Leo McGarry: Well I can't tell you that, Joe; it was classified. But I can tell you it was classified by the Defense Department.
Information which is kept secret from most people, on an organised basis. A trope common in espionage and military fiction. Truth in Television, of course; governments (and other organisations) do keep formal secrets. Classification systems can range from internal documents everyone at a workplace can immediately access and make an unlimited number of copies; to very rigid and quite complex compartmentalized systems, where the holder must go through arduous background investigations and to have an official need to know in order to get access to, in most cases, only a small part of the puzzle.
In fiction, this often materializes as red tape used by characters in order to withhold certain information from others. This occasionally leads to Poor Communication Kills. (And that's Truth in Television too.) Often Played for Drama, but sometimes it can also be Played for Laughs.
Compare I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You, Conveniently Interrupted Document and Plausible Deniability. See also Over-the-Top Secret for the "greatest secret in the world" stuff, and Loose Lips for the dangers of accidentally letting slip useful bits of information in passing.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: this is Mikuru's Catchphrase (kinsoku jikou, in Japanese). She's actually an interesting variant; the reason she says "classified information" is because of an information censor that was placed inside her that is always monitoring her speech to make sure she doesn't spill any futuristic time-breaking Info Dumps. She's surprised that when the restriction is lowered she can speak normally about things she couldn't say before.
Mikuru: I used classified information to contact the future or for classified information... But when I hadn't heard from classified information for a week I thought something was wrong. And then classified information... I was so shocked that I classified information, but there was no classified information... What should I do?
- The above Haruhi example is later referenced in Lucky Star by Patricia Martin.
- A variation in Slayers has Xellos and his Catchphrase "This is a secret!" (Sore wa himitsu desu!)
- Subverted in The Walking Dead; the scientist for the Center for Disease Control who's carrying the cure for the Zombie Apocalypse refuses to reveal any further details because they're classified. Turns out he's actually a school teacher making up stories so people will protect him.
- The Punisher MAX version of Bullseye used to be a military lawyer who'd never fired a gun before suddenly disappearing for several years, and upon his return, had become a deranged assassain who's bodycount would put most armies to shame, and thats not even touching the atrocities he commits even when no one is paying him. Exactly what happened to turn him into this is unknown, while working for the Kingpin, a lawyer finds the army files on Bullseye, but mentions that most of the info has been blacked out or redacted to hell, and what little info is there makes no sense.
- Ultimate Galactus Trilogy
- After retrieving the Vision, everything about her and Gah Lak Tus was classified information of the highest level.
- Sam has to call the woman "Black Widow, because he's not cleared for real names.
- The Kree also have it. Only the Supreme Intelligence fully knows about Gah Lak Tus, and this knowledge is only passed to high-ranked Kree military leaders on a need-to-know basis. The Kree are not ready for this knowledge, and they would all gone mad if they knew the full details.
- In Imaginary Seas, due to being recognized as one of the Olympians, Percy's Servant stat sheet is redacted and abbreviated by the Interstellar Emigration Treaty that brought the gods to Earth. This conveniently serves as a Framing Device to slowly reveal Percy's capabilities over the course of the story, as more of the restrictions are lifted each time he breaks out new abilities in a fight.
- The James Bond story & film For Your Eyes Only is named after a real document security level: don't show to anyone, even if they have the same clearance as you (or higher).
- Resident Evil: the team leader is giving an Info Dump about the Umbrella research lab under Raccoon City.
A top-secret research facility owned and operated by the Umbrella Corporation. The Hive houses over 500 technicians, scientists and support staff. They live and work underground. Their research is of the highest importance. Its nature is...classified.
- Short Circuit: when Stephanie first meets Ben and Newton, she asks them what the purpose of these advanced robots is (prototype weapons).
Ben: It's top-secret crap.
Stephanie: Yeah, I figured.
- My Favorite Martian has an example when a Man in Black investigating the site of a crashed ship complains that they're not going to get anything out of this... just like "that Roswell fiasco". His boss immediately reprimands him, reminding him that "not only is that incident classified, but it never happened!"
- In Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, at the end a couple of SPARTAN-IIs take off their helmets, revealing surprisingly young faces. One of the cadets asks how old they are, to which Kelly replies "That's classified". At the time, the IIs were roughly 14-15 years old (with the Master Chief himself having only turned 15 less than two months ago), and their existence had not yet been made public.
- Project Genesis, which was a major plot point in both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, is a highly classified project. Just to be read in on the basics of the project requires security authorization from a flag officer, and McCoy gets picked up by Federation Security when he starts blabbing a little too loudly about it in a spaceport bar (the fact he was also trying to charter a ship into a restricted area of space did not help).
