on a program we've been running out of Cheyenne Mountain for the past seven years.
President: I've already had my top secret briefing.
Maynard: Yes, Mr. President. But not this.
-- "Inauguration," Stargate SG-1

You know the trope. In order to emphasize just how ridiculously important something is, it is classified as "Above Top Secret." Maybe it has a special name, maybe it doesn't, but the point is that people who thought they were privvy to every secret are...not.

See also Classified Information, Up to Eleven, and Serial Escalation. If an entire organization is classified such, you're likely looking at an instance of No Such Agency.

Not to be confused with Above Top Secret, which is a website about conspiracy theories.


Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Film]]

  • In GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra, the title organization is described as above top secret. Of course, sometimes it seems like everyone on the planet knows about them, so it's one of those examples.
  • In Men in Black 3, J is told that the exact details of what happened between his partner K and Boris the Animal is above his pay grade. He's a senior agent only a step or two below the chief, so he's quite surprised. Shortly thereafter, he finds out about time travel--which is also above his pay grade.
    J: Okay--I need a raise.
  • The President doesn't learn about the secret laboratory beneath Area 51 until the aliens begin their invasion in Independence Day. President Whitmore promptly fires his Chief of Staff Nimzicki for keeping the President in the dark about such a crucial asset.
  • During Transformers, a high-ranking Sector 7 officer shows the Secretary of Defense some video of a Decepticon taken by a Mars probe that was reported having crashed, saying that it was "classified above top secret."
  • The James Bond story & film For Your Eyes Only is named after a real document security level: don't show to anyone, even if they have the same clearance as you (or higher).
  • Anyone who even mentions General Warren Monger's secret monster storehouse in Monsters vs. Aliens receives a dart to the neck and passes out instantly.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, One-Shot The Consultant sees SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell realizes this, then lets it slide, since he's talking to a right-hand man of the director, they're both highly ranked, and considering the nature of secrets kept, there are some things better off not known.
    Sitwell: ...and they think we have him?
    Coulson: What's your clearance level?
    Sitwell: Heh, level 6, same as you.
    [beat]
    Sitwell: Oh come on, there's a level 7?

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]

  • In The Laundry Series, the Laundry is classified under a portion of the British Official Secrets Act that is itself classified.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]

  • The Stargate Program in the Stargate Verse.
    • In a variant, it's only above top secret for the United States--China insists they are not going to make any effort to help America maintain The Masquerade, and Russia and other countries are only placated by giving them stakes in the Atlantis mission and similar expeditions.
    • The trope is discussed directly a few times in Stargate SG-1.
      • In "Touchstone" Col. Maybourne tells SG-1 they're not cleared for some information, they point out they have the highest possible security clearance, and Maybourne says that that's only true within the military and Area 51 is a civilian operation.
      • In "Seth" Jack and Jacob Carter use this on an ATF special agent who's investigating a cult run by a Goa'uld hiding on Earth.
      • And then of course there's the page quote, where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is briefing the newly elected President Hayes on the stargate program.
  • There's an episode of The Avengers where it's mentioned that British Intelligence has at least two secrecy classifications: "Top Hush" for regular top secret material, and for anything exceptionally sensitive, "Button Lip".
  • Scandal sometimes deals with government secrets that are deemed too sensitive to be revealed to the President's Chief of Staff or even the President himself. In particular the work Huck did for the government was so horrifyingly illegal that his record is kept secret from the White House even after Huck becomes the main suspect in an attempt on the President's life.

  • Zig-Zagged on Bones. The Victim of the Week was ex-CIA, and the CIA won't tell Booth & Brennan anything because they don't have high enough clearance. Booth points out that he does have high enough clearance. The CIA man makes Brennan leave the room though, because she doesn't. As she's leaving (and in full view of the CIA man) Booth assures her that he'll fill her in later.
  • Seven Days
    • The project itself is so classified the President knows nothing about it. After a couple of encounters with Parker he does know he is part of something and is determined to find out. His clearance is insufficient
    • There was an episode where Parker had a run in with some unit, and stated he had a very high clearance level. A soldier from the unit stated he has a level high enough to shoot Parker on the spot.
  • The X-Files is filled with these, some of which being so secret that it seems no one really seems to know the secret information, only knowing bits and pieces of it.
    Deep Throat: There are limits to my knowledge, Mister Mulder. Inside the intelligence community, there are so-called "black organizations." Groups within groups conducting covert activities, unknown at the highest levels of power.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]

  • In Alpha Protocol, the titular program is stated to 'not exist.' "And the agencies that suspect we might exist? They don't exist either." It's so top secret that no one even knows where the base is; even top-level agents are drugged unconscious and shipped halfway around the world before being woken up.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]

