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Open Secret

Suzuha: You're called the Future Gadget Laboratory, right?
Okabe: H-how do you know!? I don't remember telling you. Don't tell me, are you an Organization spy —!?
Suzuha: ...it was written on your mailbox.

This trope is when a particular piece of information is officially declared to be secret... but it is widely known by everyone anyway. The characters might as well not even attempt The Masquerade, because all the civilians around them know who they are and what they are up to. And that super-secret bit of gossip that no one can ever know? Hate to tell you this, but everyone knows it already. Of course, the holders of the so-called secret continue to act as if no one outside of their little group knows anything at all, even though they are fully aware that pretty much everyone knows it already. The only people who treat the secret like a real secret are usually the Nave Newcomer or the Fish out of Water, who doesn't know that most people already know.

Overt Operative is a Sub-Trope. Related to Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught. Contrast to Everybody Knew Already, where the creators genuinely believe their "secret" is actually secret right up until The Reveal.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In To Love-Ru, the fact that Lala is an alien is treated like this for quite a while, as everyone either already knows, or doesn't care when they find out.
  • In Naruto a law exists that forbids anyone revealing that the titular character is the vessel of the Nine-Tailed Fox. While this means that Naruto's generation and those younger are ignorant of the Nine-Tails, every person able to remember the attack knows about it. The secret becomes even more open in Shippuden where several members of Naruto's generation openly discuss the matter. As of the Fourth Ninja World War it is officially not a secret anymore. Part of the coalition's main objectives is to protect Naruto (and Killer Bee).
  • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Quattro's real identity as Char. Not only would the audience not be fooled (the same character design, the visible scar, the same voice actor) but the fact that he flies around in a custom red Rick Dias shows that he isn't exactly keeping a low profile. It even gets lampshaded when he officially reveals his identity...
    Kamille: "Hmph. Some secret..."
  • Ai no Kusabi has the fact that Iason Mink, the highest official of Tanagura, is sleeping with his slum mongrel Pet Riki is supposed to be a secret. Iason even admits everyone knows because of his brazen special treatment of Riki.
  • Okabe Rintarou of Steins;Gate is very insistent on keeping his time-traveling experiments under wraps lest "the Organization" discover find him out. This would be much easier if he didn't have a tendency to go on loud Mad Scientist rants about conquering time in his thin-walled "laboratory", or if SERN hadn't found him out the moment he sent the very first D-mail.
  • The use of Nen in Hunter Hunter, the setting's effective magic system, is supposedly a secret known only to people who belongs to circles that are in on it and seem to be subtly taught to hunters once they pass the Hunter Exams. However, it is also openly publicized in an arena tower that not only seems to televise the fights between powerful Nen users, also have commentators explaining what the contestants are doing in the Arena with their Nen... to a large public. It gets to a point that the only main character that should realistically be ignorant about Nen is Gon, for growing up in an isolated and morose island in the middle of nowhere. Killua should know about Nen just by osmosis from his heavy Nen practicing family of world-famous assassins, Kurapika's deceased clan is implied to be formed of powerful Nen users as well (otherwise they wouldn't register on Nobunaga's memory. Even Uvo eventually remembers the clan and its powerful members) and Leorio's general world and history knowledge should make him aware of it as well (even if just by passing knowledge about the Celestial Arena).

