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So hypothetically, what would be the best "hiding" locations for societies/organizations that seek to avoid contact with the rest of humanity? In other words, where would be the best place (geographically), on Earth, to place an isolated, uncontacted, and unknown society?

Assume that any technology realistically available to "us" (us being mainstream society) within the next fifty years is already accessible to this society. All else (satellites, ships, radar, etc.) remain the same - in other words, whatever technology the US currently has to potentially find this society should be accounted for.

EDIT: To clarify - let us say there was a country among us "irl" - but one that is concealed in such a way that "we" (as Americans, Europeans, etc.) are unaware of its existence. What would be the best way or where would be the best place for this country to remain hidden? What technologies would be appropriate?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 21:07

13 Answers 13

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Rural Russia

The Russians abandoned many remote factories and industrial facilities when the USSR collapsed. We can see them; what we didn't know (or care about) is that they seem to be occupied by someone. Probably just drunks.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good starting point, you could expand this more I'm sure. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ You could elaborate on the answer by pointing out how large Russia is and also provide some data on how uneven the population is distributed. This article has an interesting map. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ I like this because this is quite original. Most scifi concepts of hidden societies are either underwater or hidden with some magical cloak field. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Those places are not Russia but rather Siberia, which Russia illegally occupies :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ @jaam it works for me. Maybe there is an IP/regional block? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 11:15
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I am seeing potentially two options:

Hiding under the Ocean

Oceans provide a cover from human civilization as most of it is unexplored. To generate power for this society, we can use lava vents.

Hiding under an Ice cave in Antarctica

The thickness of the ice in Antarctica is 2 km. We can have a ice cave that opens up into the ocean.

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    $\begingroup$ Weather sats and the like would almost certainly pick on the heat produced by the society, especially now that the CO2 concentrations and temperature of oceans and ice sheets are so closely monitored. Living near thermal vents might help somewhat. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ This is why I am suggesting keeping the ice cave opening into the ocean, that means we won't be releasing CO2 into the air instead we will send it to the ocean $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 6:24
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'Hiding in plain sight' is your only chance.

There is google maps. There are printed world maps. If a society is on a land marked as wilderness, someone will want to climb that mountain or cross that desert first, and write about it. Stopping them will cause stories. If the land is marked as ocean, some boat will sail there and detect land. If it is made to disappear, there will be stories about a 'Bermuda Triangle' and someone will look. So the society has to appear on maps, either with a 'legitimate' answer why people cannot visit, or with a facade to deceive visitors.

Perhaps your society can infiltrate a country, and make them designate their hiding place as a military base. (A couple of decades ago, a nature preserve would have worked, but then came recon sats. You might put the transition from one cover to the other into the back story.)

Or they are a country, and deceive the rest of the world about what they are. A 'closed society' like North Korea, with better deception.

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in the modern world? with satellites and Google maps and all they'd literally have to be underground .. no other way unless you fancy the dark side of the moon for this bunch or you want Atlantis and fish people, and not just any old Atlantis there for that option, you'd have to go deep, real deep .. 🤔 Hmm, hang on, I do see one other option.

The Amazon is a possibility.

With certain restrictions and provisos.

Your society can't be an industrialised one, it can't even have metal working or a lot of medieval level tech, anything that will produce any kind of footprint or deforestation visible by satellite is something they can't have.

Even any particularly large population centres aren't going to be possible for them to remain undetected into the modern era.

What that means is a more or less stone age society for tech of loosely affiliated and likely widely dispersed small village settlements that provides no more visible evidence from above than those 'lost tribes' we already know are to be found there somewhere deep within the Amazon, but with a centralised authority (king, ruling council or what have you) binding them together into an effective and cohesive but nonetheless otherwise largely decentralised 'society' and culture.

The lost tribes we do know of would be on the outskirts of this 'nation' not part of it and unaware themselves that any villages belonging to it that they did know about were part of a larger whole.

So any of their villages that were seen from above by either satellite or plane would simply be taken for just another one of those small independent native groups already encountered at the edges of the Amazon that have already been encroached upon.

