Planet A has alien species A. A, before becoming spaceborn stumbles upon several factors and pieces of technology from another (long dead) alien species B.

A attempts to reverse engineer B's technology but finds it so fundamentally alien that all efforts to discover any meaningful advances from it fail spectacularly. They can, however, use the technology directly, and use the factories to repair and reproduce the (unchanging) technology. It's also reasonable that they could produce their own look-alike but more primitive technology given enough time.

The government in power over species A doesn't want this weakness to be known to its citizens, but does wish to exploit species B's technology.

Later, as they take to the stars, they run into other alien species which they eventually form a trade network with. They only assume that they will have to face spies (or other intelligence gathering techniques) attempting to steal their technology.

How would the government of species A manage to hide the fact that they don't actually know how their technology works from both their own citizens, and later the galactic community?

I'd rather not resort to religion or superstition, and nothing like magic or deities exist in this setting, but I'm perfectly willing to have the government heavily organize their culture over the decades/centuries.


The end idea is to have the alien society as a militarily weak power that uses threat of incredible retaliation to ward off warlords and tyrants. They pull this off by regularly showcasing extremely advanced technology, and nobody able to crack how it works. Unfortunately, they can't crack it either, and desperately need to keep this a secret, as technology you can't easily repurpose to intended ends has limited uses.

I haven't decided at all what this technology would be but it should be readily and constantly apparent to anyone who trades with them or visits their planet, quite possibly a host of different bits of technology, if it be chemical engineering, computational devices, hovercraft, or whatever else.

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    $\begingroup$ Your premise doesn't make sense. To make something, you need to understand it. Especially if it is high-level technology. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Jul 22, 2016 at 6:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Euphoric They seem to be using automated tools that make stuff, and you certainly don't know how stuff works to use them. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2016 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Ha, I know this question feels like its answered already, but I can't withstand the mental picture of a community of space-traveling species which all doesn't know how their stuff work, while trying to keep this a secret from each other and - at the same time - spying the hell out of each other because they hope to find out how the others manufacture their work.... $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2016 at 12:00

5 Answers 5


Create a guild-like organization that "oversees" the technology, with tiered ranks.

From the outsider perspective, one has to join the guild as a lowly apprentice, then work one's ways up through the ranks, gaining more and more "secret insights" as one advances. Only the highest members - much revered for their knowledge - actually learn the "fun stuff."

The catch is that the most closely guarded secret - known only to those at the very top of the organization - is that nobody knows how anything works, because it came from aliens. By the time you get that far up in the organization, you're probably brainwashed by - er... loyal to - the organization and won't reveal that secret to outsiders.

I'm picturing an organization somewhat loosely based (how loose depends on your world/story needs) on (more fictionalized accounts of) Freemasons: the public knows the society exists and knows it has ranks, but only those within the organization know "the secrets" - and even then, the higher ranks know more than the lower ranks.


Secrets are hard to keep. If there was such a thing as a secret kept indefinitely, we certainly wouldn't know about it.

You can take steps to protect the secret. You can get pretty extreme with it.

Just your average secret. Classify all documents and only employ people you can trust. Don't let unauthorized people wander around. Deny any allegations. People involved in the secret may only know about parts of the secret that is relevant to their job, and only if you can trust them with it. Of course there's a secret, but you can't reveal it for national security purposes. Any data storage device is ready to be destroyed. Whatever you lose in the process if you pull the plug, you can live without. The cover stories are ready. It should be just enough until the next elections, and after that it won't be your problem anymore.

Risk management. Everybody is monitored. You'll know if information leaks, and you'll monitor who it was leaked to. Some people may have some pieces of a big puzzle, and it's fine. As long as they don't have enough good pieces, it doesn't matter. If someone gets a bit too close, you can disrupt their life. Send a homewrecker in, flag them as clinically insane, there are endless ways you can give them something else to think about, or make sure nobody will ever believe them.

What secret? A worker gets home one day and wonder how they got there. They got paid for a job, but don't remember what it was. Nobody does. You have the technology to wipe their memory clean. Maybe you do it everyday when they leave work, or once their contract is up. After all, you can't reveal what you don't remember. Though you have to wonder, what was it you did yesterday?

No loose ends. Men in black will take care of any leak. They'll arrest, detain, torture and/or kill anybody they are ordered to, without question. They'll do it to random strangers, they'll do it to friends, they'll to it to themselves. They'll do it to you, even if you can't remember what they don't want you to know. And if they have to kill everybody that asks questions about your mysterious disappearance, they'll do it too.

There never was a secret. Anybody associated with the project is expandable. Every piece of equipment can be destroyed. Every file can be burned and their ashes shredded. And then you'll destroy the project itself. Nobody will ever find a trace of a secret technology cache or an alien factory. There will be no trace of it because it won't exist anymore. There's no factory left. There's no secret left. Without evidence, there never was any secret.

It's up to you to decide how far you are ready, and able, to go; and whose lives are less important than the secret.


Perhaps the thing is an energy source. If we had a device that produced energy from hyperspace or whatever, even with our current level we could not understand it. It’s also very enabling as it makes inefficient things practical and most everything possible.

How to keep a secret will depend greatly on the government and society. What if they have secetive guilds rather than open scientific process? Or strict casts where only a few can get an education and study STEM. A totalitarian government would work hand in hand with such a society.

This need not be unfair and oppreseive as such things are for us. The alien species might have developed from a social hive having biological casts! That also might explain why they never figured it out, as only a minor segment of the population hatched into thinkers, as planned by the central organization. Too much planning for the society prevents innovation although it has been highly successful at a moderate level of technical growth.

Even if other species they meet don’t have the same limits, it will be difficult to spy on them! A member of a different species can’t pass as a native to get a job in the school or lab; and eing biologically distinct they could not recruit a member of a mundane cast to pass as a geek. I suppose that leaves the possibility of a geek being a dissident, but maybe the individuls don’t completely think for themselves—as a member of a loose collective the society is as much a part of his mind as the individual brain is.

That suggests that in general a spy could get information out of an insider or covertly monitor activities and conversation where they work. So you need an alien society/government that can combat those specific threats.


If the technology from species B is used for spaceflight, it probably involves fairly high energy. Classify everything as top secret and tell your citizens that it is dangerous. If your own citizens are out of it, surely alien agents will be banned, too. But it might stretch the credulity of the aliens that your own technical specialists are not cleared for the details.

  • You are running a long-term deception operation (see this study). What are your goals? Secrecy or sufficient ambiguity?
  • Consider the history of the torpedo in the 19th century. The inventor of "the secret" of depth control licensed his invention to several countries and insisted on elaborate safeguards to prevent unauthoritzed copies.
  • On the other hand, a nuclear submarine will have several engineering officers who understand exactly how the reactor works.

Invent a distinctive pattern how officials from species A deal with secrets. It could be something like the iconic "neither confirm or deny" regarding US nuclear weapons on a specific Navy ship. Apply that pattern to a bunch of tech-related secrets, and also to the alien tech. Then leak details for one of the other technologies and have that become notorious on the public record.


Simply classify it top-secret, with the understanding that the few scientists who create and modify the technology have protected identities and work at a secret high-tech installation somewhere. In reality neither they, nor the installation, exists. Those producing and using the technology will simply have the details classified "above their pay-grade."

Potential spies will spend all their time trying to locate this secret research facility - which doesn't exist - and will accept the fact that no-one knows anything about the technology as a result of it being classified above them, and they are not involved in the development of the tech.


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