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political police

Secret police

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. Secret police are law enforcement agencies typically endowed, sometimes officially, with authority superior to other civil police forces, typically operating outside the normal boundaries of the law, and they are often accountable only to the executive branch of the government. They operate entirely or partially in secrecy, that is, most or all of their operations are obscure and hidden from the general public and from all government officials, 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. 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.

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

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 restraint. 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. The 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 Germany (the Ministry for State Security or Stasi) and Portugal (PIDE).

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 graphic novel V for Vendetta and the movie based on the novel, the secret police were 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 Return of the Pink Panther the Lugash secret police hunt down Sir Charles Lytton. In Star Trek, there is the Tal Shiar, Section 31 and the Obsidian Order

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