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My first question, be kind please! :)

I'm thinking about an organization like COBRA from the G.I. Joe comics. For those unfamiliar, COBRA is a nationless terrorist organization bent on world domination.

In the comics, there isn't really much deep thought put into their existence. They're just there to be a foil for the G.I. Joe team to defeat and sell lots of toys to children. Many of the leaders and "agents" of COBRA obviously come from various nations, but COBRA itself is a borderless entity. They have a VAST pool of resources like money, weapons, military tech, training & research facilities all over the globe, secret R&D projects into future tech, a standing army of tens of thousands of foot soldiers, tanks, planes, submarines and specialists...yet they remain mostly unheard of to the general population of the world, and even the people who do know about their existence know very little else.

Obviously there are friendly countries that harbour/hide/protect them to an extent, but what would this organization give them in return?

I'm looking for a plausible explanation to how such an organization could come into being in today's real world and stay (mostly) hidden.

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COBRA reminds me of SCORPIA from the Alex Rider series. They're essentially a giant organization of deadly mercenaries. – XandarTheZenon Jan 19 at 16:32
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I feel like this has been asked before, at least in part. Do either of these answer your question: How do I recruit members... or What would it take to be...? – Frostfyre Jan 19 at 16:37
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the dark side of the moon. no one ever goes looking there, so you can hide your troops until you are ready. – njzk2 Jan 19 at 20:57
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Probably, it's in bed with intelligence agencies. – djechlin Jan 19 at 23:49
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Well, such a organisation could camouflage itself as nation and play like they are the good guys and the world police, while noone gets what's going on. – Bounce Jan 20 at 16:23
up vote 42 down vote accepted

No such organization could come into existence without the intelligence agencies and governments of the world being aware.

Housing, feeding, clothing, training, and arming tens of thousands of soldiers is not a trivial task. The space, and resources required to do this would cripple some countries, never mind a nameless organization looking to remain utterly anonymous.

You would need a front under which to buy these training facilities, sign arms contracts, get permission to operate in certain countries, etc.

In other words, welcome to the Atlas Corporation. (From Call of Duty)

Private Military Contractors

Use your illicit funds (which of course you've laundered) to start a private military corporation (PMC). Your original start-up location should be some corrupt little country where few questions will be asked, however you will have to register in the US, Europe, and other places in order to operate internationally.

Buy, Hire, Train

Now that you have a legitimate reason to hire troops, buy military supplies, weapons (in quantity), etc. start doing so.

Set up training operations in different countries. Build up your facilities. Maybe publicly buy or partner up with weapons manufacturers and researchers.

Be prepared for plenty of healthy interest from various spy agencies.

Build a Front

Hire "regular" mercenaries (for US Marines, British SAS, French Commandos, etc.) as your "public image troops". Send them out on fully legitimate contracts for various governments: hunt down terrorists, protect VIP's, rescue hostages, etc.

This will build your reputation as an above-board, profitable heavy hitter, and distract attention from your true operations.

Behind the Scenes

Some of your bases of operations should be open only to those loyal to your true goals. The "regular" troops would not mingle much with your true believers, or only those who know to maintain absolute secrecy.

No one would be promoted past a certain level who does not share your views and objectives. Those to whom the secret is revealed and reject it should be killed in such a way that it all looks accidental - experimental weapon malfunction, a training exercise, a terrorist attack, etc.

Buildup

Take advantage of the anti-military feelings sweeping the world. There are so many conflicts which the public is against sending more troops into - offer your services, and do a solid job. Use your shadowy powers of manipulation and intimidation to keep any negative news regarding your actions in those conflicts from leaking to the public.

The governments of the world will find it quite convenient to turn to you rather than send in their own troops to fight/die (which would fuel public opinion against them).

You can fabricate your own terrorist threats and conflicts (you invent something like ISIS), and then become "heroes" defeating them.

Of course many spy agencies will be suspicious, but I trust that you will be able to manipulate or distract them as required.

Use your massive profits to build yet more military bases, buy even more equipment, and research new and terrifying weapons.

Global Take-Over

When the governments of the world have relaxed and become unintentionally dependent on you, strike.

Launch massive terror campaigns around the globe, then convince everyone that a world-wide deployment of your elite troops will put an end to the situation.

At that point it's all over but the mass executions.