- In Star Trek Into Darkness. Scotty refuses to authorize the experimental long-range photon torpedoes Starfleet are trying to load onto Enterprise (and actually resigns in protest over the issue, because of the risk to the ship).
Scotty: With all due respect, photon torpedoes run on fuel. Now I cannae detect the type of fuel in these compartments because it's shielded. So I asked for the specifications and he said... (jerks his thumb toward Starfleet Security mook)Security mook: It's classified.Scotty: It's classified. So I said, "No specs, no signature! "
- In Airplane! Ted Striker tells Elaine the time, approach direction and height of a bombing raid. He can't tell her when he'll be back as that's classified.
- Subverted in a USAF Cold War Instructional Film on signals security. The protagonist listens to an intercepted recording of an airman inquiring about a project, only to be told it's secret. He assumes that this is an example of good security, but it's pointed out that by alerting the enemy that the project was secret, they'd know to listen for any mention of that project name in future.
- The Title Sequence of Godzilla (2014) uses redacted text for both credits and exposition on the history of the title monster.
- Percy's reasoning for not telling Ron, Harry and the others about the Triwizard Tournament's coming to Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
"It's classified information until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it," said Percy stiffly. "Mr. Crouch was quite right not to disclose it."
"Oh, shut up Weatherby," said Fred.
- Galaxy of Fear once has Tash given free rein at a computer in an Imperial research facility because she's logged in as a guest and can only get at public data. She quickly runs up against classified things... and manages to log in as someone with clearance to see them, because she guesses the amazingly obvious password. Later in the series there's an Un Reveal related to classified information.
- In The Laundry Files, The Laundry operates on a complicated codeword system. Things aren't simply classified into levels like "Secret" and "Top Secret", but each particular secret thing one might need to know about is assigned its own codeword, and you need to be cleared for it individually. For instance (and an illustration of just how impenetrable it gets), just being cleared for ANNING BLUE SKULL and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN doesn't mean you get to know anything about DEEP SEVEN, BLUE HADES, or CASE BROCCOLI GOLDENEYE. The Laundry being on occult intelligence agency, it's literally impossible to deliberately spill the beans on a codeword to anyone not briefed on it.
- As mentioned below, Truth in Television: having a security clearance doesn't mean you instantly have access to all the information classified at that security level. It's why the phrase "Need To Know" exists.
- The War Against the Chtorr. A robot is sent into an alien dome to flash it with EMP, hopefully killing any man-eating alien worms before The Squad follows. A footnote helpfully informs us that an EMP-grenade will cook or curdle any living matter within a radius of (CLASSIFIED). A single charge will yield as many as (CLASSIFIED) useable pulses. There is also the tendency of the flash to destroy any unshielded electronic gear within the larger radius of (CLASSIFIED). One could argue this is a good writer's technique to explain what EMP is while Black Boxing the actual technology involved.
- This is bread and butter in Tom Clancy novels.
- In Halo: Last Light, Veta Lopis continually gets frustrated with Fred-104's replies to her questions being several different varieties of "it's classified". Lopis is a local investigator, tasked with finding a serial killer, while the UNSC is present on Gao to recover the culprit, which happens to be a Forerunner ancilla. Later, Lopis is contacted by a mysterious woman on her radio, who, when asked for her name, replies that it's classified. Lopis then starts calling her "Ms. Classified". It's actually Serin Osman, the protege of ONI head Admiral Parangosky.
- Able Team.
Gadgets: What did you tell them?CIA agent: Hey, is it my job to give out the facts? I told him straight — it's a secret.
- In "Texas Showdown", Able Team are sent to infiltrate a mercenary army after two previous attempts resulted in the agent's deaths. Carl Lyons says the Big Bad must have people working for him in the US government, but Hal Brognola assures Able Team that all their operations are top secret. Gadgets Schwarz silently displays a stack of files on previous agents, each labelled TOP SECRET and DISAPPEARED, PRESUMED DEAD.
- In "Reign of Doom", Able Team is being smuggled through a civil war in Syria when they're stopped at a roadblock. The officer in charge demands to know what's in the truck, why they'd risk traveling at this time, why a 'Soviet' officer (actually a CIA agent) is with them...
- The Ryanverse, being about the inner workings of the CIA, discusses classification all the time. Ryan, as an analyst, only sees information as needed for what he's working on. As Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence in Clear and Present Danger, he's told that "need-to-know" still applies as an excuse to keep him out of the loop of the SHOWBOAT and RECIPROCITY operations. When he becomes president in Executive Orders, things get a little more lax: he'll tell someone "that information does not leave this room", and they nod and agree.