They would probably need some form of written language to help account for their ability to remain bound together as a cohesive whole but that wouldn't be in and of itself one of the techs that would reveal their existence if it's not shared with the 'wild' tribes on their borders.

But I'm guessing that scenario likely won't fit with your requirements?

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  • $\begingroup$ There are few isolated native communities in the Amazon jungle and surrounding biomes that had no contact with 'civilization" yet. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin if you caught that previous now deleted response sorry, I read a non existent "a" into your response after the "are" 🤗 which changes the whole sense of your comment as I read it 😁 .. Yep, not that many left .. maybe as many as a hundred worldwide and maybe as few as fifteen of those in the Amazon, which still suffices I think for the demonstration purposes of the plausibility of the idea for a fictional story able to employ a little artistic licence 🙂 $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 20:38
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tiny

$ $ enter image description here

The society lives on the South face of a grain of rice. Grain of rice or mustard seed. Your choice. The seed is at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is well hidden.

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    $\begingroup$ "At the top of Mount Kilimanjaro" where the tourists go? Very BAD place to hide! Pick a rugged mountain range deep in a jungle and go half-way up an unnamed hill. Even a small-town-sized society could stay hidden pretty well, especially if they looked like a local animal species. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ @KevinKostlan: Hiding in plain sight might actually work pretty well - nobody's going to look for people leaving a secret society by becoming larger out of a grain of rice - in the middle of a tourist crowd. People going into and out of the society to get stuff just disappear into crowds if anyone's tracking them. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderThe1st So they have Ant-man technology and need to "borrow" stuff from humans like smartphones etc? "I guess I was pickpocketed!". That would mean existing in a crowded area is ideal, maybe Manhattan is better? At this point, we are breaking physics (trying to make a human brain rice-grain size w/o Antman-tech was still breaking physics due to Landauer's principle). One then has to worry about "ant-man detectors" "ant-man interrupt fields" and other counter-handwavium. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderThe1st I don't think the rice grain people want to leave their grain of rice. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @KevinKostlan Antman tech works by magic so whether it breaks physics or not is a silly question. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 16:08
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Physical Remoteness is Not Going to Work

With the tech of today, and for any society more than a few dozen people, it is not possible.

Living underground or under the ocean or under Antarctic ice is simply not going to fly with today's tech. It is possible to live in those places, but it would be a major undertaking that is simply not possible to do it unobserved.

Consider that you would want a power source. Consider what you would need to stay alive under ice. You need heat, and protection from the ice. You could build steel reinforced walls that would resist crushing. Then provide heat, light, greenhouse food, and such. But for more than a very small number of people this would be quite obvious. You would need to either create these items on-location, or ship them in.

Shipping thousands of tons of stuff to Antarctica is going to get noticed. Setting up a factory is going to get noticed. If for no other reason than you would be spewing out CO2 where none had been released previously.

So, unless you are prepared to limit your group to about ten people, it will physically get noticed pretty much anywhere you put it.

Secret Society

Secret societies are a challenge. There are lots of social groups that have tried to stay secret. But we know about them. If you have more than a few people moving in a larger culture, there will be people who spill the secret. It would take quite extraordinary methods to keep such a secret if your group was, say, thousands of people or more.

Even having a combination of physical remoteness and a secret society is highly unstable. The deepest secrets of such folk as The Mormons or The Masons are available on line and in parody musicals. When a group is more than a few people, people will leave and take those secrets with them.

One imagines a town "in the wilderness" where everybody is a member of The Club. Then some ordinary disagreement arises. Some couple has a rancorous breakup and one of them storms off to parts far-far-away to get away from the ex. And then he is outside the safety of the town. And wants to form new relationships with people outside The Club. And every day he has temptation to spill the secret for a variety of psychological and social reasons. This has happened for many groups.

Non-Humans

Suppose your secret folk are, in some manner, much smaller.

