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Secret Police

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Miles Lacey, Jul 29, 2020.

  1. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    In my work in progress I've created a government agency called the Ministry of Internal Security (MIST) and a section of it called Branch IX that monitors mages and all aspects to do with magic and the Faith. The technology etc is equivalent to that of the 1930s. The regime is a non-hereditary constitutional monarchy with a democratic system (loosely based on that of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933)) which is coming under attack from extremists from all sides because the moderates are seen as too weak or corrupt to address the impact of an economic depression.

    What I need help with is fine tuning the secret police with ideas about wardrobes, tactics, functions and the sort of people who would be in leadership roles in such an organisation. As the protagonist is a high ranking member of Branch IX (I haven't decided if he will be running a regional office or the whole Branch yet) I'm keen to make the people who run it as far removed from the cliched Nazi stormtrooper / SS bureaucrat as possible.

    I would also be interested in knowing if your novels or works in progress have a secret police or equivalent (such as an Inquisition) and how they operate.
     
  2. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

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    I have potential ideas, but I have some questions first. What is the relationship between the government and the secret police? What is their relationship like with other law enforcement agencies? Are they generally considered to be a good thing, or do they practice questionable tactics? It sounds like you're going more positive than negative with the organization, but I'm just trying to get more of a feel for the relationship dynamic between the different political entities. This is likely because when I think of the term secret police, I have a hard time not picturing something like the Gestapo or KGB. But all of that changes depending on how they interact with those outside of their organization, whether it be civilians or other arms of the government.
     
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  3. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Reading this, my mind jumped immediately to John Clark and Jack Ryan from Tom Clancy's spy thrillers
     
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  4. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    What is the relationship between the government and the secret police?

    In the Empire both Imperial and regional government agencies view the Ministry of Internal Security (MIST) as a necessary evil. They jealously guard their jurisdictions and get very irate if they think MIST officials are abusing or over-stepping their authority. While MIST agents do have the authority to detain public servants experience has taught them to stick to the protocols that govern such actions.

    What is their relationship like with other law enforcement agencies?

    MIST is seen as a law enforcement agency whose job is to "defend and protect the Empire and the Faith from any and all threats from within and outside the Empire and its Territories". MIST agents usually operate from local police stations unless the region has enough MIST agents to establish a separate office. Relations between MIST and police officers can sometimes be difficult if the investigation of one interferes with the investigation of the other.

    Are they generally considered to be a good thing, or do they practice questionable tactics?

    Generally speaking the public acknowledges they have a valid role in protecting the Empire but they also resent those who "abuse their authority" when dealing with "loyal subjects of the Empire".

    It sounds like you're going more positive than negative with the organization, but I'm just trying to get more of a feel for the relationship dynamic between the different political entities. This is likely because when I think of the term secret police, I have a hard time not picturing something like the Gestapo or KGB. But all of that changes depending on how they interact with those outside of their organization, whether it be civilians or other arms of the government.

    I had the East German Stasi in mind when I began to draw up ideas for the secret police. I have also read extensively about the Gestapo, NKVD, KGB and some of the South American secret police forces when most of those countries were ruled by military regimes.
     
  5. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    Maybe try the Pinkerton route? It'll keep the standard looks and wardrobe and fit the setting a bit more possibly, since they were around quite a while before they got turned into something else.

    And Eld at least doesn't have much for secret police or other sort of guard or policing bureau's of the sort. Most the time, you're a guard or a copper, you're just that. Take the little bribes you get, shout when someone tries the big ones and generally clank about to assure the neighborhoods you're there. Also helped that Eld hasn't quite hit a time where someone would think it's a good idea.
     
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  6. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

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    Piggybacking off of this, and given the information you shared, I think that this idea is something to look into. My mind also went to Men In Black. The idea of them dressing in normal clothing actually lends itself to them being a "secret" police. It wouldn't really seem to function as well if they had some super distinct uniform. Take the film Equilibrium as an example. When one of the Grammaton Clerics show up, you instantly know them by their uniform. Which can work, but to me the uniform usually happens in a not so great situation. Now take that and compare it to the Interpol agent who is a member of Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code. He is only identified as a member by the pin on his jacket. Nice, subtle, but still something that identifies him as a member of the group.

