According to the Starfleet charter:

Article 14, Section 31 of the Charter made allowances for bending Starfleet regulations in times of extraordinary threat.

Right below that sentence on the wiki page it says:

This section was cited as the foundation for Section 31 even into the late 24th century.

From the DS9 Inquisition:

Sloan: We don't submit reports or ask for approval for specific operations, if that's what you mean. We're an autonomous department.

Bashir: Authorised by whom?

Sloan: Section thirty one was part of the original Starfleet charter.

If Starfleet intelligence is restricted by having to ask permission and write reports, why not remove those restrictions?

Sloan used the charter to defend Section 31, you could do the same about removing restrictions.

  • one might assume that Starfleet Intelligence is required to report to Starfleet administration or the Federation Council. Whereas Section 31 would operate on a completely under the radar and off the grid manner, doing things that said oversight is intended to obstruct and prevent – NKCampbell Jul 2 at 18:52
  • 1
    @NKCampbell - But the charter already allows them to bend the rules, why not remove whatever restrictions that SFI has and allow them to carry out their mission. I don't think any one would deny that intelligence agencies might be doing something immoral, by Sloan's own admission "The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night. You're also the reason Section Thirty one exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn't share your sense of right and wrong. " – киска Jul 2 at 19:07
  • From the same episode where Sloan makes that admission, it would seem to the Romulans (Cretak) that S31 is the responsibility of the Federation. – киска Jul 2 at 19:13
  • 1
    to my point, the line "bending Starfleet regulations in times of extraordinary threat" would likely require prior or post-operative justification to an oversight board or something similar, or even the requirement that said oversight agrees that an extraordinary threat exists. By operating completely outside the lines, S31 doesn't have to bother with all that paperwork – NKCampbell Jul 2 at 19:39
  • 2
    because politics and public opinion - at the very least, the appearance that military / government operatives don't have free hands to go about murdering, imprisoning people and toppling governments without any kind of oversight or due process....or ability to say "wait - you shouldn't have done that, you're fired or going to jail" – NKCampbell Jul 2 at 19:53

Several reasons actually.

1) The best intelligence service/ the best spy is the one nobody knows exists or works in the area. The spy you know for a certain is a spy of the foreign country reporting on interesting developments is called "part of the embassy staff" or maybe "the ambassador" and the place those types gather is called "the embassy". Starfleet Intelligence is a known intelligence service whose agents you can identify. How do you identify somebody as an agent of opposing force if you do not know that opposing force even exists?

2) The Federation has been consistently shown to be a federation of goody two shoes, optimistic, diplomatic, altruistic, democratic idealists. In fact, it makes a lot of sense "the people" of the Federation would want their democratically elected government to have very close supervision of what is called "instruments of force", military, intelligence and law enforcement. Military in this case means Starfleet, intelligence services are Starfleet Intelligence and law enforcement is left to local police of every member, with Starfleet occasionally assisting the locals, if the miscreant has spaceships or has ran away off-world (see Bajoran Militia / Odo's security personnel for an example). Starfleet personnel and Federation ruling council have consistently been shown to be unable to compromise their ideals even in dire situations (TNG "Picard and Borg drone Hugh" incident could be taken as an early example, the whole "Voyager" series started because of one of those, but there are many more examples of that, both in TOS and afterwards).

Ruthlessness during intelligence operations and utopian idealism in which "Every species is potential friend and we don't kill people without proper justice proceedings, unless in self defense." do not mix well. So intelligence services will suffer in effectiveness. If an agent kills enemy spy during a mission, you can be damn sure there will need to be a report justifying it. If an agent destroys data or commits sabotage, report. If an agent commits multiple murders for the good of the Federation, report and report and a dozen other reports to make sure those were absolutely necessary and it was really for the greater good. And that's for asking forgiveness after the fact. Asking for permission to do that... yeah, you're not going to get that permission. Thus, Section 31.

A bunch of fundamentalist, Knight Templar type fanatics, willing to get their hands dirty and bloody to ensure the safety of the Federation. And while they each know they personally do not live to the "possibly too good to be true" ideals of the Federation, they are certain they do what needs to be done, so those ideals can even be given a chance in this cold cruel universe. Everything that needs to be done. No deed is too low, no price is too high, for the safety and continued existence of the Federation. Even genocide of the species, to remove the future threat. And that way Federation is not the hypocrite. Because they genuinely don't know it is happening. And can always say: "Oh, those were just some misguided fanatics. Sorry about that. They thought we will like that. We obviously don't like that. We didn't know they even exist. Them doing bad things in our name... Goodness gracious, NO! Absolutely not!"

And react the same way as US government would react to actions of a terrorist group inspired by US constitution. (21st amendment to be precise. The one repealing 18th, prohibition of production and sales of alcohol)

So why does Starfleet Intelligence not do that, just remove the oversight? Because they are part of the Starfleet and Federation and it would go against ideals of the Federation and would be considered a power grab. And Federation is above such things as power grabs and money and greed and all those bad base parts of human nature. Right?

  • 1
    An interesting side question would be if this is modeled on Special Circumstances? (Which predates S31 by a decade.) – DavidW Jul 2 at 20:31
  • 2
    Very possibly. Or maybe the writers thought that Federation is too utopian and idealistic to be realistic, so it has to be SOMETHING or SOMEONE to make sure it is not eaten raw by the likes of Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar. Even "The Culture" had to have something to do their dirty work for them. – jo1storm Jul 2 at 20:36

If Starfleet intelligence is restricted by having to ask permission and write reports, why not remove those restrictions?

They did.

That's what Section 31 is.

You still need a non-shady alternative that fits within the organisational structure and can be interacted with by the rest of the organisation. Admirals need to talk to Intelligence about the latest reports from the border with such-and-such. Intelligence needs to give briefings to the President about how they foiled forty assassination plots this week.

It's a different type of intelligence organisation, and the Federation has both types. What they're each called isn't particularly important.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.