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Lots of detail and food for thought! Thanks! To paraphrase your answer, I guess they'd almost have to "hide in plain sight", so instead of being actually SECRET, they'd instead be pulling off the most elaborate deception the world has ever known. :) – fiend Jan 19 at 17:11
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@fiend - that's exactly it. Rather than hide your troop deployments make them public, and explain how it's for everyone's own safety. Next thing you know .... – AndreiROM Jan 19 at 17:15
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Atlas Corporation? Surely you mean Militaires Sans Frontières, right? I mean, Diamond Dogs, damned typos. – Maurycy Jan 19 at 19:24
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"No such organization could come into existence without the intelligence agencies and governments of the world being aware. " - what if the organization is one of those? – immibis Jan 19 at 21:37
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The key to understand here is that you don't just create one such PMC company that people could see as "the front for [Evil Organization name here]". You have many different companies, including different "faces" thatemploy various sub-contractors. So the US might hire "Sentinel Security Systems", and UK might get "Imperial Assurance Consultancy" to do each nation's dirty work, the way the game's played each of these actually uses a lot of the same operators. No one realizes they are really part of a larger conspiracy. – Monty Harder Jan 19 at 22:35

How would you distinguish this from the U.S. government? It has a lot of secret operations, it has organized street gangs doing "civil forfeiture", it tortures, uses illegal eavesdropping devices, maintains secret courts not subject to the law of the land, generally has a dim view towards the country's Constitution and ideals, builds large computing centers in a scale not commensurate with legal operations, maintains a blackmailing scheme instead of due legal process ("plea deals"), subverts elections ("popular" vs "electoral" votes anybody, let alone all of the voting machine scandals), kills thousands of people yearly without due process, incarcerates people for decades without due process, openly allows bribes to govern political decisions, does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Court in The Hague, let's armies attack without declaring a state of war...

What does it take to pass into the category your question is aiming at? Any decisive qualitative or quantitative criterion you want to see met?

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yes, the criteria that the organization not be a sovereign nation, and not be completely dependent on a sovereign nation. – fiend Jan 19 at 20:42
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I don't think you really answer the question. Regardless of your statement. One can hardly say that the US are secret. – bilbo_pingouin Jan 19 at 20:44
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This might work better as an answer if you selected one of the clandestine organizations in the US government and explained how it fit the requirements. – Jim2B Jan 19 at 21:29

Perhaps not the answer but maybe we could name some organizations in real world which could be compared to COBRA

Gladio and other secret stay-behind armies of NATO Many used to conduct attacks against their own people to persuade public opinion for certain actions (Strategy of tension) - Years of Lead as an example. Remained in absolute secrecy throughout cold war.

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I would agree with @Jim2B. A good example is "Atlas Corporation" in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. They are a private military corporation that is able to secure military contracts, similar to Blackwater in the US today.

Eventually, Atlas Corp gets deeply involved in multiple wars and secretly starts pursuing its own agenda. In the game, the reason for their rise is an unstoppable terrorist organization, which cripples most nations; thus leading to their rise. But, an even crazier plot twist would be: Atlas Corporation was behind the rise of this terrorist organization and it was all a much bigger plan towards world domination.

Pretty insane to even think about.

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In my opinion it would be easiest to achieve if the organization included a legitimate front-end connected loosely and clandestinely with the secret organization on the back-end.

The members/employees of the front-end organization would have no knowledge of the true purpose of the entire organization or its association with the secret terrorist organization on the back-end.

The front-end could be a giant megacorporation but it might be even better for it to be the government of a powerful country (think of the resources that it could divert!).

In point of fact, consider all the "secret" 3 letter organizations in the US (or other) government whose operation is secret. Create another such organization or subvert an existing one for your purposes. Since these organizations tend to be compartmentalized (one isn't permitted to know what another is doing), this mode of operation might make keeping your secret organization's purpose and operations even easier.

I suggest keeping very tight reins on the operations of your secret organization. The more it operates, the more clues it leaves, the more opportunities the world's population has of figuring it out. So as much as possible allow the front-end organization to achieve intermediate legitimate goals of your secret organization. Only employ the secret organization to achieve a goal when it would be obvious to the front-end organization that the ultimate goals were nefarious.

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A familiar trope that is sadly very much in line with reality is that if they have sufficient money, influence, manpower and cunning to begin with, they could begin by seizing control of the many (and large) areas of the planet that other people with money and influence tend not to think about very much. They could, for example, deal with/infiltrate/ultimately control the hundreds of little terrorist groups we probably haven't heard of. They could operate in any or all of the countries that westerners can't name and tend to lump together as our vague concept of "Africa". The only thing they would have to be careful of is not interfering with (and thus attracting the attention of) all the other powerful developed-world interest groups that are operating under more or less the same general principles right now, i.e. don't interfere with the supply of minerals to US corporations, recruit too many sweatshop labourers, or pirate any essential shipping routes.