    As far as tactics go, I wouldn't expect them to have tactics too far from a sort of federal agency like the FBI. Same goes for leadership. Maybe the higher up the ladder you go, the more politic-oriented the leaders are. Those who work behind a desk sort of thing.
     
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  7. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    I always wanted the Ministry of Internal Security personnel to wear civilian clothes for the most part. However, I want to avoid the whole Men in Black thing because one of the big problems is that personnel who wear the same civilian clothing could end up creating a de facto uniform that gives them away. This was a problem with the Gestapo: the leather coats and wide brimmed hats they preferred to wear rather than their uniforms became a de facto uniform - and one of the most tired secret police cliches in film and print.

    The idea of making them similar to the FBI has merit. The FBI during the Hoover years often operated like a de facto secret police, especially during the McCarthyism of the 1950s. The Prohibition era FBI are also worth exploring as well.
     
  8. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    It seems like one way or another, even non uniforms have a habit of becoming defacto uniforms. So maybe the 'uniform' can be the floral print shirts, straw hats and the look of the terribly cliche tropical vacationer. No one suspects them of anything but getting in the way and throwing money around.
     
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  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The very phrase secret police is mainly post WWII, so I wouldn't go there for ideas about attire, tactics, etc. Like others here, I would have thought Pinkerton or similar, but then you said no uniforms, so I'd have to say attire would need to be individual. Not even a tie pin to identify them. It would be more like belonging to a club: the secret police would have access to, say, a building that no one else did. Some would dress like dandies, others would dress like street bums. It would all depend on the sector of society in which they worked.

    As for tactics, that goes very far back and is pretty universal. Abduction to secret locations. Heavy dependency on informers. Infiltration of organizations. That would be in general; the specifics of your story could add interesting details. Maybe they perform executions themselves, or maybe they turn them over to secret courts.

    You could give some thought as to organization. In one form, they would be like cells, with little knowledge of each other. This would make them somewhat vulnerable to spies. Do they keep records? If they were centrally-located, then there might be assemblies of the police. This would help them know each other, less likely to be open to intruders. But centrally-run organizations have other sorts of vulnerabilities.

    Another factor: is this new? A new (current-generation) organization often bears a strong imprint of its founders, which the founder's strengths and weaknesses. An older organization has had time to work out problems and make adjustments. Or to become tradition-bound.
     
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  10. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    In one of my attempts at a modern fantasy story, I created an organization called the "watchers" that are tasked with rooting out corruption in the public/political sector. They exist in every social strata and have "normal" jobs. They are also watching everything around them, in all of their private and public dealings. Basically, all of them are spies to some degree, "ratting out" disreptuable businessmen, shady merchants, politicians who solicit bribes or organizations who don't have the public interest in mind when considering their business practices. Even other watchers might be "ratted out", and if there is merit to the charge against them, they are given a penance and in the most extreme cases, all memory of being a watcher purged from their minds.

    The structure of the organization is a collection of cells, each with it's own leadership, one that ultimately answer to the Watcher's Council. Obviously, this means they basically answer to no one but themselves, but generally, paranoia of being accused of corruption is enough to keep most on the straight and narrow.
     
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  11. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    When I first drew up the Ministry of Internal Security (MIST) I had the idea their agents would operate from local police stations. Larger police stations would have separate MIST offices while the smaller ones would have a few desks where MIST agents would work from. They would wear civilian clothing like plain-clothes detectives so nobody coming into the local police station would be able to tell who was a detective and who was a MIST agent. Having the agents in the local police station saves money (no need for a separate building), allows them to use police resources and allows the MIST agents to spy on the police and monitor criminals.

    MIST agents wouldn't just be sitting around the local police station but would be out in the field investigating claims, interrogating suspects and questioning informants. The agents would have paid informants who would be in a position where they could monitor what is going on within a factory, an apartment building or other place without arousing suspicion. These people would be paid because they are people whose information is reliable and because they're discreet.

