In this episode Coulson and his crew are in a Canadian forest and end up in a secret base called Providence.

In this base there is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D called Eric Koenig and he said he has clearance level 6.

Agent Koenig recognizes Coulson and he is not surprised by the latter being alive.

Now this is my issue: Agent Koenig has clearance level 6 and knows a secret S.H.I.E.L.D base and that Coulson is alive.

More than that, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

He knows at this point that Nick Fury is alive too, a fact that is not known to more than a couple of people.

Why does a clearance level 6 agent know more than Coulson and his crew — who have level 7 and 8 clearance — regarding the base, Coulson and Fury?

When Ward joined the crew he was given level 7 clearance to be eligible to know Coulson was alive. How does Agent Koenig know with level 6?

3 Answers 3


These secrets are determined entirely on a “need-to-know” basis, not the standard SHIELD clearance levels. In Fury’s parlance, it’s “compartmentalisation”.

We've seen Fury make exceptions to the privilege system in both Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD.

For example, when Coulson tries to access the file about his death, access is rejected despite Coulson claiming to have the appropriate clearance – presumably this was done on Fury’s orders. Or when he gets in the lift with Steve, and uses his Director Override to show him special secrets.

Fury seems to trust Coulson, when he entrusts him with super-secret projects, gives him a nice shiny plane, and resurrects him when he dies. So far, we don’t know why that is. Hill is the Deputy Director of SHIELD – unlikely she got that without earning his trust. Koenig is a wild card, but since Fury gave him a special base all of his own, he seems to be important.

Providence Base

This chosen by Fury as a place to retreat if SHIELD was compromised. If anybody with Level 6 clearance of higher knew about it, then it wouldn’t take very long to find. Indeed, as we’re told when the Hub is captured, almost all high-level agents are defectors. The only way this would stay secret is if Koenig, Coulson and Hill were specially selected to know about this base. (Which seems justified, given the Level 7 agent who sneaks in.)

Coulson lives!

The theory that Level 7s are the only people allowed to know that Coulson is still alive fails under scrutiny. There are plenty of agents with below-7 clearance who know Coulson is alive:

  • In The Hub, when Victoria Hand tells Coulson that “Your Level 7s can join us in the briefing”, Fitzsimmons both walk away, so their clearance is 6 at most.

    According to the Marvel Wiki pages for Simmons and Fitz, this episode also tells us that they both have Level 5 clearance. (This comes up again in Turn, Turn, Turn, which I’ve checked independently.)

  • In Turn, Turn, Turn, we learn that Antoinne Triplett is Level 6, as of course is Eric Koenig. Of course, it would be difficult to stop either of them knowing that Coulson is alive once they’ve seen him, but nobody panics when they do.

  • For a large part of the series, Skye has no clearance level, and when she eventually gets inducted, it’s at Level 1.

On the flip side, we’re told in Agents of SHIELD that none of the Avengers know that Coulson is alive, but several of them seem to have the appropriate clearance:

  • In Winter Soldier, when Steve Rogers enters the lift with Nick Fury, we see that Steve has clearance level 8. (In the same scene, Fury uses a “Director Override” to show Steve things he isn’t usually allowed to see.)

  • The MCU Wiki pages for Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton has both of them listed as Level 7, although this fact isn’t cited.

Again, it seems that Fury is only telling selective people about this (and Coulson’s keeping quiet too). This is probably to avoid awkward questions about how somebody who got stabbed through the heart, and died in the Director’s arms, suddenly ends up alive and kicking.

As for the “welcome to Level 7” comment at the start of the show, I suppose that was just Coulson being dramatic for effect.

That other guy

Given the level of infiltration of SHIELD, do you think he’d want to tell somebody of any clearance level that he was still alive (especially given the number of high-level defectors). Much better to only tell the half-dozen people who he trusts, regardless of their clearance level within a now distrusted organisation.

  • 3
    It's compartmentalization. May 3, 2014 at 23:47
  • @SamuelEdwinWard Yes. Now I remember Fury saying it to Rogers when he asked about Romanoff's mission in the beginning of TWS. May 4, 2014 at 2:21
  • Hey @alexwlchan, you sure Rogers is not a level 7 instead of 8? And with "need-to-know" basis you mean "compartmentalization"? May 4, 2014 at 2:22
  • 1
    @ViterCanova: yeah, that’s the word. Fairly sure it was 8, not 7. Could be wrong; principle still stands.
    – alexwlchan
    May 4, 2014 at 6:52
  • @alexelchan Well, this is a very well formed answer. Thanks. May 4, 2014 at 17:25

Security clearance levels aren't just linear in their knowledge dissemination. That is; A 'level 7' knows more than a 'level 6' and less that a level 8, or that a level 8 automatically knows or is briefed on everything a 6 or 7 knows. There are compartmental clearances based on a 'need to know' basis only. With that in mind a level 8 should and usually does have more overall 'inside info' but not necessarily specific info about a tightly compartmentalized subject or situation.

There is typically a minimum security level that gives/recognizes the 'ability' to hold a high level of 'trust' but a second tightly focused clearance authorization would be necessary to know a specific thing based on a 'need to know' to fulfill their job requirements or mission.


Here's Nick Fury at work to break/override rules.

If government doesn't know about the secret base Providence, it means it exists non-officially like Guest House (where Coulson was revived).

Similarly, Nick Fury can give extra privileges to a close Agent whether he has officially those privileges or not.

  • In the beginning of the series looks like nobody below level 7 could know that Coulson was alive. You are saying that agent Koenig received the information about Coulson directly from director Fury instead those documents with clearance level? May 3, 2014 at 21:19
  • Why would you classify it as "breaking the rules"? To read someone in on compartmentalized information is something Fury can do without breaking rules.
    – user13500
    May 3, 2014 at 23:29
  • 1
    @VitorCanova Director Fury can grant access to high level documents to anyone. Remember, Coulson got access to TAHITI documents despite it required Level 10 or above clearance.
    – user931
    May 4, 2014 at 7:16

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