In my story there's a global organisation called Wormwood Foundation of which its very existence is classified. This organisation is tasked with protecting human civilization (and earth's biosphere) from existential threats (mostly keeping humanity safe from itself).

Most world leaders (think G20 plus nuclear countries) are in the loop but only as outsiders and to make sure their own intelligence agencies don't bump into Wormwood.

The organisation has an outreach somewhat like CIA. Similar examples in fiction would be Phoenix Foundation from MacGyver, Chaldea or the SCP Foundation.

How can this organisation enforce their objectives and retain control while keeping their existence secret?

Non essential information from here on.

The story takes place in a world like ours but in the early 2030s mainly in the USA (Wormwood has access to slightly more advanced tech from their own R&D)

Wormwood was founded after WWI as a response to chemical warfare and operates mostly as an intelligence agency but also has task forces ready to put boots on the ground, they can range from scientists, detectives, crisis negotiators or paramilitary.

The organisation is huge (comparable in personnel and funds to NATO).

Recruitment is done by either handpicking persons of interest (there's a deep learning system called SERENITY that helps with that) or from inside other intelligence agencies, research centers and militaries.

Wormwood is morally gray

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 19:35

7 Answers 7


Have in house servants

If you want a huge organization without leaks you need a huge number of people to do things. Have them recruit massive numbers of people and have them raise families within the organization.

Orphans and people who are not very connected would normally be recruited, and afterwards isolated from the outside world and indoctrinated about how evil it is and how great and important their mission was.

Have super hacking powers

Such a vast organization would leave a massive trace on the world. Have super advanced computer technology that can purge any trace of them online.

Have short term memory wiping drugs

Just like MIB, you need to be able to erase people's memories without carving a bloody trail across the country. Drugs could do this, allowing you to hide better.

Have several public identities

You need to interact with lots of people to do your job. Have the governments arrange official departments for you, and arrange to provide documentation as needed to solve problems. If someone sees you, they'll just know that MI5 or the CIA or some similar agency visited them.

With all of this, you can stay pretty secretive. As far as anyone knows, you're just departments of the government, with no connection to other countries and no deeper meaning.


Simple answer: you can't. Analysis and real-life examples have demonstrated that the length of time something can be kept secret is inversely proportional to the number of people who know about it. You can stretch that out some through various means, but it will inevitably come out. It's one of the reasons that when someone postulates a conspiracy that requires tens of thousands of people who have successfully kept it hidden for decades, you can be confident it's nonsense.

On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs is the paper that projects the probabilities based on the number of people involved. Importantly, it differentiates between the probability of keeping a one-time event secret versus an ongoing conspiracy. As you would intuitively suspect, it's easier to keep a one-off with limited number of participants secret (and it drops as the people with knowledge die) than a large, ongoing conspiracy.

Basically, if you have an ongoing operation with tens of thousands of people, you can expect it to be revealed in under a decade. Given the number of people you propose, I don't know if it would last more than a few months.

Minor edit: The main reason why this is so is because all the people involved are human, and humans can't shut up. The simplest way of explaining this is if I write three words: "Clinton", "Lewinsky", and "cigar". People of a certain age will, based only on those words know immediately what I am talking about, and others will have some idea because they'd have heard of the event. Now here's the thing: it's so widely known soon thereafter it became part pop culture and only two people were involved and knew about it.

And people think a conspiracy involving tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands can keep their mouths shut for decades? That no one gets a case of loose lips, that no one becomes disgruntled and blows the whistle, that no one accidentally lets it slip, that no one brags to someone they want to impress? Pull the other one.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I recall an episode of StarGate SG-1 where they were "cooperating" with a TV show called "Wormhole Extreme," the idea being that if anyone went public with info about the SGC they could deflect, saying that person had been watching too many episodes of the TV show. This provided a useful deflection, helping to keep something classified ... classified. Gotta wonder, sometimes, how many of the ridiculous things we see are actually are actually "deflections," a la Wormhole Extreme, such that anyone claiming to know "the real story" is easily discredited. $\endgroup$
    – Meower68
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ "you can expect it to be revealed" - revealed to who exactly? If you control the government and most of the media then yes, it would be revealed to your opposition who would be opposing you anyway, and you can just call them conspiracy theorists. The information will be out there, but those loyal to your party (but unaware of the deeper conspiracy) will just dismiss it ans propaganda created by the enemy. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Deflection only works to a point. At the size prosed here, leaks are going to happen on a weakly basis, and many of the bigger leaks will come with verifiable proof. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 21:02

How to keep it secret?

