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Secret police (sometimes political police) are a police agency which operates in secrecy to maintain national security against internal threats to the state.

Secret police forces are typically associated with totalitarian regimes, as they are often used to maintain the political power of the state rather than uphold the rule of law. Instead of enforcing the law as ordinary police agencies, the secret police organizations are endowed, sometimes officially, to operate beyond and above the law.

Secret police forces are accountable only to the executive branch of the government, sometimes only to a dictator. They operate entirely or partially in secrecy, that is, most or all of their operations are obscure and hidden from the general public and government except for the topmost executive officials.

Secret police agencies have often been used as an instrument of political repression.

States where the secret police wield significant power are sometimes referred to as police states or counterintelligence states. Secret police differ from the domestic security agencies in modern liberal democracies, because domestic security agencies are generally subject to government regulation, reporting requirements, and other accountability measures.

Despite such overview, there still exists the possibility of domestic-security agencies acting unlawfully and taking on some characteristics of secret police. In some cases, certain police agencies are accused of being a secret police and deny being such. For example, radical groups in the United States have at various times accused the FBImarker of being a secret police.

Which government agencies may be classed or characterized, in whole or part, as "secret police" is disputed by political scientists.


A single secret police service has the weapons to arrogate to itself complete political power. It may therefore pose a potential threat to the central political authority.

In dictatorships, the secret police is often headed by a close relative of the dictator e.g. Saddam Hussein, as head of the State Internal Security Department, pushed aside the president but he put his secret police under his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid.

In addition, it has an interest in seeing political enemies even if they do not exist. In extremis, it may manufacture such enemies e.g. Yevno Azef a double agent for the Okhrana participated in the assassination of Plehve to whom the Okhrana reported.

Methods and history

Secret police not only have the traditional police authority to arrest and detain, but in some cases they are given unsupervised control of the length of detention, assigned to implement punishments independent of the public judiciary, and allowed to administer those punishments without external review. The tactics of investigation and intimidation used by secret police enable them to accrue so much power that they usually operate with little or no practical restraintEncyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, vol. 25, p. 965, © 2003, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..

Secret-police organizations employ internal spies and civilian informants to find protest leaders or dissidents, and they may also employ agents provocateurs to incite political opponents to perform illegal acts against the government, whereupon such opponents may be arrested. Secret police may open mail, tap telephone lines, use various techniques to trick, blackmail, or coerce relatives or friends of a suspect into providing information.

Secret police are renowned for raiding homes between midnight and dawn, to apprehend people suspected of dissent.

People apprehended by the secret police are often arbitrarily arrested and detained without due process. While in detention, arrestees may be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment. Suspects may not receive a public trial, and instead may be convicted in a kangaroo court-style show trial, or by a secret tribunal. Secret police known to have used these approaches in history include the secret police of East Germanymarker (the State Security service or Stasi) and Portugalmarker (PIDE)R. J. Stove, The Unsleeping Eye: A Brief History of Secret Police and Their Victims, Encounter Books, San Francisco, © 2003 ISBN 1-893554-66-X.

Secret police have been used by many types of governments. Secret police forces in dictatorships and totalitarian states usually use violence and acts of terror to suppress political opposition and dissent, and may use death squads to carry out assassinations and "disappearances". Although secret police normally do not exist in democratic states, there are different varieties of democracy and, in times of emergency or war, a democracy may lawfully grant its policing and security services additional or sweeping powers, which may be seen or construed as a secret police.

Secret police in fiction

The concept of secret police is also popular in fiction, usually portraying such an institution at its most extreme. A well-known example is the Thought Police from George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, who used psychology and omnipresent surveillance to eliminate dissent.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis, the wolf Maugrim is the captain of the White Witch's secret police and is involved in the arrest of faun Tumnus, the complete trashing of the faun's home, and the subsequent chase of the Penvensie children to the hill of the Stone Table.

In the graphic novel V for Vendetta and the movie based on the novel, the secret police, known as "The Finger", are used to capture and silence dissenters.

The Public Security Section 9 from the Ghost in the Shell series uses information gathering, cybernetic communication, and hacking.

The Civil Protection in Half-Life 2 were notable for their use of intimidation and murder to keep citizens in line.

In The Return of the Pink Panther the Lugash secret police hunt down Sir Charles Lytton.

In a dystopian alternate history timeline depicted in Frederik Pohl's "The Coming of the Quantum Cats", the FBImarker developed into a full-fledged secret police, having in that alternate United States powers and modes of operation reminiscent of the Soviet KGBmarker.

In Star Trek, the Cardassian Obsidian Order is undoubtedly a secret police agency; it extensively surveilled the public and caused Cardassians suspected of disloyalty to "disappear". The Romulan Tal Shiar and, to a lesser extent, the Federation's Section 31 also resemble secret police.

In the Honorverse novels, the Havenite State Security, or 'StateSec', is widely feared.

In the 2007 film Transformers, a secret United States government organization called "Sector 7" had knowledge of the autobots and withheld their existence from the public.

In the television show Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Dai Li are the secret police of the Earth Kingdom capital Ba Sing Se.

See also


  1. The Nature of a Secret Police, Retrieved on October 29, 2007
  2. Noelle Hanrahan, "America's Secret Police: FBI COINTELPRO in the 1990s", on Judi Bari Web Site of the Redwood Summer Justice Project [1]
  3. Arturo Bocchini and the Secret Political Police in Fascist Italy, Retrieved on October 29, 2007
  4. How Syrian Hackers are Outsurfing the Mukhabarat, Retrieved on October 29, 2007
  5. Symposium - Nonviolent Civilian Insurrection in Iraq, Retrieved on October 29, 2007
  6. Iraq’s Rebuke to the NRA, Retrieved on October 29, 2007
  7. Torture: Egypt’s Open Secret, Retrieved on October 29, 2007

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