    Comic Books 
  • In his own book, Wolverine, Patch was actively concealing the fact that he was, in fact, the titular superhero while he was operating in "deep cover" in Madripoor. Of course, all of his contacts knew he was Wolverine, though they chose not to reveal this. They figured it was best not to delve too deeply into the private affairs of a walking blender.
    • Not to mention the fact that the "Patch" persona adopted by Wolverine is SUCH a good disguise that apparently all Wolverine needs for this is, you guessed it, an eye patch. Clearly NO-ONE (I'm looking at you Superman) can figure out his identity, save pretty much everyone.
  • When the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, a character whom the in-universe public knows as Johnny Storm, got his own ongoing feature in Strange Tales starting in issue #101, he maintained a secret identity in his home town of Glenville — the inhabitants of which knew his sister Sue was the Invisible Girl, but ostensibly don't know who the Torch was (the four schoolmates who do know who he is are now out-of-town graduates who were sworn to secrecy). #106 had him discover that everyone knew who he really is after all, they just respected his privacy.
  • One story in Astro City centered partly around a country superhero called Roustabout. It was blatantly obvious that he was one of the guys working for a traveling fair, and everybody in town knew it, but acted as if it was a complete mystery. They do this because Roustabout is technically a fugitive (he got his powers trespassing on the secret research lab of an evil corporation, and they offered a reward for his arrest) and they like and respect him too much to turn him in.
    • The viewpoint character of the story, a city girl staying with her aunt, considers turning him in, but then realizes something else about him: given that everyone in town knows who he is and haven't done so, what would they do to someone who did try to turn him in?
  • Daredevil:
    • In Brian Michael Bendis' 2001 run, Matt Murdock's Secret Identity was outed. Although the accusation was "officially" fought back, since then everyone knows or at least heavily suspects Matt Murdock is Daredevil, so much so that he had to cease practicing law himself for a time due to the fodder it supplied the opposing counsel.
    • In Mark Waid's 2011 run, Matt's Secret Identity is still out. But instead of angsting about it, Matt waves off people saying he's Daredevil with a half-hearted "I'm not Daredevil" that nobody buys. He still can't represent anyone, so Matt gives legal council to people so they can represent themselves.
  • Spidey's Secret Identity becomes this around Peter Parker's group of friends in Ultimate Spider-Man.
    Kenny "Kong" McFarlane: What do you want me to say? Should we have a code? Should I just throw up my hands and say 'Oh, if only Spider-man were here...'!?

    Fan Works 
  • In the Stargate SG-1 / Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fic "Bridges", Colonel Jack O'Neill tells Xander Harris that he's assigned to "Deep Space Radar Telemetry", a statement that makes Xander laugh.
    Jack O'Neill: "What's so funny?"
    Xander Harris: "Oh come on, Jack. A hotshot special ops operative like you assigned to something called 'Deep Space Radar Telemetry'? Why didn't they just name it 'Totally Not a Secret Project' and get it over with."
  • In Subtlety, apparently everyone but Danny's parents and Valerie knows he's Danny Phantom and everyone except Danny, Sam, and Tucker know that everyone knows.
    Paulina: "He's playing secret super hero, ducking into alley ways and worrying about people knowing who he is. He finally has a chance to live every kid's dream. He is Superman, and maybe he's not very good at the secret thing, but that's okay. We'll play along."

    Film 
  • James Bond's status as a 00 Agent is supposed to be classified. Pretty much everyone on Earth with any sort of connection to a government, a terrorist organization, or an intelligence agency knows about him, though. Maybe because he always uses his real name and introduces himself as Bond, James Bond to absolutely everyone he talks to.
    • James mocks Felix Leither over this in Quantum of Solace. Evidently James, at this point a Rogue Agent of sorts, is able to find the phone number of the CIA-operated business front that Felix is working out of by asking a local cab driver.
  • In Good Night, and Good Luck. there is a subplot dedicated to Joseph Wersha and his wife as they try to keep their marriage secret or risk getting fired. Naturally at the end of the movie it is revealed that every one in the office already knew they were married and just didn't care. But they still have to leave because of budget cuts and are asked to walk, which they agree to.
  • In Johnny Dangerously, the fact that nightclub owner Johnny Kelly is secretly the titular mob boss is known to everyone in the world other than Johnny's mother and little brother. This is pointed out to Johnny by the Pope.
  • Robin Hood has this: it seems that everyone in Nottingham except for Prince John and his lackeys know how to get to Robin's hideout in Sherwood Forest.
  • From The Emperors New Groove: "Yzma's got that 'secret' lab.."

    Literature 
  • At the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Dumbledore knows that this trope is in full force when he says "What happened in the dungeons between Harry and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret — so, naturally, the whole school knows."
  • In Gerald Morris in The Ballad of Sir Dinadan. Tristram and Isolde have the world's least secret love affair—literally everyone but Isolde's husband knows, and he at least suspects. This is mostly because Tristram has been riding about the country telling everyone in great detail about the vow of silence he has taken and how he can never even say his true love Isolde's name. The trope also applies to Lancelot and Guinevere's affair in the first couple of books, though in this case it's treated more seriously due to the effect it has on Arthur and the court.
  • Discworld:
    • Everybody knows Carrot is the true king of Ankh-Morpork, but nobody speaks openly about it (while Carrot would probably make a good king, everyone, including himself, agrees that Ankh-Morpork does not need a king). The last guy who tried got skewered by Carrot himself. And the heirloom blade went through him and into the stone behind him...
    • The short story "The Sea and Little Fishes" has the townspeople of Lancre going through ridiculous contortions to find Nanny Ogg. They know where she is; she's at her secret still in the woods. But actually acknowledging this would be unthinkable, so they wander around near where they all know the still is, calling her name. When she finally comes to see what all the fuss is about, they say they thought she might be in the woods picking herbs.