Another answer already suggested that they might be small enough to live on a grain of rice. It would require quite radically different biology to what we experience. Organisms that small cannot be as smart as humans if they are based on DNA-carbon type life cycles. There is not enough room and there is not enough energy. But if they were aliens, who knows?

Consider a VR device that occupies some such space as a football-field sized area. It could easily be added to an underground layer under some mundane structure such as a parking lot. The servers could be secretly diverted from a number of mundane projects. Say, every time Amazon or Google sets up a local server farm, 10 or 20 servers walk out the back of the facility. Provide some electricity, and maybe some air flow for cooling, and your entire society is on-line. They might have an internet connection that allowed them to sell intellectual property such as stories, engineering designs, etc.

They would need a very small number of human assistants to keep things going. Maybe one family that owns the land the VR rig is under. They could handle things like being the literary agents for the IP produced. And keeping that parking lot from being excavated. Because their income depends on the secret staying secret, there is a possibility it could be stable.

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Hide in large mega cities.

Who will notice if everyone in a specific skyscraper is part of a single group if the group isn't known?

They can even dig down and have underground paths from one building to another. they just have to make those tunnels out of old materials that are easily collapsed. this is easier in Europe where the cities are older but it would work in US cities also. It is just more work to explain underground bits tunnels where the city isn't built in so many layers and has better documentation in its early history. However, this would still work in New York City, if you can dig down and not hit something important (it's a mess down there).

How many people are going to notice or think it strange that they don't actually know anyone in building X? The police have more things to worry about than a building that's never a problem.

There would have to be some interaction with the city government to keep things hidden but once things are hidden long enough, it becomes "the way things are." So, the burden of hiding would get less and less over generations.

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Welcome to SE!

A few good answers have been posted here already, but I'd like to chime in with some more science-oriented comments.

To me, you can somewhat divide the possibilities based upon whether your society is ok with living an essentially subterranean existence, or if it requires at least some time on the planet's surface. But in all cases, heat, in one way or another, is a big problem.

Above-ground

The biggest hurdle to avoiding detection is heat. This is less complicated if your society subsists entirely on foraged foods and sashimi and wears nothing but leaves and animal skins. But since you say modern technology is available to them, I'm going to presume they indeed want to make use of that knowledge. That will require energy, and generating energy means generating heat.

For the foreseeable future, technologically modern societies require electricity to function. While living in a remote area is a good start for several reasons, even something as small as a campfire isn't guaranteed to escape detection out in the open. Even if you ensure all your heat sources reside indoors to some extent, that heat needs to go somewhere.

Let's consider some possibilities for generating power:

Solar panels are probably not your best bet. Although the technology continues to improve, solar power requires a large amount of space for a relatively small gain. You might be able to come up with some clever ways of camouflaging them from a distance, but in the end, massive arrays of warm, reflective surfaces would be extremely difficult to hide. Maintenance and disposal of broken-down panels is also an issue.

Hydroelectric is much more appealing, in my opinion. Instead of having a massive dam and plant facility, you could construct a system along a waterway that blends completely naturally into the landscape.

Relatedly, recent technology is getting better about not letting byproduct heat go to waste, and one notable usage is in water purification. This isn't limited to hydroelectric systems (e.g., this), but it obviously meshes well with hydroelectric infrastructure.

Nuclear power is also a good candidate. First, it's completely clean. If you do have to replace some spent fuel, it wouldn't be insurmountably difficult to dispose of a lump of radioactive metal in a covert way. Second, nuclear power plants can (and do) use water for coolant. In simplistic terms, reactor coolant is piped around in a loop; it absorbs heat from the nuclear reaction and transfers it away, cooling off as it travels around the pipe before getting back to the reaction, over and over. It's certainly conceivable to construct a large underground network of piping to distribute the heat absorbed by the coolant water in a sneaky way. Such a facility would likely be more difficult engineering feat, however.

Another issue is, of course, food sources. You can certainly grow a lot of food in a small area, even with a complete lack of natural light. This, too, requires a lot of power and generates a lot of heat. But if you're able to hide your power generation facilities and mask the waste heat they put out, you can definitely do it with your food production methods.