  • The USA has a "compartment" scheme that goes alongside the more familiar scheme of "levels" (unclassified, confidential, secret, top secret). The idea is that there are lots and lots of people who are cleared to know classified information in general, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they should be allowed to see any specific classified document; there's a much shorter list of people allowed access to each document's "compartment". For instance, there might be a compartment for all documents relating to the shiny new jet fighter that the Air Force is developing, and then subcompartments for each component. This often goes along with the notion of "need to know", i.e. secrets should only be revealed to people who have an acceptable reason for needing to know about it (the engineer designing the jet fighter's radio probably doesn't need to know about its engines, and vice versa).
  • In many modern legal systems, courts can order the media not to report certain facts that emerged during cases, such as the identities of witnesses who may be in need of protection - an order known as an injunction. It emerged in 2011 that some English and Welsh courts have been known to order so-called 'super-injunctions', which not only require non-publication of facts of the case but also suppress the fact that an injunction exists; and at least one 'hyper-injunction', which also forbids discussion of the existence of the injunction with journalists, lawyers, or members of Parliament.

[[/folder]]

Quotes tab:

ATF Agent James Hamner: You guys Special Forces?
Col. Jack O'Neill: Also classified.
Hamner: I was talking to your commanding officer, Colonel.
Jacob Carter: He's right. It's classified.
Hamner: I have top level clearance.
Jack: Oh, not top enough.
Hamner: You have a rather insubordinate subordinate, General.
-- "Seth", Stargate SG-1
Community Feedback Replies: 46
  • February 22, 2013
    StarSword
    Made a formatting fix to the page quote and corrected the name. That was Gen. Francis Maynard, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the Stargate Verse, not a random agent.
  • February 22, 2013
    Discar
    I noticed the format fix, but I reverted it. There are some glitches in how YKTTW displays markup (such as the folders), but it will be correct on the actual wiki.

    Thanks for catching the name, though. I knew he wasn't just some random agent, but I couldn't remember any more detail. Any chance you remember the president's too?
  • February 22, 2013
    StarSword
    President's name is Henry Hayes, and the full text of the exchange is over here on the Stargate wiki, conveniently enough.
  • February 22, 2013
    aurora369
    Real Life: in the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation, such info is classified as "Of Special Importance" (Osoboy Vazhnosti), which is above Top Secret.
  • February 23, 2013
    Arivne
    Changed the Men In Black example to Men In Black 3.

    Not to be confused with Above Top Secret, which is a website about Conspiracy Theories.
  • February 23, 2013
    Chabal2
    I recall a comic involving S.H.I.E.L.D. that mentioned a meeting's security clearance was forty-two levels above the President's.
  • February 23, 2013
    Noaqiyeum
    I would say we should call this Above Top Secret if the name weren't already in use.

    Beyond Top Secret would be better, I think. Top is a short enough word that repeating it doesn't really register as anything special if it gets noticed at all.
  • February 24, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    The Laundry Series features plenty of these in each book, as it is an X Meets Y of Spy Fiction and HP Lovecraft.
  • February 24, 2013
    elwoz
    Real Life: the USA has a "compartment" scheme that goes alongside the more familiar scheme of "levels" (unclassified, confidential, secret, top secret). The idea is that there are lots and lots of people who are cleared to know classified information in general, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they should be allowed to see any specific classified document; there's a much shorter list of people allowed access to each document's "compartment". For instance, there might be a compartment for all documents relating to the shiny new jet fighter that the Air Force is developing, and then subcompartments for each component. This often goes along with the notion of "need to know", i.e. secrets should only be revealed to people who have an acceptable reason for needing to know about it (the engineer designing the jet fighter's radio probably doesn't need to know about its engines, and vice versa).

    These compartments get code names, which are supposed to be meaningless, but authors playing with the concept love to assign vaguely evocative phrases. For instance, The Laundry Series' infamous case nightmare green refers to an upcoming Zombie Apocalypse (at least, as so far revealed...)
  • February 24, 2013
    Noaqiyeum
    You haven't read into the series very far yet, have you? case nightmare green is the upcoming period of time when The Stars Are Right, and certain laws of the universe coincide to let just about any human summon things from beyond with negligible amounts of energy or belief - even accidentally. :P

    Oh, that reminds me. In many modern legal systems, courts can order the media not to report certain facts that emerged during cases, such as the identities of witnesses who may be in need of protection - an order known as an injunction. It emerged in 2011 that some English and Welsh courts have been known to order so-called 'super-injunctions', which not only require non-publication of facts of the case but also suppress the fact that an injunction exists; and at least one 'hyper-injunction', which also forbids discussion of the existence of the injunction with journalists, lawyers, or members of Parliament.
  • February 25, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Live Action Film
    • The President doesn't learn about the secret laboratory beneath Area 51 until the aliens begin their invasion in Independence Day. President Whitmore promptly fires his Chief of Staff Nimzicki for keeping the President in the dark about such a crucial asset.
  • March 3, 2013
    Sackett
    I believe that there are actually levels of security above "Top Secret" in the US government at least.

