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.
- All Just a Dream: The whole "internal affairs tries to find a spy on Deep Space Nine" plot turns out to be a simulation Section 31 created to test the loyalty of Bashir.
- Always Someone Better: As Odo observes, Section 31 is the Federation equivalent to the Romulans' Tal Shiar or the Cardassians' Obsidian Order...except everyone knows those 'secret' organisations exist, whereas almost no-one knows of the existence of Section 31.
- 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.
- Bluff The Imposter: How Bashir figures out that O'Brien isn't really O'Brien, and by extension that the rest of the bridge crew are imposters.Bashir: Your shoulder...it's all right.
O'Brien: Of course it's all right.
Bashir: But you dislocated it yesterday when...you were playing springball.
O'Brien: So? It's better now.
Bashir: You didn't hurt it playing springball. You dislocated it kayaking in the holosuite. You're not Miles.
- Call-Back: Sloan makes references to "Hippocratic Oath," "In Purgatory's Shadow," "By Inferno's Light," "Dr. Bashir, I Presume?," and "Statistical Probabilities" while trying to discredit Bashir.
- One of Sloan's holo-minions refers to the Federation's defeat at the Tyra system.
- 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.
- The Conspiracy: This episode marks the beginning of the Section 31 storyline.
- Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Bashir just before going in the brig. The guard isn't very sympathetic.
- Good Is Not Soft: 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.
- Got Volunteered: Bashir refuses to join Section 31, but Sloan doesn't take "no" for an answer.
- 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 because Bashir can't prove a thing.
- Holding Your Shoulder Means Injury: O'Brien after yet another holo-kayaking mishap.
- 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 organization like the Tal Shiar or the Obsidian Order, but because it's the only one whose organization is so good that two hundred years after its founding, its existence is still completely secret.
- Imposter Forgot One Detail: Sloan admits his failure on this point, as he didn't know about O'Brien's latest kayaking injury and therefore didn't add that to holo-O'Brien.
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: How Bashir describes Section 31. Sloan doesn't exactly dispute it.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Various plot holes in previous episodes are used by Sloan to throw doubt on Bashir's version of events.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: Everything from the "recall" to "Weyoun" onwards is Section 31's holodeck to make damn sure of Bashir's loyalties.
- Manchurian Agent: Sloan's apparent suspicion that Bashir is one of these kicks off the plot.
- My God, You Are Serious: Bashir, when Sloan spells out why he wants him for Section 31.
- Not So Different: Villainous version, for the Federation. Turns out even the good guys have some skeletons in the closet.
- Bashir gets called on this after he says the ends don't always justify Section 31's means.Sloan: How many lives do you suppose you've saved in your medical career?
Bashir: What does that got to do with anything?
Sloan: Hundreds? Thousands? Do you think those people give a damn that you lied to get into Starfleet Medical? I doubt it.
- Odo points out that Section 31 is just the Federation's counterpart to the Romulan Tal Shiar and the Cardassian Obsidian Order.
- Bashir gets called on this after he says the ends don't always justify Section 31's means.
- No Such Agency: Section 31, since the birth of The Federation.
- Renegade Splinter Faction: Section 31 is unknown to and autonomous from the rest of Starfleet, and does not answer to any other branch in the org chart. It neutralizes threats to the Federation by any means necessary.
- Secret Test: It's implied that one reason why Section 31 puts Bashir through the simulation is to see whether he has the qualities required of their own agents: intelligence, attention to detail, ability to work under stress, etc. So if he turns out not to be a spy for the Dominion, they can try to recruit him themselves.
- Smug Snake: Director Sloan.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Sisko reports that Starfleet Command won't acknowledge or deny Section 31's existence.
- 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.
- Villain Ball: This is acknowledged in-universe when it's pointed out that Bashir was only able to escape from the asteroid prison because Garak and Worf's runabout was left in transporter range of the facility without even being powered down, much less destroyed.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Bashir is stunned that an organization like Section 31 could exist within the Federation.
- You Don't Want to Know: Comes up twice when Sloan gives Bashir the overview of Section 31:Sloan: We seek out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.
Bashir: And once identified?
Sloan: We deal with them.
Bashir: So if I had been a Dominion agent, what would've happened to me?
Sloan: We wouldn't be standing here having this conversation.
- You Have to Believe Me: Bashir trying to convince the bridge crew that he's not a traitor, until he figures out that they're not really the bridge crew.
- Your Favorite: Weyoun saying "Do you remember the first time I offered you scones back at the camp?" to Bashir.