In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol, snooping into people's windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.If our protagonists are visiting Commie Land or a Banana Republic, they will never run into the Secret Police. Why would they? You only need a police force if there is crime, and the country the heroes are in either has the lowest crime rate in the world or absolutely no crime at all. Any troublemaker just tends to "disappear" overnight; people who see their neighbors being taken away know it's best to look away and not guess why. And as there are no criminals, there's also no need for any court of law, jury by peers, or state prisons. Common in Dystopian fiction. If the Secret Police existed and had their own military force, then it would be a State Sec. If the culture isn't so bad, or the police—while secret, or at least very quiet—aren't altogether evil or brutal, they may just be The Men in Black.
—George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four
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Anime & Manga
- Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell. A rare case of members of such an organisation being the protagonists rather than antagonists, focusing on fighting dangerous criminals and terrorists, and are actually supposed to be secret (as in the public not knowing they officially exist). However, being the good guys doesn't mean they don't play this trope straight in all other respects.
- In Samurai Champloo, there are couple of characters working for the shogunate's secret police, but they are all good guys. There is hardboiled detective parody, Manzou the Saw, as well as an Action Girl and her partner who work to bring down a prostitution/crime ring.
- The "Cipher Pol No. 9" (CP9) of the universe of One Piece: they're the World Government's secret assassins, trained in infiltration and in the Rokushiki (six techniques) in order to complete their missions. They have the authority to kill any citizen that is presented as a threat to the World Government, including nobility.
- Ratman has "S Security", the Hero Association's top enforcers who are dispatched to covertly eliminate threats to the Association like the eponymous Anti-Villain Protagonist.
- In Naruto we had the ROOT organization which was a branch of ANBU that answered directly to Danzo Shimura instead of the Hokages.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam, we have the Principality of Zeon's Secret Servicenote , though they only exist in backstory. Their activities throughout Zeon's existence include killing off the Daikun family and their supporters to ensure the Zabis' rule, and disappearing One Year War protesters and suspected traitors (which is pretty much anyone they or the Zabis didn't like) in typical secret police fashion. Two of the side manga even describe how Side 3 suffered from rolling "blackouts", which in reality were whole neighborhoods being cleared out and left unpopulated; in other words, there was nobody left to turn houselights on over entire city blocks.
- Notably in the novels, Ramba Ral (of all people) was a member of the Secret Service instead of being the badass Gouf pilot we all know him for. As opposed to the Officer and a Gentleman he was in the TV/Movie series, he was more a Gihren loyalist here, such that he harbored shame over his father saving Zeon Zum Daikun's children from extermination.
- The Oprichnina are an example of this trope in Gate. Formed by Zorzal after his father, Emperor Molto, is poisoned, he uses this force to arrest any nobles and senators who are attempting to seek a peaceful resolution with the Japanese government. Despite their horrendous behavior, what they're doing is technically considered the Empire's internal affairs, preventing the Japanese Prime Minister from being able to house any Imperials attempting to seek refuge in their embassy, lest Zorzal uses this as an excuse to restart the war.
- The Fingermen in V for Vendetta - with the actual surveillance done by agents of the Eye and Ear, the agents of the Finger are the ones who do the black-bagging of political targets.
- According to the narrator of Equestria: A History Revealed, Celestia has all sorts of different secret polices.
- The Lemony Narrator fears the dreaded Fallacy Police. Apparently they're watching her, waiting for her to slip up. Good thing for her, Loose Change reasons that she's had no faults in logic in her essay so far so she should be fine. But given the absurdity of the statement, it stands to reason that their existence is highly questionable.
- It is hinted that Celestia might have had a secret police during the Classical Era. But the name that the narrator gives the organization, "Celestia Watermelon Friendship Surprise", casts doubt into this validity of this claim.
- Night's Favored Child has the Imperial Overwatch, led by the Inquisitor.
- Four Deadly Secrets: The RSS, Vale's "secret happy fun-time people", who you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alleyway.
Film — Animated
Film — Live-Action
- In a semi-Real Life example the movie The Bank Job features MI-5 acting in a role similar to this when they blackmail a group of thieves to commit a bank robbery to steal blackmail materials against the royal family. Though the incident in the film has been alleged to be true it is entirely unproven.
- The Grammaton Clerics of Equilibrium. Like the Firemen, the Clerics seek out and destroy anything that the state declares "emotionally dangerous". What separates them from other political police is that they know Gun Kata, making them far deadlier and much cooler.
- Conal Cochran's robotic employees serve as this in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, killing anyone who poses a threat to their plans or simply hates Silver Shamrock. A drunk who falls victim to the robots warns Dr. Challis that Cochran has spies all over the place. Furthermore, it's impossible to make phone calls from outside Santa Mira, where his factory is located.
- The dreaded Thought Police from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four, who were inspired, of course, by the Trope Namer in the Real Life section below.
- Also, children are encouraged to listen in on their parents, friends, teachers, and other adults they see to try and catch those against the party. They are given tools to help them spy at school, and are not reprimanded for skipping class and walking off to follow "suspicious characters". At one point, a character is turned into the thought police by his own daughter, and he reports being proud of her for doing her civic duty.
- The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud has the Night Police. This trope, and they're werewolves to boot.
- China Miéville's Bas-Lag Cycle: Perdido Street Station combines this with They Look Just Like Everyone Else! to the point of Paranoia Fuel. The city state that serves as the setting makes uses of its "militia" which has agents that can be anyone.