Finally, there's the basic matter of "hiding" in itself. A good environment for staying hidden and one that lends itself well to our concerns is a jungle/rainforest biome. Jungles are excellent at hiding things. There are large swaths of unsettled rainforest/jungle across the planet with a) thick, natural cover from foliage; and b) watercourses traveling through rocky, uneven terrain (including caves, rapids, waterfalls, etc.). It's the perfect environment for disguising a technologically advanced society and the trappings it needs to maintain their standard of living.

Underground

A society living deep underground could be very difficult to detect. Again, thermal and electromagnetic energy can be perceptible from great distances and hard to hide. In theory, if most of your infrastructure is underground, it would be easier to mask your presence with the additional cover the ground above you provides, and the basic lack of physical evidence of your existence out in plain view.

But for the most part, a society living mainly underground would in fact have all the same concerns as laid out above, with some additional considerations.

First, the obvious point: humans weren't made to live in subterranean conditions. It's simply an inhospitable environment for us.

Here, again, there's issues related to heat. While temperatures below ground increase the deeper you go, this won't too be much of an issue if you don't plan on living miles and miles below the surface. Suppose your society plans to live in buildings that are still fairly deep -- let's say, a quarter mile/0.4 km below ground. In that case, the temperature would be about 20 °F/11 °C warmer than on the surface. That's a notable increase, but not insuperable.

The biggest problem is simply that humanity lacks the technology to build huge structures extremely deep underground. Material science hasn't progressed far enough for us to construct reliably sturdy buildings to support the immense weight of the rock that would be above them.

How deep is too deep? Well, currently the deepest man-made construction in the world is a research laboratory in China. It's roughly 1.5 miles/2400 meters below ground. Note that this complex was carved out of a mountain; the image on that page shows how initial construction occurred horizontally, which is much easier than vertically. Just something to consider, if you decide to go that route.

Edit: I should have mentioned this in the above paragraph: When considering what might constitute "too deep," I purposefully cited that laboratory rather than the various ultra-deep mines or research boreholes because that laboratory is an actual structure of some size. A robust building like that is the kind of structure you'd envision an entire population living in.

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  • $\begingroup$ mining-technology.com/analysis/… AngloGold Ashanti ’s Mponeng gold - listed as 4km by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deepest_mines $\endgroup$
    – Andy Dent
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyDent Sure, we can dig that deep, but it's extremely difficult to maintain conditions that far down that won't kill you. Maintaining an entire population that deep 24/7 simply isn't feasible with modern technology. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 20:27
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1KM underground

Being deep underground gets you away from the first issue of having a hidden city in the information age, global imaging satellites. Being underground does create a of other issues, some of which are easier to overcome than others.

Temperature and Energy

Although these might seem like two different issues, they go hand in hand. According to this research the temperature range at a depth of 1km is between 30°C and 70°C, in that range you'll need cooling for your citizens to function. Luckily you can use that exact heat to power your cooling and the rest of your city. By using that heat to power your city and dumping it back into the earth you avoid revealing your society through its thermal output and take care of the need to seek out a way to power your city.

Food and Oxygen

The largest issue with feeding your population is that most of Earth's food chain relies on the Sun adding energy to the system, we'll need to substitute in our geothermal energy to replace the solar energy. The "simplest" way to do this is to convert the energy we have into electricity, then convert that electricity into UV light using LEDs. Once we have photosynthesisers working and creating oxygen we basically have a normal earth lifecycle.

Water

We'll need a source of fresh water. If its a fixed amount we'll need to create a water cycle to reuse it. If it is constantly being added to we'll need to find a way of removing it, which leads into the next issue. If its salt water and needs to be deslainated when need to find a way of getting rid of the waste product.