You probably can't, not entirely, what you're describing is just too big and the scope of it's intended activities is just too far reaching.

But a cover organisation or two might help perhaps, something like the WEF (though much reviled, by many, in the real world) would make a good cover for fundraising and the bit of it that keeps governments and various other organisations 'in the loop'.

"tasked with protecting human civilization (and earth's biosphere) from existential threats (mostly keeping humanity safe from itself"

Most of the activities you're implying would seem to be suppressing scientific, economic and industrial development they deem damaging to earth's biosphere rather than anything requiring military intervention, strike teams, secret service types or spies .. so that means buying up patents for tech you don't want used, redirecting people doing research you don't want into other areas of research by denying them funding for that research while offering them funding for other research, pressure on governments to suppress certain economic and commercial activities etc.

Funding various protest and pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion is an option, so a figure like Soros to provide targeted funding and finance can be part of your organisation.

So what you want for that is a concealed layer above organisations like the WEF and the World Bank and other large supranational NGOs of that sort.

For the incredibly small amount of direct action your organisation might want to take companies like Blackwater and the Wagner Group would be your cover.


Sounds like a little research on conspiracy theories around some of these real world organisations would be helpful to you .. what it seems you're looking for isn't a million miles from some of those.


Wormwood is not "of this World"

NATO is a military alliance with an annual military budget of 1.17 trillion USD (~3/5 of the worlds total military spending) and ~3.5 million active military personnel plus ~5 million reservists (about 15-25% of global military personnel depending on how you define "military personnel"). Wormwood would require a disposable income similar to the entire GDP of Australia to be able to match NATO's resources. An organization this powerful has no need of secrecy. In fact, NATO already achieves all of the goals you are talking about without needing blackout secrecy. They prevent the proliferation of dangerous technologies, are morally grey, and have the ability to put boots on the ground to deal with all sorts of problems. This is probably a few orders of magnitude larger than you actually need for a global covert intelligence agency, but if the OP wants NATO big, that's what it looks like.

This is inconceivably large to simply hide its existence. You could not hide something this size for a day much less a century. That is assuming all those dollars are flowing through the world's economies and those troops belong to any known human populations.

All of the economic and military power of Wormwood would need to comes from somewhere other than Earth where you can keep it's millions of solders and hundreds of millions of support personnel from being able to have any direct contact with the people of Earth until absolutely necessary.

Maybe Wormwood is a humanitarian agency belonging to some alien race that only directly coordinates with a small handful of human leaders. Maybe there is some other dimension where a parallel Earth has already made all of the mistakes and now reaches out to thier "neighbors" to help them avoid the same problems they faced. Maybe Wormwood exists in the future, and is using time travel to fix mistakes in the past to prevent the end of days. Whatever the case may be, 99.999% of Wormwood's actual power is somewhere else and only shows up long enough to fix a problem, and then just goes away leaving no trace anywhere on Earth that they were ever here other than the outlandish rumors.

  • $\begingroup$ This becomes sort of like those timeline police in the Loki miniseries. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk I have not watched those yet, but yeah, time police have been a pretty common trope lately: Legends of Tomorrow and Umbrella Academy are other such examples, but the key difference if you go time traveler here would be that they are here to change the past and save us from ourselves, not to protect the timeline. But yeah, same major principle is at play $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 16:44

Have the foundation ditch uniforms, opting instead to adopt the uniform of the relevant local authority. Using somewhat fabricated documents to get access to whatever they need, using powerful people in the loop for leverage and authority. You would obviously need a formidable hacking team to erase any trails left by botched operations, though I imagine most physical clean up can be left to authorities. Any damage can be framed as terrorists, and if that wouldn't work for some reason, Wormwood would probably have a specialized clean up force, though they are rarely forced to do any ground work.

Most agents would be recruited locally, giving them connections to powerful agents of other organizations. Wormwood would likely use sleeper agents planted in the CIA, FBI, Interpol, and whatnot. This way even if an agent is entirely found out, it could be pinned on the CIA. They would all have some kind of remote detonation system, allowing them to be executed should they be caught. In case of an agents detainment, the hacking team might plant traces of the agents connection to terrorist organization to excuse the poison capsule or whatever.