- He uses the trope again in The City & the City, where the "Breach" spirits away any citizens of the titular cities caught trespassing into the other. Given the two cities occupy the same space, it's more difficult than it seems.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets we have the I.B.I. (not stated but probably Interplanetary Bureau of Investigation) which is the Federation's secret police. Their agents are Don Harvey's main antagonist.
- Given this record, the trope is notably averted in the third of the most significant literary dystopias, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World... the people are too happy to care, so no police enforcement is needed. Though it should be noted that there is obviously a police force, as seen when John the Savage starts throwing out the soma rations.
- In The Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch's Savage Wolves serves as the secret police. The Witch also has trees spying for her.
- To a lesser extent in Pournelle's CoDominium series:
- In the Falkenberg's Legions books, the CD Intelligence Services work to prohibit any scientific research to keep the peace. They have no problems of corrupting databanks, censoring publications, and exiling scientists to deadly prison planets.
- The Kingdom of Haven's Secret Police of King David's Spaceship. Just as unscrupulous as their counterparts (they kill off an entire tavern and an landlady to preserve a secret they might have accidentally overheard) Unusual is that their goal is rather benevolent.
- The Crisis of Empire series by David Drake and other authors had the Kona Tatsu, whose authority included rearranging a marriage — as in, "You're now divorced so we can have your wife make a political marriage to someone else" — to support their agenda. Also a partial subversion/aversion, in that the KT are not, as a whole, as horribly bad as they pretend to be. They're certainly ruthless and sometimes sociopathic, but as a whole they are one of the few forces keeping civilization intact, and they know it, and some of their people try to behave decently when they can keep it from being obvious to their victims.
The true issue was that the Kona Tatsu had caused this disaster, and honor required the Kona Tatsu to set things to rights. For the KT cleaned up its own messes.
There was no mistaking it, even behind the threats and the cold, hard language. This nameless secret policeman was a kindly, decent man.
- Discworld: The "Cable Street Particulars" as seen in Night Watch are portrayed as an English version of The Gestapo. They mainly hunt out revolutionaries and are not picky about how they get their information. People have been known to enter their HQ and are never seen again. The scene where a time displaced Vimes breaks into the building is a disturbing scene by Discworld standards.
In a chronologically later book, Commander Vimes revives them as an undercover division of the City Watch: "secret policemen for secret crimes" as he puts it. It's safe to assume that since they report to an honest Commander, the modern Particulars are a benevolent version. And the one secret policeman we meet is a far cry from the sadists in Night Watch.
- The Firemen of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, who hunt and raze houses containing uncensored materials.
- The alternate history novel For Want of a Nail gives us the Constabulary, an organization put together by the United States of Mexico during a time of civil unrest and guerrilla terrorist activity in the hopes of restoring order and stability. And while this works, it ultimately backfires, as the Constabulary's commandant, Benito Hermion, with the backing of Kramer Associates, stages a coup and takes control of the country.
- In the later Garrett, P.I. novels, Deal Relway's Unpublished Committee for Royal Security becomes a covert law-enforcement force to be reckoned with in post-war TunFaire. Still marginally an agency of good, but likely to turn toxic if Relway ever runs out of genuine malefactors to target or gets replaced by someone less righteous.
- The Seekers from The Heritage of Shannara are somewhere between this and State Sec. With their Black Cloaks and wolf's head pins, they are among the most feared people in the entire Federation.
- In David Weber's Honorverse, the People's Republic of Haven had a number of secret agencies, such as the Mental Hygiene Police and Internal Security. This gets even worse when the Committee of Public Safety comes to power, centralizes the secret police, and creates State Sec, whose initials SS is no coincidence.
- In Shadow of Freedom, one bit character is introduced as the leader of the Mobius Secret Police, an agency whose existence is literally a state secret. Another bit character takes a moment to muse on whether or not the former realizes that in most cases, only a Secret Police's actions are kept a secret.
- Likewise the Caretaker Service in Yulia Latynina's Inhuman, but so much more efficient (also, they can double as special forces).
- In The Island of Crimea, OSVAG is the alternate Crimean-White Russian cloak-and-dagger outfit.
- The MARZENA Series has the IJS (not to confuse with the US). They spy on people, sell their data to Neo-Nazis and use the Transhuman Army to clean up the mess left behind so that Tresisda pass out as heroes. Also there is their American counterpart, Section-C, a Private Intelligence Company contracted by Homeland Security to take care of dirty business that the American government don't want to get involved in.
- In M. K. Wren's The Phoenix Legacy trilogy, there was the SSB, the Special Services Branch of the Concord Police. SSB personnel always wore electronic masks that hid their faces in apparent shadow. Their interrogation division was known as Psychocontrol.
- Tom Sharpe's black farces of life in apartheid South Africa, Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, centre on the criminally inefficient, incompetent, thuggish and racist Piemburg Police Force. This comes across as a version of Terry Pratchett's City Watch but lacking its redeeming virtues. A memorable character is the certifiably insane Lieutenant Verkramp, the Piemburg sector head of the dreaded Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the old South African secret police. Verkramp is a hysterical paranoid maniac who believes Communist subversion is everywhere, and that every despised black is ultimately plotting rebellion and the bloody downfall of white (Afrikaaner) power in South Africa. Verkramp is obsessed with miscegenation and racial purity, and with the aid of a Nazi-inclined German psychiatrist, is forever devising tests and measurements to precisely define the degree of black contamination in otherwise white people. He is also interested in aversion therapy to prevent white men from desiring black women, and vice-versa. In this he shares character traits with Terry Pratchett's Captain Findthee Swing and may well have been an inspiration for the character, who appears in Pratchett's Night Watch.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers used his position as Master of Whisperers to establish the paramilitary Raven's Teeth, which he led in the suppression of Daemon Blackfyre's rebellion. As Hand of the King, Bloodraven was accused of running the kingdom with spies and spells. These accusations are more or less true, since he's a powerful greenseer who can enter the mind of and control any animal or person, as well as receive visions of the future. Over 100 years later, he's hiding out beyond the Wall, teaching these tricks to Bran.