Material

This issue is twofold and probably the largest blocker to our hidden underground city. We lack the ability to simply go and find materials so everything we need must be produced and found by ourselves, additionally we lack the space to dump materials we no longer need. This is where our technology has diverged from what the rest of the world will achieve in the next 50 years, when they're "catching up" to us. Given its abundance and usefulness we will use carbon for many purposes as it is common in the crust and multifunctional. By using it in most applications, from construction, to batteries, to our heat sinks for the geothermal power/cooling we can avert the need for more exotic elements and make use of what we have.

Now the issue of where all these tunnels have come from is a greater one that can be solved in a few ways depending on the needs of your world, different solutions providing different hooks:

Natural cave system

Easiest way to solve the issue, the caves were already there, and the people just moved in. Doesn't seem likely geologically and doesn't resolve the issue of where the waste material goes for expanding the city.

Natural fissure

With an unknowably deep fissure near the city but completely underground we solve the issue of where the material goes. Some digging will have needed to be done at some point to reach it, but once you have anything further can be done completely in secret. This also doesn't seem likely geologically and creates more issues for your self-contained ecosystem and thermal control.

Fixed excavation

By excavating enough space pre information age, and therefore pre satellite imaging, to build your city and room for it to expand, you solve the issue of having to deal with realistic geology but put a fixed limit on how large the city will ever be. With this limit in place, you have to put constraints on your society so that it will never grow beyond these limits.

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    $\begingroup$ you cannot use heat for power. only heat gradients. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ So I imagined you'd use deep pipes for geothermal electricity generation useing the tempriture gradient from where you are in the crust to the tempreture deeper down. Then geothermal cooling much closer to your structure to reduce how hot the area your cooling loop is in. $\endgroup$
    – Verbatiam
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 1:09
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Disguised as (human-sized) nonhuman animals

A human brain may be hard to beat energy-wise: Lindauer's principle limits the efficiency of computers. Biology doesn't have nanotech, it is nanotech. No technology can make atoms any smaller. Thus the human brain may be basically as small as it can be without sacrificing intelligence.

So lets live in the amazon as Jaguars. 50 years after we put human neurons in a mouse brain we can transplant a whole human brain in a Jaguar body (its a bit of a tight squeeze in that skull but much more realistic than insect-size).

Small-tech

A large industrialized factory is so (early) 21st centaury. What does a society need?

  1. Food: Jaguars can do that at Jaguar-level intelligence. High-tech human-brained Jaguars will have no trouble staying fed. Wear hidden AI cameras and the Capybaras are toast.

  2. Safety: It's hard to say how much of the Amazon will remain and what poachers will do. Thankfully, poacher tech is designed to catch Jaguars, not cyborg-enhanced Jaguars with passive radar and other detection methods. Artificial pelts and lab-grown meat are much easier anyway.

  3. Opportunity: 2070 will have such exquisite virtual worlds a society can live a life of computers and tech. For work as well as play: you can design everything virtually with 2050-level physics engines. There is "no" need to build massive infrastructure until all your "take-over-the-world" blueprints are ready.

But my computers? Thankfully, photolithography reached the "well-funded garage" level in 2020, so by 2070 a basic fab can be carried in a backpack. Feedstock materials and spare parts are a problem, but they can be (laboriously) prepared with furnaces and other low-tech methods. It's far less efficient but its enough to barely self-sustain a tech industry. Moores law died around 2025 so being "two decades behind" isn't much of a loss, even with the underclocking and material choice you need to keep the chips alive for ~20 years.

Don't blow your disguise!

Humans in 2070 are aware that mind-downloading to animals is possible but it is rarely done: it is easier to replace organs or even whole bodies. And most who do so aren't in a secret society, they are just oddball people in our society being odd.

Although humans are not eagle-eyed for animals with human brains, they will begin to get suspicious with enough odd behavior, more so those who know how animals are supposed to behave. Humanized Jaguars have a natural quadruped gait, but spacing out into a virtual world is not really a Jaguar thing. Also your paws look strange. Most items are carried inside the mouth or swallowed to look innocent, with larger items assembled like a well-machined jigsaw puzzle at destination. Furnaces and other infrastructure is disguised as a disorganized rock pile (and placed at the base of cliffs where rocks fall into talus piles anyway), etc. However, a close inspection by a human would reveal what it is. So stay safe, stay hidden!

