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: The report exists? Leo McGarry
: Well I can't tell you that, Joe; it was classified. But I can tell you it was classified by the Defense Department.
Information which is kept secret from most people, on an organised basis. A trope common in espionage
and military fiction
. Truth in Television
, of course; governments (and other organisations) do keep formal secrets. Classification systems can range from internal documents everyone at a workplace can immediately access and make an unlimited number of copies; to very rigid and quite complex compartmentalized systems, where the holder must go through arduous background investigations and to have an official “need to know” in order to get access to, in most cases, only a small part of the puzzle.
In fiction, this often materializes as red tape used by characters in order to withhold certain information from others. This occasionally leads to Poor Communication Kills
. (And that's Truth in Television
too.) Often Played for Drama
, but sometimes it can also be Played for Laughs
Compare I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You
and Plausible Deniability
. See also Over-The-Top Secret
for the "greatest secret in the world
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Haruhi Suzumiya: this is Mikuru's Catch Phrase (kinsoku jikou, in Japanese). She's actually an interesting variant; the reason she says "classified information" is because of an information censor that was placed inside her that is always monitoring her speech to make sure she doesn't spill any futuristic time-breaking Info Dumps. She's surprised that when the restriction is lowered she can speak normally about things she couldn't say before.
Mikuru: I used classified information to contact the future or for classified information... But when I hadn't heard from classified information for a week I thought something was wrong. And then classified information... I was so shocked that I classified information, but there was no classified information... What should I do?
- The above Haruhi example is later referenced in Lucky Star by Patricia Martin.
- A variation in Slayers has Xellos and his Catch Phrase "This is a secret!" (Sore wa himitsu desu!)
- Subverted in The Walking Dead; the scientist for the Center for Disease Control who's carrying the cure for the Zombie Apocalypse refuses to reveal any further details because they're classified. Turns out he's actually a school teacher making up stories so people will protect him.
- 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).
- Resident Evil: the team leader is giving an Info Dump about the Umbrella research lab under Raccoon City.
A top-secret research facility owned and operated by the Umbrella Corporation. The Hive houses over 500 technicians, scientists and support staff. They live and work underground. Their research is of the highest importance. Its nature is...classified.
- Short Circuit: when Stephanie first meets Ben and Newton, she asks them what the purpose of these advanced robots is (prototype weapons).
Ben: It's top-secret crap.
Stephanie: Yeah, I figured.
- My Favorite Martian has an example when a Man in Black investigating the site of a crashed ship complains that they're not going to get anything out of this... just like "that Roswell fiasco". His boss immediately reprimands him, reminding him that "not only is that incident classified, but it never happened!"
- In Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, at the end a couple of SPARTAN-IIs take off their helmets, revealing surprisingly young faces. One of the cadets asks how old they are, to which Kelly replies "That's classified". At the time, the IIs were roughly 14-15 years old (with the Master Chief himself having only turned 15 less than two months ago), and their existence had not yet been made public.
- Percy's reasoning for not telling Ron, Harry and the others about the Triwizard Tournament's coming to Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
"It's classified information until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it," said Percy stiffly. "Mr. Crouch was quite right not to disclose it."
"Oh, shut up Weatherby," said Fred.
- Galaxy of Fear once has Tash given free rein at a computer in an Imperial research facility because she's logged in as a guest and can only get at public data. She quickly runs up against classified things... and manages to log in as someone with clearance to see them, because she guesses the amazingly obvious password. Later in the series there's an Un Reveal related to classified information.
- The Laundry operates on a complicated codeword system. Things aren't simply classified into levels like "Secret" and "Top Secret", but each particular secret thing one might need to know about is assigned its own codeword, and you need to be cleared for it individually. For instance (and an illustration of just how impenetrable it gets), just being cleared for ANNING BLUE SKULL and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN doesn't mean you get to know anything about DEEP SEVEN, BLUE HADES, or CASE BROCCOLI GOLDENEYE. The Laundry being on occult intelligence agency, it's literally impossible to deliberately spill the beans on a codeword to anyone not briefed on it.
- As mentioned below, Truth in Television: having a security clearance doesn't mean you instantly have access to all the information classified at that security level. It's why the phrase "Need To Know" exists.
- The War Against the Chtorr. A robot is sent into an alien dome to flash it with EMP, hopefully killing any man-eating alien worms before The Squad follows. A footnote helpfully informs us that an EMP-grenade will cook or curdle any living matter within a radius of (CLASSIFIED). A single charge will yield as many as (CLASSIFIED) useable pulses. There is also the tendency of the flash to destroy any unshielded electronic gear within the larger radius of (CLASSIFIED). One could argue this is a good writer's technique to explain what EMP is while Black Boxing the actual technology involved.