- The Stars My Destination has a Secret Police which even has its own code language ("the Secret Speech"). They have a reputation for Cold-Blooded Torture and disappearing people, although one of their members asserts that they made up stories of atrocities themselves so as to scare people. They are all descended from Chinese tongs.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Imperial Intelligence (military) and the Imperial Security Bureau (political) are the Empire's two main secret police organs, often at each other's throats. The latter is also State Sec (unsurprisingly, given its name) with special ISB stormtrooper units.
- The Emperor's Hands are a more informal version, Force-sensitive assassins who report directly to the Emperor, don't exist on any record, and serve as judge, jury and executioner.
- The Espos (Security Police) of the Corporate Sector Authority straddle the line between this and Dirty Cop.
- The Galactic Alliance Guard in the Legacy of the Force books, initially the Galactic Alliance's response to Corellian secessionist movements, quickly develops into this trope.
- A few smaller-scale examples at the planetary level, like Corellia's Public Safety Service, which is the secret police of the local Imperial government and its successor state after it goes independent. Previously it had been a regular police agency, the Corellian Security Force (or CorSec). One of the heroes in X-Wing and its subsequent novels, a former CorSec agent, is very disgusted over its fate.
- That Hideous Strength has the N.I.C.E. Institutional Police, which act like any other typical secret police. Oddly enough, the NICE also have a female police auxiliary, headed by a woman who loves to abuse female prisoners.
- In South Africa-set novel The First Rule Of Survival, set in post- The Apartheid Era SA, white Afrikaaner policeman Vaughn de Vries comes to realise the new Internal Security department is as paranoid and repressive as the old BOSS that it replaced. Except this time, the dissaffected and possibly rebellious section of South African society whose actions and thoughts are being monitored are white.
- In the Troy Rising series, the Kazi fills this slot for the Rangoran Empire.
- Vorkosigan Saga: Barrayar had the Ministry of Political Education in Emperor Ezar's time, and though things have improved by Miles' time ImpSec still enjoys a bit of a reputation, which they do little to discourage.
- The main antagonists in Eric Frank Russell's novel The Wasp. The Kaimina Tempiti, or Kaitempi, serve this role for the Nazi-like Sirian Empire. The name is an obvious allusion to the Japanese Kempeitai during World War II. In the novel, the Kaitempi censor all media and use violence and intimidation to quell any opposition to the Imperial government. The protagonist, James Mowry, is sent to a remote Sirian colony in order to foment rebellion and sow chaos as preparation for the Terran invasion. To this effect, he creates (and officially registers) an anti-government (read: terrorist) organization called Dirac Angestun Gesept (Sirian Freedom Party). He also proceeds to hire contract killers to take out Kaitampi officials.
- Watership Down: In Efrafa there is the Oswlafa, or Council Police.
- The Brocade Guards (a nod to Jinyi Wei; see Real Life below) in Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire cycle would be this, except they are very numerous, highly public and often quite incompetent; some of the government characters have their own private intelligence services that can be much more like this, though.
- Played for Laughs in 'Allo 'Allo!, where the local Gestapo operatives are the incompetent bumblers Herr Flick and Von Smallhausen.
- The Alliance Operatives in Firefly (and the Big Damn Movie Serenity).
- The Handmaid's Tale: The Eyes of God.
- The Obsidian Order and Section 31 in Star Trek. Section 31 is notable because it (an amoral, covert agency) operates within The Federation (who typically acts in the open and does the right choice). However, Section 31 is more of a Secret Society than a Secret Police.
- Section 31 is even more notable in that while all other said governments at least tacitly acknowledge their prospective organization's existence, even Section 31's name means little to nothing, as it could more technically be called Article XIV, Section 31...that is, of the original United Earth Starfleet Charter, that ambiguously allows an unspecified "investigative agency" to take "extraordinary measures" in cases of "extraordinary circumstances" which threaten Earth, and later on the Federation as a whole. As Luther Sloane makes clear in the Deep Space Nine finale about them...there are no centralized offices for Section 31, anywhere. Some admirals and other high-ranking officials seem to know of its existence, but Section 31 is held accountable to absolutely no one.
- The Cardassian Obsidian Order is so powerful, that they are effectively The Omniscient Council of Vagueness that runs the whole empire. Civilian politicians and military commanders do exist, but eventually all major decisions are made by them.
- The Romulans' Tal Shiar behaves as both secret police and political officers aboard Romulan ships. Romulans are almost universally terrified of them. When Troi is posing as a Tal Shiar officer aboard a Romulan Warbird (long story), she mostly maintains her cover because the ship's crew doesn't dare question any of her actions. Near the episode's climax, she commandeers the ship from its rightful commander by threatening to summarily execute not just anyone who objects, but their entire family. The crew's reaction makes it clear that nobody doubts that a member of the Tal Shiar would follow through on that threat.
- The Tripods from BBC has a group of soldiers called the Black Guard who are portrayed as the Tripods' emissaries in the outside world (though they aren't present in the books).