      It's mentioned that even King Verence knows about the still and maintains the secret, having long ago learned that the way to avoid the embarrassment of witches refusing to pay taxes (or in this case, excise) is never to ask them.
  • The Pillars of the Earth makes occasional mention of priests who are officially celibate, yet have a "live-in housekeeper", a polite fiction maintained for the benefit of all concerned. The protagonist for the first half of the book is married to one such housekeeper's mysteriously fatherless daughter. Literally everyone knows what's actually going on, with senior Church officials pretending to be taken in because actually enforcing the celibacy rule would be more trouble than it's worth. This is probably Truth in Televisionnote .
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Cersei gets so used to everyone knowing the truth about her affair with her twin brother that she almost forgets that it's supposed to be a secret, and hardly bothers to keep it.
    • A darker example from the same series would be what Craster does to his sons ( sacrifices them to the Others, the ice demons who live in the woods near his keep). All of the Rangers of the Night's Watch know about it, but because they need the help Craster gives them, they never talk about it or try to stop it.
  • Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader reveals that Padme's pregnancy was this in Revenge of the Sith. Only C3-PO doesn't know what it means when a woman's belly takes this shape. Note that she uses large senatorial dresses to hide it, but smart senators probably noticed she constantly wore them.
  • A Running Gag in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Death and Diplomacy. The Saloi are a Planet of Hats of Reliable Traitors. Therefore everyone knows that the truth is whatever a Saloi isn't saying, and it's almost impossible for them to keep a secret. (The one secret they do seem to keep is who their true ruler is, and they do it by treating him as the ruler, while having a minor functionary always at hand for him to "consult" with. Everyone [including the ruler] assumes it's the functionary who's really in charge ... probably.)
  • In Stephen King's IT, pretty much everyone who's lived in Derry long enough knows about the 27-year cycle of violence, even if they don't fully understand what causes it. Most of them have seen the Monster Clown that's IT's preferred form as well.
  • Similarly to other instances involving the same people, the fact that Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenevere are having an affair is fairly widely known in TH White's The Once and Future King. Nobody wants to come right out and say it, because Lancelot is "the best knight that is on life" and would challenge anyone who dared bring it up to trial by combat, in which he would slaughter them. That no one dares do more than hint about it obliquely allows King Arthur to officially pretend he doesn't know about it for quite some time. In the fourth book Candle in the Wind, Mordred's scheming finally makes it impossible for Arthur to keep up the charade and he has to officially charge Lancelot and Guenevere with High Treason in the new courts, ironically set up by Arthur himself because he didn't like how trial by combat meant the person who could afford to hire the biggest, strongest fighter as a champion got to basically do whatever he wanted.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, the Portland Protective Association is in practice (and originally, in law) a Roman Catholic kingdom, practicing a fairly conservative version of that faith. The Baroness (later Grand Constable later Marshall) Tiphaine d'Ath is gay and in a monogamous relationship with Delia de Stafford, wife of the equally-gay Rigobert. Everybody except their confessors is quite aware of the true nature of Tiphaine and Delia's, and Delia and Rigobert's, relationships, but the attitudes of the kingdom prohibit any public acknowledgement.