- Spoofed on 3rd Rock from the Sun:
Officer Don: The FBI are coming into town tomorrow.
Dick: What for?
Officer Don: That's classified.
Tommy: You have no idea, do you?
Officer Don: That's also classified.
- Friends: In the episode with Charlie Sheen as Phoebe's navy boyfriend, he fields any questions about submarines with, "I really can't say." Even innocuous ones like, "Do you get to look through a periscope?"
- Regulary occured on JAG.
Sturgis: One final question. On certain operations, Special Forces personnel remove all insignia. Your dog tags, anything that could identify you. Is that correct?Army Captain: That's classified, sir.Sturgis: Let the record reflect that was not a no.
- In "Tribunal", Sturgis is assigned as co-defense counsel for the fictional Al-Qaida No 3 in the military tribunal held aboard a warship, and has an Army Special Forces captain on the stand to answer questions about unconventional warfare by US Forces and that of unlawful combatants. The implication of the final question being that there's not always a distinct difference between them.
Catherine Gale, CIA attorney: If the Navy insists on convening a court of inquiry, the proceedings will have Top Secret level 1 protection. Inasmuch as the Angel Shark mission was in fact classified Top Secret level 2 that means that information and materials, which in accordance with Executive Order 12356, as well as OPNAVINST 5510.1 and DoD Directive 12043, require level 2 protection, may not be presented in level 1 proceedings. Clear?
- One episode even has the title "Need To Know", in which Harm, Mac and Sturgis are assigned to get information declassified on a submarine which was lost at sea on a CIA mission off the Soviet coast in 1968.
Commander Harmon Rabb: Oh, yeah. I think I get it. We can't tell the court why it needs to be declassified because the reason it's classified is classified.
Catherine Gale, CIA attorney: You've got it.
- Common on The X-Files since most of what they work with has either been buried to make the FBI look good or has been buried because it's part of the conspiracy. Mulder's connections often get him information he never should have seen, though usually the classified information itself is completely bogus and has been "classified" to legitimize it.
- Played for laughs in Graceland. Crime lord Bello needs someone to retrieve a package dumped off the coast of California. FBI Agent "Johnny" Tuttoro, who was once a Navy Seal trainee, is able to pass himself off as an active Seal pulling jobs on the side for extra cash because all information about active Seals, including their missions and identities, are classified. When Bello questions Johnny and his qualifications, he replies to everything with "That's classified, sir" to Bello's mounting frustration. That is, until the final question...
Bello: If you won't answer my questions, how do I know if you can do this?!
Johnny: [Considers for a moment] You know Osama's body?
Johnny: Well, it used to be on the ocean floor.
Bello: [Does a shocked double take] Is that true?
Johnny: No, that's classified, sir.
- Blake's 7: in "Horizon", the Liberator encounters a planet on the edge of the galaxy protected by a forceshield. They try to find out more information from their Master Computer, Zen. Blake later gets a Federation flotilla to crash into the forceshield, betting their lives that the flotilla is no better informed than they are.
Blake: What are the surface conditions on Horizon?Zen: Negative information.Blake: Population?Zen: Negative information.Blake: Well, is there any information on Horizon?Zen: Negative.Blake: Well, is the information on Horizon classified?Zen: Negative information.Vila: Well, that was a whole lot of nothing.
- Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond. While searching for a German nuclear scientist, Ian Fleming is stopped at an American checkpoint. He shows his authorization and when the American officer asks what he's doing in the area, snobbishly fobs him off with this trope. The American points out there are still SS units operating in the area and normally he'd provide an escort, but if Fleming's going to act like a jerk he won't bother.
- In Murdoch Mysteries "That's top secret" is practically government agent Terrence Meyers's Catchphrase, much to the frustration of the Toronto Constabulary, who take the view that knowing what's actually going on might help them solve the murder of the week. Subverted in "Confederate Treasure":
Murdoch: And what's the Government going to do with all of this found money?
Myers: That's top secret.
Myers: No, not really. I have no idea. That's not my job.
Murdoch: What exactly is your job, Mr Myers?
Myers: Well, that is top secret.
- Early on in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard receives a "Code 47" transmission. The computer even tells Picard that the information in this transmission is not to be shared with anyone unless absolutely necessary and there will be no record made of it being received.
- In Star Trek: Voyager we're introduced to the Omega Directive. Classified as Captain's level and above, the Omega Directive supersedes all other Starfleet General Orders and regulations including the Prime Directive. Any captain in the field who encounters an Omega molecule is to immediately report it to Starfleet Command, which becomes a problem for Janeway when Command is tens of thousands of light years away.