- On one episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Johnny is convinced that the phone company has their own secret police force - AND they're after him for destroying a phone earlier in the episode.
- "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys mentions the Suede Denim Secret Police, who drag away the "uncool" for a "shower".
- The song Secret Police, sung by Hatsune Miku, describes this trope to a T, with a bit of Paranoia Fuel to the mix, as is implies that the agents could be absolutely anyone, no matter their age or social status.
- Parodied in Lost Twists's "Pensè que se trataba de cieguitos" ("I thought these were blind dudes!"), since the narrator is a super oblivious dude who spends three days in the hands of some secret police and doesn't even seem to notice who they are.
- Mentioned in the second verse of Resistance by Muse
Kill your prayers for love and peace
You'll wake the thought police
- Cecil mentions the Sheriff's Secret Police in nearly every broadcast of Welcome to Night Vale and they, for their part, seem to be completely unconcerned about their public visibility, even going so far as to host an exhibition baseball game against the Night Vale Fire Department (during which the fire department relief pitchers were found mysteriously dead by blow dart). Indeed, it seems that the Sheriff's Secret Police is Night Vale's only form of law enforcement.
- The Inquisition of Warhammer 40,000, with three major branches, each specializing in fighting either heretics, aliens, or the forces of chaos. Also overlaps with State Sec.
- For more mundane dangers, there's the Adeptus Arbites. The Arbites deal with organised crime, sedition, rebellion, and everything else outside the jurisdiction or ability of the local police forces. Essentially, they are the MVD to the Inquisition's KGB.
- And most shadowy of all is the Officio Assassinorum. While Inquisitors have ultimate authority and their job is to investigate internal threats to the Imperium, the 'secret' aspect of their policing is up for debate, given how the Inquisition have quite a public face and some Inquisitors even become famous to a degree. The Arbites also have a public presence. But the Officio Assassinorum deals with internal threats such as rogue planetary governors and the forte of most of their temples is stealth and secrecy. It is due to this that Space Marines have conspiracy theories against them.
- Of course, that last part might have something to do with the fact that the Officio's leader, the Master of Assassins, can, and in one case did assassinate every other member of the Senatorum Imperialis after he fell to Chaos, and was only defeated by the combined efforts of an army of space marines, only one of which survived to put a bolt in the Master of Assassin's head.
- The Gnome nation of Zilargo, from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Eberron, all aspects of national security and law enforcement is handled by an order of spies, diviners and assassins known as The Trust. The Gnomes of Zilargo are mostly happy with this arrangement, since their nation has the lowest crime rate on the continent and their national pastime, intrigue, is not generally interfered with.
- This, combined with the fact that they're actually rather democratic (Zilargo has the most lax censorship laws in Eberron) means that they actually seem like a mostly normal police force who just happen to be run by a culture where elaborate schemes are looked upon as a fun diversion.
- To put it another way: in Zilargo, a gnome becomes paranoid if he thinks no one is watching him.
- Kislev, being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture based on Tzarist Russia, has them. They are not nice.
- In Traveller the Zhodani Consulate enforced behaviour with their Guardians of Morality. Given that the Zhodani embraced telepathy and psionics in their society, they were real Thought Police.
- As commented upon in BattleTech by players regarding the Draconis Combine's Internal Security Force and the Capellan Confederation's Maskirovka: "One in five people in your circle of friends is an ISF/Mask agent. If four people say they're not, you're it!" It should be noted that while the majority of the Successor State intelligence apparatus do operate within national boundaries, only the ISF has really made a name from it. The Lyran Alliance/Commonwealth's Loki on the other hand verge straight into State Sec
- Internal Security or IntSec from Paranoia
- For a while, Hantei XVI instated the Steel Chrysanthemums, which were meant to root out the many (mostly imaginary) conspiracies he thought were arrayed against him. This was seen after the fact as one of the many pieces of evidence that he was completely insane, and led to the sages striking most of the records of his reign from history.
- They're all over the place in Deus Ex.
- Very practical to have one in Tropico 3. Stupid rebel bombings.
- In Tropico 4, the secret police are formed by edict of the Ministry of the Interior. You assign it to an existing service building and they monitor dissent on the island, allowing you to discreetly head off subversive activities and assassinate undesired civilians. They are more effective if they are allowed to tap the island's telecommunications.
- In Tropico 5, the secret police cannot be formed until the Cold War. They monitor the island's inhabitants to discover faction leaders and rebels.
- Appears to be a large part of the job of the Turks in the FFVII setting, although it's not their official job and they combine it with CIA-type external functions. And dress like Men in Black. Another variant of theirs on the archetype is having only first names and a great variety in appearance and fighting style.
- They pulled at least one of their members out of an orphanage and trained her from childhood. This is not standard Secret Police fare; there's a certain ninja vibe to the whole thing and they apparently take lead in most covert ops, even if SOLDIERs are assigned as supplementary muscle.
- The Before Crisis game winds up being largely about being a rebel Turk faction trying to Screw The Rules And Do The Right Thing. Interestingly, the ringleader of this little caper, the stoic softy Tseng, is still head Turk during Advent Children, when Shinra has lost most of its control, and is one of Rufus Shinra's personal guards.
- And please everyone note that these are the secret police not of a country, but of a power company. Though said company is the government.
- The Blades in The Elder Scrolls serve as both this and as The Emperor's bodyguards. By the time of Skyrim, the Pentius Oculatus have replaced them in this regard.