    Live Action TV 
  • Torchwood
    • The eponymous organization is supposed to be a top-secret organization beyond the reach of the British government (though answerable to the Queen). Pretty much everyone in Cardiff seems to know who they are and what they do and they liaise with Whitehall on occasion. Heck, they print the name of their "secret" organization on their vans.
      Rupesh: You're Torchwood?
      Jack Harkness: [while climbing into the Conspicuous Black SUV with "TORCHWOOD" written all over it] Never heard of 'em.
    • This is only made worse by the fact that the team regularly orders pizza under the name Torchwood and has it delivered to the front door of their headquarters. Also, Torchwood's allegedly clandestine dealings with the supernatural are the worst-kept secret in the UK. The show makes hay out of how loudly everything about them screams The Men in Black, especially with some very loud alien encounters in the Whoniverse.
      Gwen: Excuse me. Have you seen a blowfish driving a sports car? [old woman points the way] Thank you.
      Old Woman: Bloody Torchwood.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Some people believe that The Masquerade was broken early on, if not before the show started. This is made much more clear in the Third Season episode "The Prom", during which Buffy is given the "Class Protector" award. Johnathon mentions while he's presenting that everyone present knows that Sunnydale isn't like other schools, but it's an unwriten rule that no one ever talks about it.
    • In the very first episode:
      Buffy: Was there a school bulletin? Was it in the newspaper? Is there anyone in this town who doesn't know I'm the Slayer?
    • And when Wesley first came to Sunnydale and finds out Cordelia knows:
      Wesley: Does everyone know you're the Slayer?
    • In the seventh season, after the band, led by noted singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, finishes performing their set at The Bronze (only momentarily interrupted by a vampire being dusted in the middle of the club) Mann can be seen walking off complaining about how she hates performing in "Vampire Towns".
    • The school newspaper has a regular obituaries section. We know it's a regular item because Oz mentioned always reading it first.
  • Get Smart: Many times when Max would ask the operator to patch him through to a 'number which she must immediately forget', she responds with, "Oh, you mean CONTROL!"
  • The "Secret" Relationship of Majors Burns and Houlihan in the early seasons of MASH.
  • On NCIS, Jimmy Palmer and Michelle Lee's Secret Relationship turns out to be this, as Team Gibbs already knew about it when Palmer confessed.
  • On Criminal Minds, this happens pretty frequently, since the whole team is so good at reading body language and word choice that it's nearly impossible for them to keep secrets from their coworkers for long. They seem to have worked out some kind of deal (referenced a few times but never seen onscreen) that they'll try not to profile one another, but they're not very good at keeping it, and mostly just compromise by politely pretending not to know things they're not supposed to know. One particularly notable example is Reid's drug problem in Season 2. He meets a friend outside the group who figures out what's going on in about fifteen seconds. When Reid says that he hasn't told anyone about it, the friend's response is along the lines of "Okay, I'm a jazz musician who hasn't seen you in ten years. They're elite FBI profilers who see you every day. Good luck with that."
  • In Game of Thrones, Lord Renly and Ser Loras' relationship is theoretically a secret given that the setting is based on the middle ages where homosexuality wasn't exactly approved of, but not only does nearly the whole court know about it, even a couple of random Lannister soldiers halfway across Westeros from them were joking about it in one episode. Considering that Margaery is still a virgin three weeks after marrying Renly and that Loras is quite commonly seen entering his tent at nighttime, they really shouldn't have been surprised. This continues even after Renly's death. The Tyrell's a very powerful family that can easily shifts the balance of power in the kingdom so anyone with any political savvy avoids discussing Loras Tyrell's sexual preferences. Jeoffrey makes a massive political faux pas when he publicly brings up Renly's homesexuality. Everyone knows about it but only someone as thoughtless as Jeoffrey would bring it up in the presence of the Tyrells.

