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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.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

If our heroes 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 has the lowest crime rate in the world. 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 no need for any kind of law court, judicial system, anti-torture laws or state prison either.

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.

Examples of Secret Police include:


Anime & Manga

  • Section 9 in the Ghost in the Shell anime. Subverted in that they're the protagonists, focusing on fighting dangerous criminals and terrorists, and are actually supposed to be secret (as in the public not knowing they officially exist). They are however not Messanically good, and act like secret police, having broken laws, kidnapped CEOs, co-operated with terrorists, tortured (in the manga) criminals and assassinated diplomats.
    • Not to mention spied the phonecalls of the entire population of Japan in order to find one person (and doing it with American aid!), and can routinely track individuals through an "IR-System", a nationwide network of security cameras in nearly every public location imaginable.
    • Not so secret when they were temporarily shut down before an election!
      • As the government is only a puppet set up by the people in charge, it's probably not the public who would need persuasion.
  • 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.
  • 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" of the universe of One Piece work as well : they're the World Government's secret assassins trained in infiltration and in the Rokushiki (six techniques) in order to complete their missions.
  • 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.


Literature

  • The dreaded Thought Police from George Orwell's 1984 certainly qualify.
    • Inspired, of course, by the Trope Namer in the Real Life section below.
  • The Firemen of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, who hunt and raze houses containing uncensored materials.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch's wolves are called "secret police," even though they don't really fit the mold too well.
    • The Witch also has trees spying for her.
  • 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.
  • The "Cable Street Particulars" as seen in Terry Pratchett's {Night Watch are portrayed as an English version of the Gestapo. 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 the second-most Lawful Good man in Ankh-Morpork, the modern Particulars are a total aversion.
  • 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 , and headed by a woman who loves to abuse female prisoners.
  • 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 Fingermen in V for Vendetta - with they 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.
  • In David Weber's Honorverse, the People's Republic of Haven have a number of secret police, such as the Mental Hygiene Police. Gets even worse when the Committee of Public Safety comes to power and creates State Sec, whose initials SS is no coincidence.
  • 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.
  • Likewise the Caretaker Service in Yulia Latynina's Inhuman, but so much more efficient (also, they can double as special forces).
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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, dressed all in white as opposed to the all-black of regular SSB, was known as Psychocontrol.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud has the Night Police. This trope, and they're werewolves to boot.
  • 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 the Troy Rising series, the Kazi fills this slot for the Rangoran Empire.
  • 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.


Live-Action Flim

  • 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.


Live-Action TV

  • The Obsidian Order, Section 31, and the Tal Shiar 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 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)
  • Psi Corps in Babylon 5, described as part Gestapo, part Orwellian Thought Police.
    • Likewise, Nightwatch during President Clark's regime.
    • The Psi Corps isn't very secret. As their TV ad proclaims: "We're everywhere, for your convenience!"
      • Most "Secret Police" agencies don't keep their existence secret - just their activities.
  • Played for Laughs in Allo Allo, where the local Gestapo operatives are the incompetent bumblers Herr Flick and Von Smallhousen.


Music

  • 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.


Tabletop Games

  • The Inquisition of Warhammer 40000, 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 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 Inquisitions KGB.
  • The Gnome nation of Zilargo, from the Dungeons and 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 Culture Counterpart of Tzarist Russia, has them. They are not nice.
  • In Traveller the Zholdani Consulate enforced behaviour with their Guardians of Morality. Given that the Zholdani 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


Videogames

  • They're all over the place in Deus Ex.
  • Very practical to have one in Tropico 3. Stupid rebel bombings.
  • 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 trained at least one of their members from childhood, pulling her out of an orphanage. 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 troopers of SOLDIE Rs 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 Advent Children, when Shinra has lost most of its control, and is one of Rufus Shinra's personal guards.
      • He managed this by staging the assassination of his mentor for whom he had betrayed the company, and then apparently doing some politics to get Rufus in his corner.
    • 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. However, in Skyrim, they've been replaced by the Pentius Oculatus in this regard.


Western Animation

  • Mandatory Avatar: The Last Airbender example - the Dai Li.
    • Which is probably a reference to the fact that Dai Li was the name of the Nationalist spymaster/security chief during the Chinese Civil War. The brainwashing camps are likewise named "Lake Laogai" which is a reference to the communist system of work-camps.
    • The Dai Li of Ba Sing Se 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.
      • The earthbenders appear also to be the main intelligence officers, since they're only supposed to fight when the system has sprung a leak. Although one may assume that when one of those terrible Joo Dee smiles comes walking down the street everyone checks themselves for thoughtcrime.


Web Originals

  • 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.


Real Life

  • For sheer notoriety though, 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. 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).
    • The effectiveness 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. An popular East German joke illustrated this:

 Question: How can you tell whether the Stasi has bugged your apartment?

Answer: There's a new cabinet in it.

  • While there is no real consensus on what body did what, Imperial Germany, and the Manchu Dynasty all had some form of this.
  • While also having a slightly sinister name, Germanys current Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is generally regarded as an actual protector of the German people, mostly keeping watch on with far-right and far-left extremists, as well as fighting organized crime and domestic terrorism.
  • 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). A cynical man could say (to quote Valentin Zukovsky from The World Is Not Enough): "different name, same friendly service".
    • 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). 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. Altough 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.
  • Until it became defunct, The Spanish Inquisition was basically this for the Spanish crown.
  • 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 & Intelligence Division) work much like this.
  • The Japanese Kempeitai, or military police, increasingly took on this role both in Japan and in its conquered territories during the 1930s and 1940s, up until the end of World War II.
  • 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 National Socialist Germany as a military model.
  • 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.
  • Even free countries 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; the NSA, in cryptanalysis (codes and cyphers).
        • Averted by the Secret Service, which just protects the president and investigates counterfeiting and computer crimes, despite its name.
  • 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).
  • 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.
    • When this troper was in North Korea, the hotel elevator went "1,2,4,5,6". When I asked a guide about it, he said that the third floor was being used for "administrative work"
  • The Mabahith in Saudi Arabia.
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