- This is bread and butter in Tom Clancy novels.
Live Action TV
- Spoofed on 3rd Rock from the Sun:
Officer Don: The FBI are coming into town tomorrow.
Dick: What for?
Officer Don: That's classified.
Tommy: You have no idea, do you?
Officer Don: That's also classified.
- Friends: In the episode with Charlie Sheen as Phoebe's navy boyfriend, he fields any questions about submarines with, "I really can't say." Even innocuous ones like, "Do you get to look through a periscope?"
- Regulary occured on JAG.
- In "Tribunal", Sturgis is assigned as co-defense counsel for the fictional Al-Qaida No 3 in the military tribunal held aboard a warship, and has an Army Special Forces captain on the stand to answer questions about unconventional warfare by US Forces and that of unlawful combatants. The implication of the final question being that there's not always a distinct difference between them.
Sturgis: One final question. On certain operations, Special Forces personnel remove all insignia. Your dog tags, anything that could identify you. Is that correct?
: Let the record reflect that was not a no
- One episode even has the title "Need To Know", in which Harm, Mac and Sturgis are assigned to get information declassified on a submarine which was lost at sea on a CIA mission off the Soviet coast in 1968.
Catherine Gale, CIA attorney: If the Navy insists on convening a court of inquiry, the proceedings will have Top Secret level 1 protection. Inasmuch as the Angel Shark mission was in fact classified Top Secret level 2 that means that information and materials, which in accordance with Executive Order 12356, as well as OPNAVINST 5510.1 and DoD Directive 12043, require level 2 protection, may not be presented in level 1 proceedings. Clear?
Commander Harmon Rabb: Oh, yeah. I think I get it. We can't tell the court why it needs to be declassified because the reason it's classified is classified.
Catherine Gale, CIA attorney: You've got it.
- Common on The X-Files since most of what they work with has either been buried to make the FBI look good or has been buried because it's part of the conspiracy. Mulder's connections often get him information he never should have seen, though usually the classified information itself is completely bogus and has been "classified" to legitimize it.
- Played for laughs in Graceland. Crime lord Bello needs someone to retrieve a package dumped off the coast of California. FBI Agent "Johnny" Tuttoro, who was once a Navy Seal trainee, is able to pass himself off as an active Seal pulling jobs on the side for extra cash because all information about active Seals, including their missions and identities, are classified. When Bello questions Johnny and his qualifications, he replies to everything with "That's classified, sir" to Bello's mounting frustration. That is, until the final question...
If you won't answer my questions, how do I know if you can do this?! Johnny:
[Considers for a moment] You know Osama's body
Well, it used
to be on the ocean floor. Bello:
[Does a shocked double take] Is that true? Johnny:
No, that's classified, sir.
- Primarch Victus uses this in a rare out-of-character moment to avoid having to explain the Turian fail-safe planet-destroying bomb on Tuchanka in Mass Effect 3.
- Subverted in Every Button Hurts the Other Guy in that much of the information that Fang Mao-Yin deals with is classified, but this doesn't stop her from absent-mindedly letting most of it slip.
- Grrl Power is mostly about a government/military organization which employs people with superpowers. As such, it handles and generates its share of secret information. Unfortunately, not everyone who happens to gain superpowers and who's willing to work for the organization really takes the subject seriously enough — as, for example, here.
- The SCP Foundation does this with [REDACTED] and [DATA EXPUNGED] and ███████, making a situation report read like a list of Noodle Incidents.
- Redvs Blue: CT really doesn't want to share his information. It classified.
Sarge: Classified as what?
CT: Classified as something I can't tell you, now stop fishing for information!
Grif: You can't tell us, or you won't tell us?
CT: I can't tell you... which is convenient, because I don't want to tell you.
- 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. At least one such injunction was subverted by an MP talking about it in parliament (since he was protected by "parliamentary privilege" and there was nothing stopping the media reporting what he said about the injunction).
- In the Soviet Union of old a real classification like that existed, and is still retained in modern Russia: "Of Special Importance" (Osoboy vazhnosti) is more secret than Top Secret.
- In Britain during WW2 the knowledge gained from decryption of the German Enigma was so important (not to mention the mere fact that it was being done) a new classification above Most Secret was adopted: Ultra Secret.