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Over-The-Top Secret
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 Henry Hayes: 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:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Works 
  • The Headhunt establishes the Federation Starfleet as using a two-layer clearance system inspired by real life systems. Before briefing her security chief on a break-in at Facility 4028 Eleya double-checks his security clearances. Dul'krah is cleared to see any data classified up to sigma-9, and can view data classified up to chi-4 if he's cleared for the code word. The relevant file is classified lambda-5 under the code word ICARIAN BRIGHT GEPPETTO.

    Film 
  • In G.I. 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.

    Then in the sequel, the COBRA President of the Unites States publicly announces GIJOE's destruction, no doubt leaving the entire world to wonder what he was talking about.
  • 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.
  • Independence Day: The Secretary of Defense has kept the existence of a recovered spaceship and alien corpses at Area51 a secret even from the President, in order to maintain Plausible Deniability, so the President doesn't learn about the secret laboratory beneath Area 51, until Julius Levinson confronts them and the truth comes out.
  • 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" by President Herbert Hoover (in the 1930's).
  • 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?
    • Note that Agents Of Shield states that Coulson is level 8note , and there are still some things he isn't cleared to know.
    • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap is also Level 8, and Nick Fury's level is 10. The intrigue starts when Fury discovers information even he cannot access, supposedly sealed on his own authority. By the end of the film, however, all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets are public knowledge.

    Literature 
  • In The Laundry Series, the Laundry is classified under a portion of the British Official Secrets Act that is itself classified.
  • There is a collection of Australian espionage stories called For Australian Eyes Only; which is supposedly a real security classification designating intelligence that is not to be shared with allied foreign intelligence services.
  • The Enemy by Desmond Bagley. The protagonist Malcolm Jaggard works for a British intelligence organisation that deals with industrial espionage. He dates the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur, and on a whim runs his name through the computer. To his surprise all details are classified above his level. He goes and fills out the forms to access the information, only to find it's classified at an even higher level and he's hauled up before his boss to explain why he made the inquiry in the first place. The entrepreneur turns out to be a Soviet scientist who defected to Britain years before.

    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.
      • 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 Area51 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 why anyone talking about information being classified "Above Top-Secret" is ridiculous since you can use the same compartmentalizing system to isolate especially sensitive information. And those compartmentalized systems often require an additional Sensitive Compartmented Information and/or Special Access Program clearance in addition to a regular TS. Which can be made even more complicated if includes information regulated by the Departnent of Energy.
      • The team themselves often have to tell Muggles they run into that what they're doing is classified. In "Seth" they claim jurisdiction over an investigation into a cult (the cult leader was an undercover Goa'uld). The officer in charge protests and says that he has "top-level clearance", to which O'Neill replies "Not top enough." He is finally convinced to shut up and do what O'Neill says when none other than the President of the United States calls him and confirms the team's authority.
      • 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.
  • Stargate Atlantis occasionally had the cast complaining that they couldn't tell anyone back home where they were because it was classified. This came to a head at the end of the first season, where everyone records a farewell message to their loved ones, just in case they don't survive. Zalenka's message is an enthusiastic, detailed description of Atlantis rising up from the ocean floor (in unsubtitled Czech). Lt Ford then asks if he said anything that would require security clearance. Zalenka gets an Oh Crap expression.
    Beckett: We Earthlings are a scrappy bunch!
    Ford: You can't say "Earthlings".
    Beckett: [My mother] knows I'm from Earth, son! That's not a bloody secret!
  • 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.
  • The characters of Spooks often talk about various classifications of files in regards of how tightly their contents are meant to be protected. The series 4 episode 'Diana' goes so far as to mention a "No Eyes" file: one that was never meant to be taken out of the room it was stored in.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Paranoia, the highest security clearance is Ultraviolet. Rumors of Gamma Clearance are treason. Report all rumors.
    • The Iceman Returneth features clones of a couple of The Computer's original programmers from the Old Reckoning, assigned Gamma Clearance and entrusted with maintaining its core systems. When the PCs inevitably stumble upon them: "Oh, no, now The Computer's going to outlaw doors or knobs or something. This will take weeks to fix!"

    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.

    Real Life 
  • During WWII, the fact that Britain had cracked most German coded communications was about the most secret fact on the Allied side — classified "Ultra". Exactly what the consequences of this were is still somewhat debated by historians, but there's a basic problem with this sort of situation; every time you act on your knowledge of enemy communications, you risk that enemy deducing what you've done. Hence, it has been alleged, the bombing raid that obliterated much of Coventry was let through rather than risk the secret. That's since been shown to be untrue, but yes, it's been seriously claimed that Winston Churchill sacrificed an entire city to keep that secret.


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