  • Subverted in House of Anubis, as the secret is a pretty poorly kept secret, (Only one person in the entire house at the end of season 3 never got involved) but it still manages to remain a secret. Which is odd, considering the students talk about it in the middle of the school like it's homework and not a life threatening mystery.
  • While his alien origins are still a secret, in later seasons of Smallville, the implication seems to be that everyone knows that Clark has super-powers, its just impolite to mention it. Given that Smallville has a rather high population of metahumans, this isn't hard to pass off.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • Prior to his officially coming out, everybody knew Pat Patterson was gay, but aside from the occasional incredibly veiled reference, it was something that just wasn't discussed.
  • When Jerry Lawler's son Grandmaster Sexay wrestled in WWE, Lawler didn't want it to be mentioned on air, as he thought it made him look old. So Jim Ross kept making jokes about who his father might be.
  • Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were a on-screen couple until they "divorced" in early 2002. They then got married for real in 2003, which resulted in various references, like Triple H telling Vince McMahon that they're "practically family" and Leaning on the Fourth Wall with jokes about who could possibly be the father of Stephanie's daughter, until it was flat out stated during the buildup to WrestleMania XXV. In the process, Triple H even referred to his marriage as "the worst-kept secret in the business".
  • The fakeness of wrestling was not officially acknowledged for many years, but upon the death of Owen Hart, Jim Ross admitted it usually was fake, but that Owen's injuries were real. Ross didn't get fired because he handled the situation so well otherwise.
    • A similar situation (although with thankfully better end results) happened when Jerry Lawler had a massive heart attack during a RAW broadcast. Michael Cole reported that he'd collapsed and been taken to hospital, and that this "was not part of the entertainment" (ie, that it was real, as opposed to everything else on the show).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, the enmity between Sunnis and Ogremoch (the most powerful forces of Good and Evil, respectively, on the Elemental Plane of Earth) is one of the most violent in the Inner Planes. Sunnis lives in a palace called Sandfall, which has a waterfall of sand cascading over it, which turns into a river that eventually drains into an - apparently - bottomless pit near the palace. Many of her subjects say that she someday plans to set a trap for Ogremoch and throw him into the pit, but it's unlikely. This "plan" is too well-known among the denizens of the Plane of Earth, so one would be foolish to think that Ogremoch hasn't heard it.
  • In the lore of Warhammer, there are famously two lies in the Empire regarding the Skaven. The first lie is that the Skaven don't exist. The second lie is that anyone believes the first lie.

    Video Games 
  • Lampshaded by the title character of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations during the Kurain Village exhibit in regards to the Six Leaf Kurain Sacred Writings folding screen, "the greatest of all the spirit channeling secrets".
    Phoenix Wright: (If it's so secret, why is it the most prominent thing in the exhibit?)
  • In Mass Effect 3, it seems that everyone knows that Liara is the new Shadow Broker. Except Barla Von and Shepard if you didn't complete the relevant DLC.
  • The Iron Bull of Dragon Age: Inquisition is supposed to join the Inquisition to spy on it for his Qunari superiors. However, he knows that the Inquisition's agents will discover his secret eventually, so in the interest of saving time he tells the Inquisitor his purpose and flat-out asks permission to send reports on their activities.
  • Eientei is very strange about this. In Perfect Memento in Strict Sense Akyuu most definitely considers Eirin and Kaguya humans as well as Reisen a youkai Earth Rabbit, even though almost a dozen people she could have told her they were Lunarians. The fact that Akyuu later devotes a whole section to a "Lunar Capital Exposition" Eientei hosted in Kaguya's article laughs in the face of an earlier note where in Eirin's article where Akyuu thinks she may have "a deep connection to the Lunar Capital."

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Worm: In Interlude 15, it's fairly obvious that everyone in the Brockton Bay PRT knows instantly that Defiant, the new hero teaming up with Dragon to fight the Slaughterhouse Nine, is Armsmaster, a disgraced ex-member of the team who had escaped arrest. Triumph is the only one who attempts to say anything.
  • Neopets treats the Jelly World this way. It is not linked to from any map, and staff often treats it as if it doesn't exist (even in-universe), but nearly everyone with an account knows that it can be accessed by entering the URL.
  • In Ultra Fast Pony, Rarity is into all manner of kinky, BDSM stuff, and she does a terrible job of hiding it. She keeps accidentally bringing it up in casual conversations, then tries to cover it up—as if everyone hadn't already figured it out from the last twenty times she let it slip.
    Pinkie: Yeah, okay, there is no way what Rarity does is still a secret.
  • Most of Night Vale's secrets are this way. Things which the general populace isn't allowed to know about are routinely read in as radio announcements or presented in Suspiciously Specific Denial fashion (Angels, the antics of the Sheriff's Secret Police, etc.). Yes, nobody actually believes the official version... OK, maybe some people believe some parts of it, but they're the exceptions. (At least one person got a panic attack because someone else dared to call the "white robed, winged, glowing persons with trumpets" "angels" and he isn't allowed to know about those.)