    I believe they are called Classified Classifications
  • March 14, 2013
    elwoz
    ^ That's actually talking about the same "compartment" system I mentioned before. The Wikipedia article could be better. (I know several people with security clearances and I've heard a lot of grousing about how it works. Suffice to say that The Men In Black are often more concerned with keeping secrets than with making it easy for people to do their jobs.)
  • March 21, 2013
    StarSword
    If an entire organization is classified such, you're likely looking at an instance of No Such Agency.

    Film:
    • During Transformers, a high-ranking Sector 7 officer shows the Secretary of Defense some video of a Decepticon taken by a Mars probe that was reported having crashed, saying that it was "classified above top secret."
  • March 21, 2013
    KZN02
  • March 21, 2013
    LeeM
    • There's an episode of The Avengers where it's mentioned that British Intelligence has at least two secrecy classifications: "Top Hush" for regular top secret material, and for anything exceptionally sensitive, "Button Lip".
  • March 21, 2013
    randomsurfer
    The James Bond story & film For Your Eyes Only is named after a real document security level: don't show to anyone, even if they have the same clearance as you (or higher).
  • March 31, 2013
    ricjac
    The ID 4 example is wrong on two counts: one, Nimziki was the Secretary of Defense, and two, he wasn't fired for witholding the information per se, as that comes much later in the film and that was for, presumably, a whole multitude of reasons (not just this one).
  • March 31, 2013
    helterskelter
    Would Extra Top Secret work better?
  • April 7, 2013
    Discar
    Not sure. Of Top Top Secret, Beyond Top Secret, and Extra Top Secret, I prefer the first one, but that might be because I'm the one who came up with it. Can we get some other opinions?
  • April 7, 2013
    StarSword
    Beyond Top Secret works for me. Or we could make the Transformers movie a trope namer and call it Classified Above Top Secret.
  • April 7, 2013
    StarSword
    Oh, also:

    Literature:

    • The Laundry Series: The operations of the Laundry itself were initially classified Most Secret and were later updated with a compartmentalization scheme wherein people have to be cleared for individual projects and files based on code words, enforced by geas. For example, clearance for BLUE HADES means you're allowed to know about the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens living on the ocean floor, while CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is the upcoming End Of The World As We Know It.
  • April 15, 2013
    Noaqiyeum
    No, Classified Above Top Secret will just increase confusion with Above Top Secret.

    Which would otherwise be a really awesome name.
  • April 25, 2013
    StarSword
    That's not really a problem. We have at least one trope, What If, that shares its name with a Marvel series and a science blog, the latter of which doesn't have anything to do with the trope.
  • April 25, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    So I vote for 'Classified Above Top Secret'.
  • April 25, 2013
    Noaqiyeum
    If that's so, I'd rather have it just be Above Top Secret. The 'Classified' bit makes it unwieldy and doesn't add anything. :P

    Otherwise I vote for Beyond Top Secret.
  • April 26, 2013
    StarSword
    Above Top Secret works.

    Sub-example for Stargate:
    • The trope is discussed directly a few times in Stargate SG 1. In "Touchstone" Col. Maybourne tells SG-1 they're not cleared for some information, they point out they have the highest possible security clearance, and Maybourne says that that's only true within the military and Area 51 is a civilian operation. In "Seth" Jack and Jacob Carter use this on an ATF special agent who's investigating a cult run by a Goa'uld hiding on Earth. And then of course there's the page quote, where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is briefing the newly elected President Hayes on the stargate program.

    And for the Quotes tab:
    ATF Agent James Hamner: You guys Special Forces?
    Col. Jack O'Neill: Also classified.
    Hamner: I was talking to your commanding officer, Colonel.
    Jacob Carter: He's right. It's classified.
    Hamner: I have top level clearance.
    Jack: Oh, not top enough.
    Hamner: You have a rather insubordinate subordinate, General.
  • April 26, 2013
    nielas
    • Scandal sometimes deals with government secrets that are deemed too sensitive to be revealed to the President's Chief of Staff or even the President himself. In particular the work Huck did for the government was so horrifyingly illegal that his record is kept secret from the White House even after Huck becomes the main suspect in an attempt on the President's life.
  • April 27, 2013
    Discar
    ^, ^^: Added. Also fixed the Example Indentation for the Stargate examples.
  • April 27, 2013
    StarSword
    Did a formatting tweak to the Quotes entry and added the episode.
  • April 27, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    This was the premise behind the movie Three Days Of The Condor. A CIA researcher is targeted for death after discovering evidence of a secret meta-organization within the CIA itself.
  • April 27, 2013
    DracMonster
    Over The Top Secret! BAM! My pun hand is strong!
  • April 27, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Hey, that's pretty good!
  • April 28, 2013
    Discar
    I'm also liking Over The Top Secret.
  • April 28, 2013
    surgoshan
    • The eponymous Animal House ends up on Double Secret Probation.
  • May 6, 2013
    Melkior
    I also like Over The Top Secret but I thought of the amusing "Tip Top Secret" as well.

