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At the end of the movie, it was stated that Natasha needed two "Alpha" level members of S.H.I.E.L.D. to unlock the data she wanted to release to the world. Alexander Pierce assumed that they would not be able to achieve this because he had Fury's clearance revoked. However, there were three or four other members of the World Security Council standing in the same room.

Why were they unable to unlock the information?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The WSC is the governing body of S.H.I.E.L.D., but is not the same organisation. It would be the equivalent of expecting Obama to have a clearance code to access a Pentagon file; he might have the authority to order it opened, but that doesn't mean he has a retinal scan, fingerprint, or even password on file.

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Then why did Pierce have clearance? Did he hold some rank in SHIELD other than a place on the WSC? – Terry Chia Apr 12 '14 at 8:29
Yes. While the film doesn't actually state if he was a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. or not, he was the head of "Project: Insight." As such, he would have clearance to access it, much as Tony Stark would have access to certain information when working for S.H.I.E.L.D. despite not being a member. That is ignoring the fact that in the comics Pierce is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. - having him be a member of Hydra was quite the plot-twist - and it is implied that his official position is that of a liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the WSC. – James Sheridan Apr 12 '14 at 8:39
They said in the film that Pierce was one of the early (maybe founding?) members of SHIELD and had handpicked Fury to succeed him. – phantom42 Apr 12 '14 at 12:57
I don't recall that. It would certainly explain his position. – James Sheridan Apr 12 '14 at 13:41

World Security Council is positioned above S.H.I.E.L.D. (according to Marvel.wikia), but it is separate body from S.H.I.E.L.D. Council members can command S.H.I.E.L.D., but they don't have privileges inside S.H.I.E.L.D.

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