    Western Animation 
  • The Venture Bros.: The Sovereign is the leader of the guild, and his identity is a well kept secret...except almost everyone knows he's David Bowie. Yes David Bowie. A later episode then revealed he isn't David Bowie, but a shape shifter who knew him.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Isn't Your Color" had Spike confess his deepest secret to Twilight and Pinkie... his crush on Rarity. A secret everyone in town was already aware of... except for Pinkie of course.
  • A House of Mouse episode had Clarabelle about to reveal a big secret and everybody in the Club is worried it's going to be his/her secret. By asking Clarabelle what the secret is, they accidentally reveal their own secrets to Clarabelle instead: Mickey reveals he does something with his ears so they look the same no matter angle you see them from, while Donald reveals he's part goose. When it's Goofy's turn, he disregards Mickey's and Donald's secrets since everybody already know them, but his secret, according to him, is bigger: He's rather clumsy. And can prove it!
  • In King of the Hill, pretty much everyone except Dale knows that his wife, Nancy, is cheating on him with her "massage therapist" John Redcorn, who is Joseph's real father. Even Bobby is in on the secret (Joseph himself seems to genuinely be just as clueless as Dale, though). It eventually comes out that Peggy doesn't know until Hank tells her, leading him to bring it up to his friends, who immediately pretend they don't know what he's talking about.
  • Adventure Time Finn has acquired a stack of tapes that the Ice King is trying to hide, he and Jake decide to have a secret party to know what the tapes are about, starting with putting up posters of their party, which the Ice King finds.
  • "To the not-so-secret lab!"

    Real Life 
  • Israel's nukes. They haven't officially revealed them yet, but when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accidentally (or perhaps accidentally on purpose) said (or at least implied with barely less subtlety than actually setting off one of the nukes) that Israel had nukes in a speech in 2006, the world barely noticed. Of course, there isn't much reason to keep a nuclear arsenal secret—the main point of having it is intimidating the other side not to attack, something a secret doomsday device isn't so good at. The reason for Israel going this route is strategic. Israel's potential regional enemies (e.g. Iran, Iraq, Egyptnote ) know it has nukes, and are thus deterred from military action that would threaten Israel's existence. They can't acquire their own nukes because they're parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forbids owning any (except for the US, Soviet Union/Russia, China, the UK and France) and subjects them to IAEA inspections. And they can't withdraw from the NPT without an "imminent threat" to their security (such as a nearby rival having nukes already), which officially doesn't exist because Israel officially refuses to confirm anything.note  In other words, it's an endless cycle of I Know You Know I Know and Willful Blindness on both sides. This serves the interests of both Arabs and Israelis: the Israelis get their security and their neighbors get a good reason not to fight Israel and also keep the Middle East a nominal nuclear-weapons-free zone; the ambiguity also spares the regional powers the expense of developing their own weapons programs. (Israel's interest, by the way, does not include the fear of IAEA inspections, as many Israelis claim; Israel is not a party to the NPT and unlikely to become one in the foreseeable future, so it's not subject to inspections, and declaring its stockpile would have no effect on that (after all, both India and Pakistan, also non-NPT countries, openly have nuclear weapons and nobody's ever even tried to inspect them)—any Israeli politician mentioning inspections is just trying to scare you.)
  • Israel's strategy is not unique. Pakistan had something similar. From the time Pakistan became a nuclear power note  till the first official note  test in 1998,Pakistan officially denied it had a nuclear weapon. Those strange, heavily guarded magazines which mysteriously appeared outside major bases and which looked exactly like magazines which have no use but to house nukes? Oh just some chicken farmers silo. The tenders given to local companies for the manufacture special fuzes which was only were used on warheads? Please, it's a research project.And that's not a Plutonium processing plant, it's a training center (which it actually also was). The Pakistani strategy worked like a charm. As long as Pakistan did not wave its capability openly, the US could continue to support it. Its very existence meant that New Delhi and Moscow would not try anything that Pakistan would not like. In 1998, the Indians tested and, well, suddenly Pakistan's strategy no longer was viable.
  • India did not even bother with the whole charade. They simply tested in 1974 while claiming that it was a peaceful explosion.
  • Speaking of military secrets everyone knows about, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force. The Pentagon refuses to acknowledge its existence, even though the founder, Col. Beckwith, and a early member of the unit, Sgt. Maj. Haney, have written books about it.
  • The military installation located on the southern shore of Groom Lake in Nevada, also known as Area 51, has gone through most of its life being barely acknowledged (if at all) by the government, even when it's open knowledge that many advanced aircraft had been developed and tested there over the decades, including the first American jet fighter, the P-59 Airacomet. The secrecy around the base has of course fueled much debate about just what goes on there.