    The first has the obvious pun advantage while the second sounds like something a child might say. "My secret is top secret" "Oh yeah? Well my secret is tip top secret!"
  • May 11, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Actually, Gen. Melchett used "tip top secret" in Blackadder Goes Forth.

    Trope Namer, anyone?
  • May 30, 2013
    Discar
    Any votes against Over The Top Secret, or can I swap that in?
  • June 5, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • Anyone who even mentions General Warren Monger's secret monster storehouse in Monsters Vs Aliens receives a dart to the neck and passes out instantly.
  • June 11, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    Wouldn't it be simpler to have No Such Agency a subtrope of this one? "Not existing" would imply this trope, even if it isn't explicit, wouldn't it?

    This would also fall under Classified Information in the Espionage Index.
  • June 18, 2013
    StarSword
    Sure, make this a supertrope.

    @Discar: No objections.
  • June 24, 2013
    foxley
    There is a novel titled Australian Eyes Only by Michael Sexton. The title is taken from an actual Australian security classification (abbreviation: AUSTEO) which is for information that is not to be shared, even with allied foreign intelligence services.
  • June 24, 2013
    wanderlustwarrior
    I'm going to copy over examples from an earlier effort at this trope made here.

    Live Action TV
    • Zig Zagged on Bones. The Victim Of The Week was ex-CIA, and the CIA won't tell Booth & Brennan anything because they don't have high enough clearance. Booth points out that he does have high enough clearance. The CIA man makes Brennan leave the room though, because she doesn't. As she's leaving (and in full view of the CIA man) Booth assures her that he'll fill her in later.
    • In Seven Days: The project itself is so classified the President knows nothing about it. After a couple of encounters with Parker he does know he is part of something and is determined to find out. His clearance is insufficient
      • There was an episode where Parker had a run in with some unit, and stated he had a very high clearance level. A soldier from the unit stated he has a level high enough to shoot Parker on the spot.

    Film
    • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, One-Shot The Consultant sees SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell realizes this, then lets it slide, since he's talking to a right-hand man of the director, they're both highly ranked, and considering the nature of secrets kept, there are some things better off not known.
    Sitwell: ...And they think we have him?
    Coulson: What's your clearance level?
    Sitwell: Heh, level 6, same as you.
    beat.
    Oh come on, there's a level 7?
    • This makes for a funny Brick Joke in the SHIELD series, where the trailers have Coulson announcing "Welcome to Level 7."
    • In Men In Black 3, this and the lack of trust it implies was the major plot point. This actually wasn't about difference in level between them. Instead, it had to do with a mission relating to J's childhood that could rock his life.
    Agent K: It's above your pay grade.
    Agent J: I'm your partner. We have the same pay grade.

    Literature:
    • In The Laundry Series, the Laundry is classified under a portion of the British Official Secrets Act that is itself classified.

    On the Classified Information page, ABK 0100 found this, which could possibly be used for a description here:

    "This is a common misconception of Security Clearances. Just because one has a "Top Secret" security clearance doesn't mean you can read through the files of Area 51 at your leisure. You still need to demonstrate a "Need to Know". When someone talks about having "Code Word Clearance" they mean that the code-word of a particular project or operation is listed in their security file, which means they can access any information filed under that code-word. This is also was anyone talking about information being classified "Above Top-Secret" is ridiculous since you can use the same compartmentalizing system to isolate especially sensitive information."
  • July 8, 2013
    Discar
    Only four hats, but anyone mind if I launch this today or tomorrow?
  • July 8, 2013
    MattStriker
    This level of clearance is jokingly referred to as 'Burn before reading and then self-terminate' in one of the Honor Harrington novels.
  • July 8, 2013
    TheTitan99
    • The X Files is filled with these, some of which being so secret that it seems no one really seems to know the secret information, only knowing bits and pieces of it.
    Deep Throat: There are limits to my knowledge, Mister Mulder. Inside the intelligence community, there are so-called "black organizations." Groups within groups conducting covert activities, unknown at the highest levels of power.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=7vl4l3aemlj7vyg7lsykvtfl&trope=OverTheTopSecret