- The Dominion from WildStar has the Imperial Corps of Intelligence (ICI), run mostly by the Mechari. This has the effect of making them terrifyingly effective and extremely cool.
- The Federation's Bureau of Internal Investigation in Escape Velocity Nova was founded as this (with a special focus on counter-intelligence). By the time the game actually starts, they've not only (at least de-facto) absorbed all intelligence functions (Federation Intelligence is only mentioned in the past tense), or even just went full-blown State Sec with elements of the Federation Navy answering directly to them: they've gone so far as to to all practical purposes have taken over the Federation.
- In Total War: Rome II, the Eastern Empires factions share a trait called Secret Police, which grants them extra defense against enemy agents.
- Arstotzka from Papers, Please has the Ministry of Information's Special Investigation Division, which focuses on rooting out any and all possible enemies of the state. As if to drive the point home, M. Vonel, the agent that the player encounters throughout the game, looks nearly identical to the trope image.
- The Order of the Stick: Spoofed in the Empire of Blood, where the Death Squad marches in a celebratory parade like any other civic institution:
Bob: Now Judy, I'm not familiar with this next group. Can you shed some light on this for me?
Judy: Why, that's the Death Squad, Bob!
Judy: Yes, they're marching in a parade for the first time, but this elite order of assassins has been around for longer than you'd think. They play a very important role in curtailing our personal liberties and maintaining the regime of the current fascist—Unnnh! [killed by assassin]
- Tower of God: The the Royal Enforcement Division is an Internal Affairs Agency that overlooks the loyalty of Zahard's followers from the shadows, especially his princesses. Ren, the youngest member, is strong enough two wipe the floor with the two strongest fighters of Baam's clout.
- Open Blue has two, with Sirene's's Kolpo, and Avelia's Office of Counter Intelligence, which is basically a Secret Police exclusively for its (bloated) military.
- The United Federation of People's Republics in the Gemini Galaxy of Imperium Nova has the State Security Commissariat, and in particular the Domestic Intelligence Bureau.
- The Protectors of the Plot Continuum have the Department of Internal Security, possibly influenced by the Cable Street Particulars, who started out benign but eventually shifted to the Mysterious Somebody's secret police and began a reign of terror until they were thrown out in a Civil War. Their existence was obviously public knowledge, but their corruption and methods weren't, with even most Guards not seeming to know just how rotten the department had become. The later Department of Internal Operations is a more literal example, as in theory only the DIO itself and the Board of Department Heads know they even exist; their role is to root out Suvian infiltrators of HQ and dispose of them, and anyone who encounters them is promptly neuralysed. In practise, there are rumours of their existence, but nobody knows for sure; according to one of the DIO's agents, the department's discovery would be disastrous, resulting in the deaths of the DIO's members at best and a full-scale rebellion against the Board of Department Heads at worst.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Dai Li of Ba Sing Se. They have an official charge: to preserve the city's cultural heritage. They have an unofficial charge: to keep order within the city walls. Their three modes of operation are through establishing a Panopticon effect where you are always being watched and know it, deploying terrifyingly consistent brainwashed PR operatives, and physically assaulting any remaining problems with intensely trained earthbenders, who apparently also are the main intelligence officers, since they're only supposed to fight when the system has sprung a leak.
- They return for Book 3 of The Legend of Korra, now serving as a more generic secret police for the Earth Queen, who unlike her father is a power-hungry despot.
- For sheer notoriety, nothing tops the Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police Service), much better known as The Gestapo, from Nazi Germany.
- There was even a junior Gestapo, called the Jugend Streifendienst, middle-school kids who spied on and reported other kids...or their parents.
- This may well be the Trope Namer, in fact, since it actually called itself the "secret police". Most other similar organizations did not use the word "secret" in their names or descriptions.
- We should also mention the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security), known as the Stasi, who took the observation of the East German population to massive levels, much worse than the Gestapo. They also received considerable help from the population of East Germany - estimates of the prevalence of informers range from 1 in 50 to 1 in 7. Other communist regimes had similar, just as notorious units: the Czechoslovak StB, the Romanian Securitate, the Hungarian ÁVH... (although none of them took mass surveillance to quite the same extremes as the Stasi).
Question: How can you tell whether the Stasi has bugged your apartment?Answer: There's a new cabinet in it.
- The effectiveness of the Stasi was always a bit of a mixed bag. While they did often seem like an omnipresent secret police force, they were also known to be fairly ham-fisted. They were notorious for using large, poorly hidden surveillance devices. A popular East German joke illustrated this:
- One of their most effective methods, aside from their slightly ludicrous relative size to the population, was an uncanny ability to get people to snitch or spy on their friends and family. Decades later, the real horror of the Stasi was the paranoia they instilled in the populace that anyone, even loved ones, could be informing on you, mostly likely to get a better break for themselves. Revelations, even to this day, that one person or another might have been an informant can seriously sour relationships and public images.
- There's a saying in Germany: "The Gestapo were bone-breakers. The Stasi were soul-breakers."
- Another tactic used by the Stasi was Zersetzung, which is a psyops technique to subvert and undermine political opponents and a form of Gaslighting. The aim was to disrupt the target's private or family life so they are unable to continue their "hostile-negative" activities towards the state, leaving them too unnerved and psychologically distressed to have the time and energy for anti-government activism. Typically, the Stasi would use collaborators and informants to garner details from a victim’s private life. They would then devise a strategy to "disintegrate" the target's personal circumstances – their career, their relationship with their spouse, their reputation in the community, etc. This often included psychological attacks, denunciation, false accusations, provocation, psychological warfare, psychological subversion, wiretapping, bugging, and smear campaigns in a deliberate effort to undermine their self-confidence and self-esteem. The biggest advantage that Zersetzung gave was that its subtle nature meant that it was able to be plausibly denied.