- Star Trek: Discovery season 2 finale explains why the ship, the spore drive, Section 31, and Spock's adopted sister are never mentioned in any chronologically future installments. Starfleet classifies all knowledge of them after the Discovery permanently travels to the 33rd century and forces all participants to stay quiet under penalty of treason.
- Similarly, the existence of the Mirror Universe is also classified, in particular, how they got there, the fact that Captain Lorca had come from there, the fact that the U.S.S. Defiant would end up there, and the fact that the Captain Georgiou working for Section 31 had previously been the Terran Emperor in that universe. This introduces some complications early on when Burnham has to avoid providing Captain Pike with some pointedly relevant information about one of their associates in Section 31. One way or another, Pike figured it out by the time he and Georgiou part ways, when she playfully announces her secret identity, and Pike laughs it off with a knowing wink.
- And finally, the details of Spock's treatment at a Starfleet psychiatric care facility is classified at an unusually high level after he is accused of murdering three medical personnel and escaping.
- Star Trek: Picard:
- In "The End Is the Beginning", Hugh is the the Executive Director of the Borg Reclamation Project, yet he's not permitted to view Ramdha's Romulan dossier even though she's his patient in the Disordered Ward.
- Later in the same episode, Hugh is astonished that Soji somehow knows that the imperial scout ship Shaenor with its 26 Romulan passengers was the last vessel assimilated by the Artifact because no one outside the Tal Shiar has access to that information.
- In "Absolute Candor", Soji lampshades that the records on the Borg databases are classified.
- Later, Narek informs Soji that Romulan passenger lists aren't made public, unlike Terran ones.
- In The Chimera Project arc of Cool Kids Table, Void's file is almost entirely blacked out.
- GURPS includes the concept of Security Clearance as a character advantage which can be bought with the points used in character creation, when applicable.
- We're sorry citizen. That information is above your security clearance.
- +++THIS ENTRY HAS BEEN EXPUNGED BY ORDER OF THE EMPEROR'S MOST HOLY INQUISITION+++ Also +++ALL RECORDS DELETED. AUTHORIZATION UNKNOWN.+++ when dealing with the two missing Primarchs.
- Primarch Victus uses this in a rare out-of-character moment to avoid having to explain the Turian fail-safe planet-destroying bomb on Tuchanka in Mass Effect 3.
Bailey: That's just a fancy way of saying "mind your own damn business".
- Given the context of the game, Shepard can often pull this to avoid having to explain his missions to people who don't need to know. Culminates to when you avoid explaining why Commander Bailey should release an incredibly dangerous mercenary leader.
- In Halo 2 a Gunnery Sergeant asks Johnson how he survived the previous game. This is a bit of Lampshade Hanging for players who are probably wondering the same thing (the reason is given in Halo: First Strike.)
Master Gunnery Sergeant: So, Johnson, when you gonna tell me how you made it back home in one piece?Sergeant Johnson: Sorry, Gunns. It's classified.Master Gunnery Sergeant: Huh! My ass!
Commander Keyes: I want all the information you've got on the first Halo. Schematics, topography, whatever. I don't care if I have the clearance or not.Cortana: Yes, ma'am.
- Defied later in the game, upon seeing a Halo ring Commander Keyes wants information and (rightly) makes it clear she will not tolerate this as an answer.
- Subverted in Every Button Hurts the Other Guy in that much of the information that Fang Mao-Yin deals with is classified, but this doesn't stop her from absent-mindedly letting most of it slip.
- Grrl Power:
- The comic is mostly about a government/military organization which employs people with superpowers. As such, it handles and generates its share of secret information. Unfortunately, not everyone who happens to gain superpowers and who's willing to work for the organization really takes the subject seriously enough — as, for example, here.
- ARCHON keeps some of the precise details of its supers secret for tactical reasons. Most of their upper limits (such as speed and strength) are classified, as are some of their powers. Anvil's kinetic absorption is classified (though most people figure it out quickly), Dabbler's alien/demonic origin is classified, and Maxima's ability to shift her stats around is so secret even her own teammates don't know about it. Sydney's comm-ball is doubly classified since telepresence and truthsight are both most useful when the enemy doesn't know about them, and her two unknown orbs are classified so that the team doesn't have to admit they don't know what they do.
- Nedroid: There is blacked out text in this strip.