Think what had to happen for you to hear about Al Qaeda; now as long as our shadowy organisation doesn't do something like that, they're free to control the Afghan heroin trade, the South and Central American cocaine industries, any number of diamond and rare earth mines, and oil fields; think of the manpower they could muster simply by feeding and housing the millions of desperate people in any number of different places, or by creating an ideology that spoke to the even larger number of people with a great deal to be angry about and very little to lose.

The best part about this strategy is that if any one of their proxy groups or individual operatives were to attract attention, it would be trivial to cut them loose, and let people's prejudices lead them to assume "those people" are "naturally like that". Anyone who suggested there was a monolithic organisation arming hundreds of unconnected terrorist groups and drug cartels, inventing new religious sects, and working in accordance with a colossal master plan would be dismissed as totally demented. Meanwhile, when the world powers responded by crushing the little people who got caught holding the rocket launchers, burning their fields, bombing their villages, and so on, they would only be exacerbating the desperate, unjust and anarchic conditions that made the developing/underdeveloped world ripe for their taking in the first place...

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Take advantage of an existing country. Quietly insert your own people into the politics and through bribery, blackmail, intimidation, assassination, fraud, etc. Have them rise to the correct positions of power, where they are able to take control of the military and the military's decision-making processes.

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° establish an international organization (league) of nations, the primary control of said league would reside in the richest and most powerful member nations, and more specifically in the richest and most powerful citizens or possibly corporations of the primary member nations.

° This arrangement would be legitimate for a clandestine "inner sanctum", yet in appearance only for others, and the real purpose would be to arrange agreeable circumstances in which to manipulate the target nation, or nations.

° a medium in wich foreign policies and political influences could be used to steer the target nation into a desired and pressured conformity that would permit control of the target nation's course and would also "allow" control over the top levels of government. That government in turn affecting the necessary alterations and changes themselves in their own levels of administration throughout said country, so that appearances remain legitimate before the sight of the common citizens and infiltration is not discovered (at first). This is often accomplished by various tactical manipulations, and could include some of the following....intentional economic destabilization, political espionage, false peace processes, implied possibility of threat, demands for change by factions within the society, or the ever popular global sanctions.

° The unaware public would not be made aware of this condition of international "influence" on their homeland, and would be behind the curtain (so to speak) on the real issues at hand. The public having been convinced of the absolute necessities of this league to their country's, as well as the world's countries well being, this through billions of dollars of public relations effects over a large amount of years. This also the effect of many changes being implemented in their society, that were perceived by themselves to be random, or self improvements, an obvious evolution directed (it would appear) by their own course, yet in truth would be the policies being put in place by the league or the entities within the leage that want to overthrow, or maneuver the target country.

° The policies having redesigned (right in plain sight of the people) the infrastructures of their country, government, constitution, and culture over an extended period of many years, and in strategic increments to align the target country with the intended outcome set by complicit parties within the inner sanctum of the league and their "assets within the target government".

° over prolonged years of "membership" the target country's policies and infrastructures would be steered to the desired outcome, the national identity that was necessary for them to defend against foreign threat or takeover would be eventually changed into an international identity that holds no loyalties to an "outdated" republic. A republic that has been reinvented by it's infiltrators and their conspirators within it, and as older generations of people age out, the new generations rise to power with none of the essentials of sovereignty or independence. They eventually after a few generations will not even know what they lost, and policies once that were foreign.....now are their new masters.

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diplomatic processes, economic manupulation, economic incentives and or sanctions, cultural and educational reforms, artificial peace processes, religious infultration, military intimidation, executive orders, clandestine international agreements, or simply put, united nations signitory legislative compliance.

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Hi jad dis, welcome to Worldbuilding. First, your prose was very hard to get through. You should consider punctuations. Sentences make it easier to read. I tried to modify as little as possible to be both readable and keep your intended meaning. You can roll-back the edit if you disagree with it. Otherwise, it sounds a bit like a rant. And would be greatly improved with illustrations of what you mean. – bilbo_pingouin Feb 12 at 8:10
    
thanks for having me. – jad dis Feb 12 at 10:33
    
You're welcome. Well now, it is certainly shorter to read. But you should really consider some clarification sentences. Maybe start with something like "There are many ways such organisation could influence the world. Among the tools at their disposal, we can see: [...]" – bilbo_pingouin Feb 12 at 10:46

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