- While there is no real consensus on what body did what, Imperial Germany and the Manchu Qing Dynasty of Imperial China all had some form of this.
- While also having a slightly sinister name, Germany's current Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is generally regarded as an actual protector of the German people, mostly keeping watch on far-right or far-left extremists, as well as fighting organized crime and domestic terrorism.
- Although it has to be mentioned that the Verfassungsschutz has always been known to turn a blind eye towards right-wing extremists while cracking down on anything even remotely "leftist".
- And Scientology, which the German government regards as a Corrupt Church at best and a Religion of Evil at worst.
- Incidentally, Scientology has a division which its critics have compared with secret police organizations, called the Office of Special Affairs (OSA). The group has become infamous for harassing former Scientologists, launching ruthless smear campaigns against critics of the church, and gathering intelligence on both through sometimes illegal means.
- The second most famous (and real) example was the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security), more commonly known as the KGB. They were also a spy agency. They have had a number of other names over the years (Cheka, NKVD etc.) and continue today (sort of) in the form of the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (Federal Security Service, FSB). A cynical man could say (to quote Valentin Zukovsky from The World Is Not Enough): "Different name, same friendly service".note
- In Useful Notes/Belarus, the KGB remains, under the same name. Given that Belarus sadly is still a Soviet-esque dictatorship, this likely is not surprising.
- Before the KGB, Ivan the Terrible created the Oprichnina. They were almost like a monastic order, where the Oprichniki were the "monks" and Ivan was their "abbot". The Oprichniks had free rein to terrorize the Russian population, and not even the nobility were spared. One of the scariest things about them was the banners they flew during their raids - severed dog heads mounted on spears.
- That was about four hundred years before the KGB, to be exact. And various kinds of secret police under various names existed in Tsarist Russia over the course of those four hundred years.
- The KGB were hardly the first modern Russian secret police: the Tsarist equivalent was the Okhrannoye otdeleniye (Security Section), better known in the West as the Okhrana (technically, it was usually called Okhranka, at least in Russia. Okhranka is a diminutive, a "cute" name.). And that was preceded by the "Third Section of His Imperial Majesty's Chancellery".
- The Basij, a plainclothes militia in Iran, is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who sometimes act as a political secret police. Consisting mostly of male volunteers, the Basij are known for their fanatical devotion to the Ayatollah of Iran. Although it's a semi-decentralized force with many local bands, they have armed battalions controlled directly by the Revolutionary Guards. For most volunteers, their job is to enforce Islamic laws on the population, like making sure the women in the streets wear head scarves. And they have long been criticized by human rights organizations-the most recent controversy was during the "Twitter Revolution" in 2009. The Basij broke up mass protests by shooting into the crowds, killing at least a hundred. During their nighttime raids on universities, they broke into dorms and beat up the students, and several female protesters were taken into custody and gang-raped.
- The most disturbing part is that the Basij have middle-school members, called Puyandegan. Apparently, the Basij went so crazy on the protesters that the Ayatollah himself had to step in and curb them.
- Before them there was the SAVAK who served under the Shah.
- Which is not at all like the SAVAMA, another secret police under the Islamic Republic.
- Until it became defunct, The Spanish Inquisition was basically this for the Spanish crown. Quite possibly the Ur-Example... Which explains why no one expected it.
- Unlike the Inquisition in most other countries, the Spanish Inquisition was unique in that the Spanish crown had usurped the Church's authority in Spanish territory to collect tithes, appoint bishops, and prosecute Church-related crimes (at its height, the Spanish Empire was that powerful). The Inquisition in Spain became the political police as much as (if not more than) ecclesiastical police. By contrast, the Inquisition in most other Catholic countries was separate from (and usually more fair and consistent than) the secular legal authorities of the time. Franco during his dictatorship attempted to use the Church in much the same way to enforce state ideology, but the Catholic Church in the 20th century was not the same as it was in the 16th and his efforts were neither as consistent nor as successful as the Habsburgs.
- Actually, there's quite the division in Spain about how the Catholic Church's collaboration with Franco went on. Even in the internet years, it's not safe to discuss it.
- Some scholars have suggested that the Spartan Crypteia played this role.
- It is said that the Singaporean intelligence services (the Internal Security Department and the Security and Intelligence Division) work much like this.
- Modern-day China has several secret police units, as one would expect from a country that has managed to keep over 1 billion people in line, even more than 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Most of them are organs within the dreaded Ministry of State Security (国家安全部) and the Chinese Communist Party, but the Ministry of Public Security (公安部), responsible for day-to-day law enforcement in China, also contains secret police units. These include the Enemy Investigations Bureau (敵偵局), and Office 610 (610弁公室). The latter is tasked with disappearing Falun Gong activists and harvesting their organs.
- Prewar Japan had two of these forces; one for overseas territories, and one for the Japanese mainland.
- The former was known as Kempeitai (憲兵隊), or "military police corps", and was the IJA's military police. It also doubled as a Gestapo-esque secret police for conquered Japanese territories during the 1930s and 1940s, up until the end of World War II.