Any group of this size requires some kind of base of operations. I think some phony tech shop would suffice, as any gear would blend in with the stock of the shop, and the base doesn't need to be big. Of course they would likely have a black site for training, but other than that they just need a place from which they can transmit orders to their agents.

If they need an armory for some high tech gadgetry, it can be stored in the basement of these shops, and shipped remotely using local government trade routes. I imagine they don't so much invent new tech in house, but rather take the top secret weapons from governments in the loop.

If you want to take a more "hiding in plain sight" approach, they could have a public face as the Wormwood foundation for the homeless or something. Framed as a non-profit that does occasional work to hit the headlines, their branch offices are probably empty though. Housing any important info in a public facility would be stupid, so they might take the radio shack approach for their important stuff.

There would also be an inner ring of agents recruited from birth. Orphans or children of agents, these would be the team responsible for all the management. Each agent is assigned to monitor major figures who are in the loop, though obviously they don't watch everyone. These agents aren't responsible for any ground work, instead taking the role of monitoring, management, and safeguarding. But obviously there can still be the super spy raised from birth if that's the angle you're taking. These agents are isolated from the outside world, and if you want they can be developmentally stunted and incredibly creepy.

Last thought, for the remote detonation system, the agents could have metal plates in their heads to excuse metal detectors going wack. Sorry this is so long.


If you control most of the media, you can release some of the secret plans, distorted, fictionalized, combined together with easily debunkable lies, as part of the message of a group most people don't listen to. Extremists, for example. The information is out there, extremists do propagate it, but most normal people just don't listen to them.

The more heavily a subject is politicized, the more likely is that people on one side will flat out ignore every single piece of evidence the other side tries to present. To take a recent example: there are live videos of the US President Biden getting lost on the podium wandering around aimlessly, mumbling incoherently, shaking hands with imaginary people around him, and generally not being aware of his immediate surroundings. When I discussed this online with some of his supporters, they flat out disbelieved it and called it lies and conspiracy theories. They don't watch those events live, and the media they consume just doesn't show his most embarrassing moments. Any other media is, in their eyes, heretical to even look at. Some of the less clear moments are publicly described as "false news" by fact checkers (it was taken from the wrong angle, it was actually a brilliant joke he made, etc.), so many people assume that every single such account is similarly false. So in their eyes Biden is the sharpest and most brilliant man ever to become president, and they ignore every single piece of evidence showing him in cognitive decline. The fact that some of Biden's opponents are indeed crazy and fanatical conspiracy theorists, saying things like him just being a meat puppet remotely controlled by lizardmen, even helps the image, because the true embarrassing moments are combined with false news, and therefore everything negative about him becomes false news in their eyes.


Ad hoc.

The intelligence arm of Wormwood is permanent and operates as an autonomous arm of the World Health Organization.

Wormwood has the personnel and funds of NATO because it can use the personnel and funds of NATO or of other organizations as necessary. Wormwood organizes a task force of personnel and materials, using existing resources as needs and appropriate. Military and medical personnel, for example, are not permanently employed by Wormwood because many would be sitting around for long periods of time. They are employed by other entities and commandeered by Wormwood.

A real life example: Task Force Scorpio.


Task Force Scorpio was a United Nations biological and chemical weapons response team that was activated during the first Gulf War to respond to any reported use of weapons of mass destruction on civilians.[1] The task force was composed of volunteer Swiss members of the Disaster Relief Unit and international specialists, equipped with the latest chemical and biological protection equipment, immunized against agents suspected for battlefield use and had its own jet transportation. The members of the team were to travel under Swiss diplomatic passports anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours of need...

Re-activation The Task force was deactivated after the first Gulf War. But the World Health Organization approached the Swiss government to reactivate it in January 2003. It was to be renamed the Swiss/European WMD Task Force. No information has been published about its reactivation.

I volunteered to be one of those international specialists but it turns out they did not need my skills. They still gave me a beret with a Task Force Scorpio pin. I am wearing it right now. It is as awesome as you imagine.

Yes: Wormwood. Wormwood operates similarly (to Task Force Scorpio, and myself) and most awesomely. Missions would be assembled experts from various places, brought together quickly and briefed on the mission. These persons might or might not know they were working under the auspices of Wormwood. This would also be great storytelling because an individual expert would be notified her services were needed, and the next thing she knows she is in a plane full of formidable foreign strangers, preparing for the mission.


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