Dr. Bashir's plans to attend a cushy medical conference are cut short when Director Sloan, an operative supposedly from Starfleet internal affairs, interrogates the senior staff on suspicion of treason. The investigation eventually focuses on Bashir, who is forced to defend himself against accusations that he is a deep cover Dominion spy. Bashir's search for the truth leads to him uncovering the existence of a clandestine organization that has operated in the shadows of the Federation from its very inception.
Tropes in this episode:
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Bashir has always engaged in spy fantasies and been fascinated with being a spy. Both Sloan and Odo remind him of this after Sloan makes his offer.
- Canon Fodder: Section 31 and its stated 200 year history opened up plenty of opportunities for novels and spinoffs to feature 'classified' examples of its involvement in the earlier franchises.
- Chekhov's Gun: O'Brien's dislocated shoulder. Bashir treats it during The Teaser and tells him to take it easy. Later, when it looks like everyone is turning against him, a desperate Bashir grabs that same shoulder and notices when "O'Brien" doesn't flinch.
- Good Is Not Nice: Section 31 is capable of anything, but all to defend the Federation.
Sloan: We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.
Bashir: And once identified?
Sloan: We deal with them.
- He Knows Too Much: Subverted. Sloan tells Bashir a good deal about Section 31, but returns him to the station when it's all over. Bashir threatens to expose him, but Sloan knows he has little reason to worry.
- Humans Are Special (or rather The Federation is Special): Part of a DS9 theme of putting a different spin on this to the older TNG style. The Federation is special not because it's the only major power not to have a secretive spy organisation like the Tal Shiar or the Obsidian Order, but because it's the only one whose organisation is so good that 200 years after its founding, its existence is still completely secret.
- Not So Different: Villainous version, for the Federation. Turns out even the good guys have some skeletons in the closet.
- Smug Snake: Director Sloan.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Sisko reports that Starfleet Command won't acknowledge or deny Section 31's existence.
- The Conspiracy: This episode marks the beginning of the Section 31 storyline.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Bashir is stunned that an organization like Section 31 could exist within the Federation.
- Utopia Justifies the Means:
Sloan: We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we've saved, I think you'd agree that the ends do justify the means. I'm not afraid of bending the rules every once in a while if the situation warrants it, and I don't think you are either.
- You Don't Want to Know: After Bashir asks Sloan what would have happened if he had been a Dominion spy.
Sloan: We wouldn't be standing here having this conversation.