- The latter, lesser-known Japanese secret police was the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu (特別高等警察), or "special higher police". In modern times it's often referred to as Tokko (特高) for short. Tokko carried out similar acts of repression that the Kempeitai did, but was a purely domestic force. Tokko inspired the term "thought police" ('shisou keisatsu', 思想警察), but during its time, it was often referred to as 'chian keisatsu' (治安警察)—the Peace Police.note IJN admiral Takeo Takagi, who commanded the Imperial fleet during the 1941 invasion of the Phillippines, said about Tokko: 泣く子も黙ると言われた恐怖の「特高」。note
- Due to the brutality of prewar Japan's secret police, modern-day Japanese intelligence and security servicesnote have far more limited powers of surveillance compared to even their modern western counterparts.
- The Bureau Of State Security (BOSS) in South Africa during The Apartheid Era.
- The Ming Dynasty's Jinyi Wei ("Brocade-Clad Guard") and the Dongchang ("The Eastern Commission of Investigations").
- Taiwan boasted two oddly-named versions, which operated at the same time-the General Department of Political Warfare, which maintained both political officers and general high-ranking commanders in every military unit, down to the company or battery level, as well as in many police units-and the Taiwan Garrison Command, commanded by a three-star general, which acted to suppress political activism and ensure political orthodoxy, and was tied to various unsavory political murders or assassinations, and kept a hand in influencing society, economics, culture and education. For a relatively small country, Taiwan required a lot of secret police during its long period as a capitalist police state.
- These were the descendants of secret police organizations in pre-1949 China, in which the present Taiwan has institutional continuity with-the Central Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, and the Military Bureau of Investigation and Statistics. It also showed some influence from the Russian system of political commissars.
- Sun Yat-Sen decided in the 20s that China wasn't ready for democracy and to follow the Soviet model. The Nationalist army was trained at the Whampoa Military Academy by Soviet instructors. Chang Kai-Shek eventually switched to Nazi Germany as a military model.
- These were the descendants of secret police organizations in pre-1949 China, in which the present Taiwan has institutional continuity with-the Central Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, and the Military Bureau of Investigation and Statistics. It also showed some influence from the Russian system of political commissars.
- The Joseon Dynasty's Amhaeng-eosa (Secret Censors), specially appointed by the King to keep tabs on his own administration and yangban nobility, but never as fully institutionalized as some others on this list. Oddly, or perhaps not when one considers their preferred targets, they also tend to be viewed positively today as agents opposed to government corruption.
- Austria-Hungary had a fascinatingly incompetent/woefully underfunded version of this. They went from being able to intercept and copy almost all correspondence into and out of Vienna during the Congress of Vienna (1814) (and an invaluable tool for modern historians that is) to a service so badly overstretched that a staff of 20 people was expected to monitor all postal traffic in the nation post-Metternich, including clerical assistants and servants. Despite this, it was still treated as some monolithic instrument of repression and censorship, generally by people not actually within the nation.
- To be fair, while it did indeed degenerate when Metternich was exiled after 1848 and the monarchy it served suffered defeat in the two decades afterwards, it began a resurrection in the 80's and afterward, partially spearheaded by the infamous Alfred Redl, who introduced so many innovative techniques that his own protegé eventually used them to discover his spying for Russia. After Redl's ouster stopped the bleeding of information to the Entente, the resurrection was largely complete, and by all accounts the intelligence web lasted well into the 20's, manned mostly by pro-Habsburg fanatics who wished to revive the Dual Monarchy.
- The Chilean DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) under the rule of Augusto Pinochet. Actually, all of the various organizations of this type during Operation Condor would qualify, but the DINA is perhaps the most infamous.
- Nicaragua during the Sandinista period (1979-1990) had the DGSE, the General Directorate for State Security, which was modeled after the East German Stasi.
- Liberal democracies aren't without their secret police — the UK's MI-5 and the US FBI's COINTELPRO operation would both qualify, albeit without the aura of fear that secret polices in more authoritarian countries cultivate. Britain also has the Special Branch, a secretive section of the civilian police force, where "secret bobbies" deal with issues of subversion, counter-terrorism, threats to politicians and the State establishment, et c. In the past they have been fingered in holding files against trade unionists and striking workers - e.g. during the bitter Miners' Strike of the 1980's. The Irish community in Britain was kept under MI-5/SB surveillance during the undeclared war with Irish terrorists, and now Ireland is largely at peace, the same tactics honed on the Irish are being employed against Asian and Islamic communities. The Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Military Police consists of plainclothes military secret police whose job it is to keep the British Army under surveillance for signs of mutiny, disaffection, deviance from the accepted philosophy, etc.
- The British Army's 14 Intelligence Company a.k.a 'the Det', an organisation against which accusations of torture and brutality up to and including murder were levelled by Irish republican groups...
- Bear in mind that the IRA are not necessarily the most impartial source when it comes to the British Army. It isn't impossible, however.
- The Det's modern successor, the Special Reconnaisance Regiment, was responsible for providing the 'intelligence' that led to plain clothes armed police officers shooting the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes dead.
- In fact, Western countries usually have several agencies with budgets that are partially obscured. For the US, the list includes the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and the DIA. Though of these, only the FBI has police or internal functions. The CIA and DIA are involved in foreign and military intelligence, respectively; the NSA, in signals intelligence, cryptography, and cryptanalysis.
- Historically, the FBI were very close to becoming a straight example under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, focusing on the suppression of political dissent at the expense of a worsening organised crime problem and amassing large files of potential blackmail material on radicals... and elected officials, according to some sources.
- Averted by the Secret Service, which just protects the President and investigates counterfeiting and computer crimesnote despite its name.