    The base's existence was still considered a secret until it was sued over deaths from improper disposal of toxic waste, at which point the jig was basically up. Though that lawsuit was thrown out by executive order to prevent any details about Groom Lake appearing in court. Though this did lead to the CIA declassifying a number of documents relating to Area 51's history in 2013, meaning that the US Government has finally officially acknowledged that the base exists.
  • Rule #1 of /b/: Do not talk about /b/. Rule #2 of /b/: Do NOT talk about /b/. To that end, expect almost any mention of /b/ anywhere on the Internet to be replied to with "Rules 1 and 2!!!!" even though pretty much everyone knows about /b/ by now. Expect that to get the response "That only applies to raids," but those, too, are likely to get leaked to Encyclopedia Dramatica within 24 hours.
  • Tumblr's userbase adapted a similar "Do NOT talk about Tumblr, especially outside of Tumblr" meme, but it is mostly considered a Discredited Meme at this point.
  • The Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables falls into this category for much of the information. Everyone knows people in the diplomatic service badmouth other governments they deal with because, well, people. It's just not diplomatic to say so.
  • One of the amusing effects of an Open Secret, such as that of the existence of Groom Lake, is that if information is classified, people covered by security laws or similar confidentiality rules, are not allowed to talk about it until it's specifically declassified, even if everyone else already knows about the information.
  • At one point, the Bush Administration attempted to reclassify information that had already been released to the public.
  • In-N-Out Burger's "secret menu", especially "Animal Style" burgers and fries. They even acknowledge it on their website, though The Other Wiki has a more complete list.
  • In-N-Out is far from the only place that has a 'secret' menu or secret items. Many places have some sort of product that isn't on the menu but can still be made. Probably the most well known is the Mc10:35, a McDonalds product that combines the Egg McMuffin and the McDouble, only available in the short time period when breakfast is ending and lunch is beginning.
  • The DiefenBunker - a massive underground complex a short ways outside Ottawa, sold to the country as a transmitting station, but actually intended for continuing government operations in the event of a nuclear strike on the Canadian government. In true Canadian fashion, it remained secret for roughly six minutes, as a suspicious reporter got in a plane and took pictures of the significant number of toilets being stocked there, ready to be taken underground. Far more toilets than would ever be needed for a simple transmission center.
  • The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker certainly counts. It also gets bonus points for its helpful tourist signs. Though it was a closely-guarded secret for many years... provided your definition of "closely-guarded" encompasses "most people in the higher levels of the UK Government".
  • The location and address of the BT Tower in London were for a long time an official secret, despite it being over six hundred feet high, holding the record for being the tallest building in the capital until 1980 and being open to the public and a moderately popular tourist attraction. They even filmed a few episodes of Doctor Who in it. This seems to have come about as a result of it having a not-insignificant national security role, being fitted with line-of-sight microwave transceivers that were to provide backup military comms in time of war; the paperwork for classifying it must have been filed by someone who neglected to look at the building specs, and it was well into the 1990s before anyone bothered to rectify this.
  • Likewise, a building in Arlington, VA, near the Pentagon, that handled part of the old AUTOVON network was considered a trade secret by AT&T, and at least one website was asked not to reveal its exact location despite the fact that AUTOVON had long since been decommissioned. Thing is, the building in question is a huge mid-rise tower (easily the tallest building in that part of Arlington for a long time); it's easily visible from two busy nearby streets, and and even has a huge "at&t" sign on its penthouse! Not only that, but the building also serves as a central office for Verizon, and its address is easily gotten from several places (including DSL Reports) that list the locations of phone switches.
  • When Catherine the Great of Russia ruled, it was a not-secret that she had a bastard son named Alexei by one of her lovers. Given that she treated him like a son and all but said it several times one could argue that she didn't even consider it a secret, but it wasn't until her son took the throne and acknowledged Alexei as his half-brother that it became official.
  • The NSA. For a long time the US government denied its existence,note  to the point where the standard joke was that NSA stood for No Such Agency. Now, they've got a web site. Particularly amusing in the case of the NSA monitoring center, which does not exist. It's a giant windowless building, with no signage, covered in communications equipment and directly next to (and visible from) a major highway. It took about 5 minutes for people to figure out what was going on there.