    That was as far as I got.

    I also had MIST organized into ten branches:

    I. Monitors mail, telegrams, telephones and telex machines.
    II. Monitors law enforcement and the armed forces.
    III. Monitors radio stations, music studios, film studios, concert halls, places of public entertainment and publishing houses for "subversive and anti-social material".
    IV. Monitors vital industries, trade unions and any sector of the economy deemed to be in the "national economic interest". They also monitor political parties.
    V. Carries out intelligence and surveillance activities in other countries.
    VI. Monitors tourists, official guests and diplomats.
    VII. Protects the Emperor and senior Imperial government ministers.
    VIII. Administers the penal colonies and concentration camps.
    IX. Monitors the clergy, mages, educational facilities and shrines.
    X. The bureaucracy of the Ministry. It also monitors the Ministry's agents.

    Agents working for Branch II wear the uniform of whatever branch of law enforcement or the armed forces they work in. Agents working for Branches VII and VIII wear a plain green uniform with the official insignia of the Ministry of Internal Security sewn on their uniform. All other branches wear civilian clothing.

    What do you think of this? If it helps the Empire has a population of about 100 million humanoids. The villain works for Branch IX but I haven't decided how high their rank is but he is at least a Regional Commander.
     
  12. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Sounds like you have a good start.

    My thinking is if you don't want to seem like the Gestappo, perhaps don't use concentration camps, reeducation centers etc. From what I understand, during WWII, the SS and Gestappo did all of the things you mentioned above in regards of the duties of the various agencies. All manner of communication was monitored, media of every type was strictly censored for anything that might be "anti-party", anyone working for the reich was suspect (though likely more out of paranoia than in any real anti-party sentiments, seditious activities) as well as anyone they had dealings with on any level. The SS was in charge of many of the operations conducted in other countries, ones that centered on furthering the reich's power and influence, or garnered some resource.

    So to me at least, the measures they use to control their population are pretty much the same that other dictators have used.
     
  13. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    I know that France had penal colonies as late as 1953 which is what I had in mind rather than the more infamous ones of the Soviet Union or the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Methinks I should ditch the concentration camps. Too much like the Gestapo.

    Maybe the powers of the branches could be curbed somewhat by the requirement they need a certain number of denunciations before they can investigate or that monitoring certain groups cannot result in action being taken unless there is certain criteria that have to be met. For example, a heretical statement made in a "heat of the moment" situation would be ignored but a persistent pattern of heretical comments would result in action being taken.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Given the range of their activites, and that they operate out of public buildings (police stations), I'm not sure how secret your secret police can be. They sound more like a federal police operating alongside of local police, with the power to commandeer resources.

    The variety of roles makes it seem strained (to me) to have it all be one organization. One function is economic. Another is maintaining an ideology. Another is traditional spying. Another is administering the prison system. As for monitoring the army, that one's going to be explosive. The guys with the tanks generally don't think much of political interference.

    If it's just maintaining some sort of ideological purity, that makes more sense. Sort of the difference between NKVD and KGB in the Soviet Union. Spying on foreigners feels like a different kind of activity than spying on one's own citizens, even if the technology used is the same.
     
  15. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    skip.knox - Your comments actually gave me an idea. The very fact the Ministry of Internal Security is so cumbersome could be a deliberate action to ensure the Ministry never poses a threat to the monarchy.

    Being cumbersome could be a source of constant friction within the Ministry. For example, who deals with a mage in the armed forces encouraging railway workers to strike? Branch II, Branch IV or Branch IX? A Ministry of such size is also going to have jurisdictional conflicts with other government departments, especially if the rules governing which department is responsible for what functions aren't clear or a situation arises where more than one government department would be involved. You could have a situation where three separate branches of the same Ministry are investigating the same person for the same reason!

    And, as an ex-public servant I've experienced these types of clashes both within a government Ministry and with other government departments.

    Behold! Plot bunnies have been let loose.
     
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