- The SCP Foundation:
- The main wiki does this with [REDACTED] and ███████, making a situation report read like a list of Noodle Incidents. In-universe, if you had a higher security clearance level then the software you were using to access the Foundation's database would let you see what's behind all of the redactions.note
- The Memetics and Infohazards Division takes this Up to Eleven by making information censor itself. If You Cannot Grasp the True Form of the classified material, you don't get the information.
- Red vs. Blue: CT really doesn't want to share his information. It classified.
Sarge: Classified as what?
CT: Classified as something I can't tell you, now stop fishing for information!
Grif: You can't tell us, or you won't tell us?
CT: I can't tell you... which is convenient, because I don't want to tell you.
- In Simple Complications a few of the main characters ended up discovering some classified information in the second volume, which is beginning to cause major problems for them in the third volume.
- The Penguins of Madagascar:
- "Operation: Plush and Cover":
Skipper: I'm waiting for my away team to report before declaring Defcon Red.
Marlene: Uh-huh. Real quick: what's Defcon Red?
Skipper: Classified. Just hope you never live to see one, sister.
- "Otter Gone Wild", after a cage is produced from Hammerspace:
King Julien: Uh, where did that cage come from?
Kowalski: Sorry, that information is classified.
- Between Agent X and Alice:
Alice: X, eh? Is that the name your mommy gave you?
X: Mother never told me my real name. Said it was classified.
- "Operation: Plush and Cover":
Mittens: So you got superpowers. Does that make you some kind of superdog?
Bolt: That information is classified.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy has the "Junior CIA" school club, which is less than informative about the exact nature of the club, as the representative just says that everything Billy asks is classified information. When Billy manages to guess something right, the agent says He Knows Too Much and Billy is dragged off to be made a member.
- The USA has a "compartment" scheme that goes alongside the more familiar scheme of "levels" (unclassified, confidential, secret, top secret). The idea is that there are lots and lots of people who are cleared to know classified information in general, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they should be allowed to see any specific classified document; there's a much shorter list of people allowed access to each document's "compartment". For instance, there might be a compartment for all documents relating to the shiny new jet fighter that the Air Force is developing, and then subcompartments for each component. This often goes along with the notion of "need to know", i.e. secrets should only be revealed to people who have an acceptable reason for needing to know about it (the engineer designing the jet fighter's radio probably doesn't need to know about its engines, and vice versa). There's also the sub-classification called NOFORN, which means that anyone who the security rules would classify as a foreigner (such as non-US citizens and US citizens in the employ of a non-US based company) is not permitted to see this information no matter what their clearance level is.
- By Congressional rule, there are, in fact, only four levels of classification allowed, as mentioned above. The compartmentalization system was developed, in part, to get around those restrictions by citing "need-to-know" requirements (also because the more people know a secret, the more likely the secret is to leak).
- In many modern legal systems, courts can order the media not to report certain facts that emerged during cases, such as the identities of witnesses who may be in need of protection - an order known as an injunction. It emerged in 2011 that some English and Welsh courts have been known to order so-called 'super-injunctions', which not only require non-publication of facts of the case but also suppress the fact that an injunction exists; and at least one 'hyper-injunction', which also forbids discussion of the existence of the injunction with journalists, lawyers, or members of Parliament. At least one such injunction was subverted by an MP talking about it in parliament (since he was protected by "parliamentary privilege" and there was nothing stopping the media reporting what he said about the injunction).
- Similarly, telephone and Internet companies may be served with an order to allow the government to access communications and to refrain from disclosing the fact. Some organizations have developed a workaround by posting a "warrant canary" statement that they have not been served with any secret subpoenas, which would be taken down if that situation changed, implicitly revealing what happened in a way that might get around the gag order.
- In the Soviet Union of old a real classification like that existed, and is still retained in modern Russia: "Of Special Importance" (Osoboy vazhnosti) is more secret than Top Secret.
- There's a variation where information might not be classified, but it might be restricted due to concerns such as privacy. In general, mis-handling documents with individual's home addresses, phone numbers, or other personally identifiable details can get you into trouble in many lines of work. And then you get into specialized things like attorney-client-privilege or medical information. Leaking any of this information might not be directly harmful to the organization, but it can be very harmful to those individuals, leaving the organization open to financial or legal consequences. A lawyer that breaks attorney-client privilege, for example, can be disbarred, while a doctor that breaks doctor-patient privilege opens themselves up to a massive civil lawsuit.
- Confess in Confidence works this way too — a Catholic priest is bound to tell no one, not police, not lawyers, not even The Pope himself — what the priest has heard in a sacramental confession, under pain of immediate excommunication and possible laicization (dismissal from the priestly state). Needless to say, it is the most serious of Serious Business. There are records of priests being executed when they refused to break the Seal of Confession.