    • PRISM, the NSA's spying program, is still technically classified, despite the fact that the "classified" information has its own article on The Other Wiki, and the US government has admitted to running the program.
  • From time to time, a celebrity will come out of the closet and announce that they are gay, to which the media and public response with "We weren't supposed to know that already?"
    • This was subverted by actor Richard Chamberlain when he was outed by Out Magazine in the 1980s. At the time, the magazine was operating under the policy that no homosexual had the right to stay in the closet, for the good of the gay community, and were basing a lot of their sales on "shocking" outings of closeted gay celebrities. By the time they got around to Chamberlain, Out was getting pretty arrogant about it. This backfired on them when they "exposed" Chamberlain (who had just come off the astoundingly successful Shogun mini-series) as gay. Chamberlain responded that he never hid his homosexuality, confirmed that everyone he ever worked with knew about it, and didn't see why the magazine was making such a big deal. Out's sales plummeted.
  • In WW2 when British intelligence was more of an Old Boy Network, an SIS agent was undergoing a routine security check.
    Security Officer: Does your wife know what you do?
    Agent: Yes.
    Security Officer: How did that come about?
    Agent: Well she was my secretary for two years and I think the penny might have dropped.
    Security Officer: Quite so. What about your mother?
    Agent: She thinks I'm in something called SIS which she believes stands for Secret Intelligence Service.
    Security Officer: Good God! How did she come to know that?
    Agent: A member of the War Cabinet told her at a cocktail party.
    Security Officer: Then what about your father?
    Agent: He thinks I'm a spy.
    Security Officer: So why would he think you're a spy?
    Agent: Because the Chief told him in the bar at White's.
  • A variation comes when police talk to the media about suicides, especially murder-suicides, but don't confirm that the incident was one. This becomes an Open Secret when their official statement is something like "The death of the members of this family was clearly homicide. No we're not looking for anyone. No, no one else is at risk."
  • The Church of Happyology has several of these, but the most notable is the OT-3 material (the notorious "Xenu story"). Ask any Happyologist, and they will claim never to have heard of the story in question. This is despite the fact that the Church has discussed it in court, their current leader, David Miscavige, alluded to it in an interview on Nightline, recordings exist on Youtube of L. Ron Hubbard discussing it, countless books and television programs have discussed it without libel action being taken and literally every ex-Happyologist who reached OT-3 confirms it.
  • Drones attacked people in Pakistan near the Afghan border. No one admitted to operating these drones, but everyone knows that the United States did it.
    • There have been strikes which have been not admitted by anyone, attributed to the US and internal sources indicate........that the US did not in fact do it. Hmmm. One can't help but think that some very interesting documents will be declassified 30 years from now.
    • So the are using an open secret to hide a secret? Brilliant.
  • Guinea secretly aided some rebels in Liberia's civil war, but journalists reported this as an open secret.
  • Lawyers defending the Guantanamo detainees who are being tried have complained that they're not allowed to mention in court that their clients were tortured (as such information is still considered classified) even though this is common knowledge and everyone, including the current and former presidents of the United States, have acknowledged that waterboarding had been used.
  • Composer Yoko Kanno has long collaborated with a reclusive singer named Gabriela Robin. It is an open secret that Grabriela Robin is really Yoko Kanno's singing persona; nevertheless Kanno refuse to officially comment, though she finally outed herself somewhat by performing Gabriela Robin's songs live in 2007.
  • Britain's Ordnance Survey maps are rightly acclaimed as one of the best, most accurate and most detailed representations available anywhere. This leads to several rather contradictory situations brought about by the military origins of the OS - the maps were first created for military use, hence the name - and the fact they have evolved over a century of refinement and differing priorities. For instance, the location of Britain's special forces bases is officially a secret, but anyone buying the relevant map section will see an Army barracks with virtually all its buildings faithfully represented. Anyone looking for the Aldermaston nuclear research base, or the American spy station at Menwith Hill, however, will just see rolling empty countryside with no apparent sign a large military installation is there. Despite the fact locals will happily point you to the radomes and buildings and the razor wire fences.


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