- The Swedish government actually named their FBI analogue the Secret Police (Also known as SUPO).
- From 1950-1983 the Canadian government operated a secret program called PROFUNC which spied on suspected Communists and Communist-sympathizers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police developed dossiers on 16,000 Communist party members/supporters and over 50,000 suspected sympathizers including details on their families, exact movements, and including pre-filled arrest documents. In the event of war with the Soviet Union (the so-called Mobilization Day), the RCMP would immediately round up everyone on the PROFUNC list and send them to internment camps.
- The British Army's 14 Intelligence Company a.k.a 'the Det', an organisation against which accusations of torture and brutality up to and including murder were levelled by Irish republican groups...
- Egypt's State Security Investigations Service proved to be remarkably like the Stasi after revolution revealed its piles and piles of documents, indicating (according to some sources) that as much as 1 or 2 percent of the country's population of 80 million was on its payroll (mostly as informants). It also proved to have had a taste for Electric Torture, although that was well-known beforehand (1975's The Karnak Cafe, one of the greatest Egyptian films ever, depicts torture under the 1953-1970 regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in graphic detail).
- The Roman Empire had the Frumentarii (lit. 'foragers') who were spies tasked with infiltration of foreign groups and collecting information about the situation in various regions. Together with Speculatores (the military scouts) they were also conducting arrests, interrogation and elimination of the most dangerous traitors, dissenters and troublemakers.
- The State Security Department. North Korea's answer to the KGB. You don't want to mess with them as they've been successful in putting down a potential coup attempt in the 90s and locking up a few corrupt KPA officers thanks in part to their surveillance network.
- The Mabahith in Saudi Arabia.
- During Mexico's Dirty War, which lasted roughly from the 1960s until the early 1980s, there were many versions:
- The Brigadas Blancas (White Brigades) were a combination of Mexico City police, Federal District police, and Mexican soldiers with the aim to dismantle the September 23 Communist League, a Marxist-Leninist urban guerrilla group that opposed the Priista government. While they had been active in several Northern and Central Mexico states since the early 1970s, it wasn't until 1976 when then-President Luis Echeverría would sign his approval for operations in Mexico City. Every agent working for the Brigada Blanca received a monthly wage of 3,000 pesos and "as much as needed" for general expenses (not bad for 1970s Mexico).
- Los Halcones: Prior to the White Brigades, Los Halcones was a paramilitary group created to sabotage popular movements, repress demonstrations and prevent big movements from arising. Also, the general public was told they were going to be "to ensure security in the (then-recently inaugurated) Metro".
- The Olympia Battalion: A mixture of many security forces (presidential guards, mayor presidential state officers, policemen and soldiers) intended to bring security for the Olympic games. They were identified by a white glove or handkerchief in their left hands. Since the Student Movement of 1968 was deemed subversive and a threat to national security and could damage Mexico's view in the upcoming Olympic Games, the security forces were turned into a shock group and repressed, beat, tortured and killed/disappeared many of the movement's sympathisers (including Ana María Regina Teuscher Krueger, who was going to be an aide-de-camp for the Olympic Ceremony).
- The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (Federal Security Direction) was a Mexican intelligence agency created in the late 1940s. It was infamously corrupt and tortured many people they considered "criminals"; they even assassinated a journalist for reporting on their ties with the DEA, CIA, and high-ranking corrupt officials.
- The Secret Policeman's Ball is a comedy benefit to raise money for Amnesty International, the main mission of which is to free political prisoners.
- The National Intelligence and Security Authority was the Philippine's most notorious intelligence agency responsible for cracking down on anti-Marcos opposition in the 1970s and 80s under the command of General Fabian Ver. Formerly replacing the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the NISA was rebranded to its current name after the EDSA Revolution.
- The Council of Ten in Venice during the days when Venice was a sovereign state. It had a fearsome reputation, (which it probably didn't mind) but according to at least one writer it focused mostly on those who were actually powerful enough to pose a threat. Thus it was a more downplayed version.
- The Shinsengumi and their rivals/counterparts, the Ishin-Shishi. Most of the Ishin-shishi later became advisers to the emperor.
- The O.V.R.A. of Fascist Italy, who are the subject of The Conformist and who harass the title character in Porco Rosso. Secret enough nobody's sure what O.V.R.A. meant (there are various possible meanings) or even if it actually existed (there are rumours that Mussolini invented it to scare political enemies and distract everyone from who actually did the job, namely the MVSN (the original Black Shirts) and the Public Safety Agents Corps (the normal police).
- The Geheime Feldpolizei (GFP) of Imperial Germany, established by Otto Von Bismarck in 1866
- The hideously inappropriately named "State Research Bureau" of Idi Amin's Uganda.
- All over the place in Napoleonic France, one of the most ruthlessly efficient police states of the period (especially towards the end). In addition to the "regular" force under the Minister of Police (Fouché, later replaced by Savary, although Fouché retained a vast and powerful network of informants and assorted thugs), there was the gendarmerie (a section of the army), Davout's military police (another section of the army), the Palace's police under General Duroc note ... mutual suspicion was rampant and even encouraged between all of these.
- In The Apartheid Era, The South African Bureau for State Security note fulfilled this function for the white government. BOSS was notorious for its general paranoia, for enthusiastically interrogating black suspects and facilitating their suicides from very high windows, and invented the euphemism "care package" for letter bombs - on the grounds that recieving one of these really takes care of people. After the end of apartheid, a revised and re-educated version persists as the National Intelligence Service.