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This might not be a good answer if you are looking for a place geographically on Earth for a country that seeks hidden physical location. This answer is intended for a hidden society/group of people that seeks secret living/gathering spot away from the rest of the world.

Behold the Internet. Yes, the Internet we're using.

There are already a few known secret groups that make a place for meeting online via some secret accessing methods that only known to the members of the group. Some of the used channels are the Dark web/Deep web that when used with a browser that makes the user anonymous such as Tor plus some proxies can make the action difficult to track. An example of this kind of group is Anonymous.

The group can have its own hierarchy system, currency system, and any other systems that can be processed online. Recruiting process will have many options ranging from private invitation or public registration (for those who can find a way to access this secret group in the first place). The group can have its own currency for trading online using Blockchain technology much like Bitcoin but created by themselves and only known and used by the group members. Some assets can be minted and purchased/sold online much like NFT. The transactions (with customized algorithm focus only on anonymity) will be untracable. Group members can virtually meet each other or even arrange a large meeting online much like how we do online meetings nowadays. There are plenty options ranging from a customized software for virtual anonymous meeting something it like Zoom (but anonymous) or with Virtual Reality, like VRChat, to just secret group chats like Telegram or internal email system. People can join and leave the group anytime since the condition to join and access the group can be customized to keep changing (depending on how secret and difficult you want in order for the new people to join in).

Now that the secret place is established. The hard part is how to make it unknown to the world. People come and go, and they bring the secrets with them. We can assume that someone will eventually share the group's information to the outside world; so, how to keep this group unknown even the group named Anonymous is still known by the world? Well, this is not that difficult if what the group does is not going to affect the outside world. Therefore, no one will notice or even care about what other people's doing because it does not affect them in any way. To think that we only know some groups from the Dark/Deep web. Chances are there are still some groups that have been established for a long time and still until now have not been known to the outside world. If that is the goal of your question then it should be acceptable.

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Are 'they' in contact with 'us'(but not reverse)? If answer is 'yes'?, this opens a lot of options like taking partial control of one of existing countries.

So.. they just live in Sibiria and use they tech to infiltrate Moscow leadership , provide some services to them and get official cover. Are you really sure that remote military base or that remote settlements in Sibiria are NOT theirs? Your spies will be killed if they go near (official explanation will be 'don't go near secret installations'). Russian leadership changes? Not a problem. They also need our services.

So...they just leave under one of mountains in USA(gone here in XIX/XX centuries after it become clear they couldn't hide in plain view anymore..their traditions are too strange) but they do provide some services to RICH people, including politicians. Illegal (per our current laws but not theirs). Like..training ponygirls from kindap victims :). Those services helps them escape too much attention.

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Through a Portal

Modern technology requires a modern population. You can't make smartphones, satellites, etc. unless you have a consumer base in the 10s of millions to spread out the cost it takes to make the factories and supply chains you need. You also can't make many modern marvels without taking resources from all over the world and bringing them together into one spot to put them all together.

In other words, you can not hide a modern society in one place. It MUST be big, and it must be in contact with a significant portion of the world to function at all. There is nowhere on, or inside the Earth a civilization this size could hope to stay both hidden and out of contact with the modern world which leads to the conclusion that it cannot actually exist "on" or "in" this world.

That said, you don't really need to hide this civilization on THIS world, all you need to do is hide the way there. If you were to place some manner of hidden portal to another world, then what lies on the other side could be just as sprawling as we are here, and you'd never detect it with any seismographs, satellites, etc. because there is nothing on this world to detect. This portal could be a Star Portal to another planet, Interdimensional Portal to a parallel version of Earth, a Time Portal to the distant past or future, or even some sort of Hell Gate/Hedge/Looking Glass thing into some magical other place that is nothing like our own reality.

What ever the nature of this portal is does not matter. What matters is that this Portal is the one and only one way between here and there, because a single Portal could be hidden in any number of places that man rarely ventures.

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