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Star Trek's Section 31: Facts To Prepare You For The Michelle Yeoh Movie

It seems like there is a major new "Star Trek" announcement every week these days, with the news of the renewal of "Strange New Worlds" and "Lower Decks" and the new spin-off series "Starfleet Academy" all dropping within days of each other. Just a few weeks after those reports, word came down that "Everything Everywhere All at Once" star and Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh would be starring in a new "Star Trek" streaming movie, "Section 31." The film will reintroduce the former Emperor Philippa Georgiou as an agent of the secretive Starfleet intelligence agency called Section 31.

Developed to show the seedier side of "Star Trek," Section 31 is a rogue spy organization whose sole purpose is to safeguard the Federation — at any cost. They've appeared in multiple series in the franchise as well as the movies, and they've fascinated fans and critics for how their controversial nature casts doubt on the world of "Star Trek" as a perfect, ideal future for humanity. But if you aren't familiar with them, now is your chance to learn. With a new movie on the horizon, there's no better time to expose their deepest secrets. So follow us into a world of shadow conspiracies and hidden agendas as we open up the secret files of Section 31.

1. Section 31 were created on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Star Trek: Discovery" was accused of being too grim among some "Star Trek" fans, and prior to that "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" faced similar accusations when it debuted in 1993. With a decidedly different tone to "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the stories in "Deep Space Nine" were darker, filled with morally gray heroes and villains, and often explored the murkier side of the "Star Trek" universe. It was in the Season 6 episode "Inquisition" that we were first introduced to the shadowy Starfleet intelligence agency known as Section 31.

Previously unmentioned across some 30 years of "Star Trek" lore, Section 31 is revealed as a clandestine organization whose ruthless methods include kidnapping, assassination, and other dubious tactics that are of the kind more commonly associated with Starfleet's enemies. Even the characters on the show — including Captain Sisko — are shocked to learn about Section 31, as it's made clear that only the highest-ranking members of Starfleet even know of their existence.

Run by a mysterious figure named Luther Sloan, Section 31 returned in two more episodes of "Deep Space Nine," including the conspiracy thriller "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," where Sloan recruits Dr. Bashir in an apparent attempt to assassinate the head of the Romulan Tal Shiar. Though we'd learn very little about Section 31 during this show's run, it remained one of the most compelling additions to "Star Trek" canon and has become a fascination of writers in later series.

2. They existed before the Federation

While "Deep Space Nine" didn't delve too deeply into the history of Section 31, Sloan did mention that they had existed even before the founding of the United Federation of Planets. Created as an autonomous department within Starfleet to handle the most dangerous threats, Section 31 operates outside of the chain of command, and requires no approval for its operations. This disturbing revelation has led to them being compared to other nefarious intelligence organizations in "Star Trek" like the Cardassian Obsidian Order or the Romulan Tal Shiar.

A few years after "Deep Space Nine" drew to a close, Section 31 popped up again in "Star Trek: Enterprise" — the prequel spin-off series set before the Federation existed. Though the series didn't put as much focus on them, we do get some interesting insight into their history — specifically that their name is derived from the original Starfleet charter where they were created under Article 14, Section 31.

During the events of "Enterprise," we learn that the ship's gutsy weapons officer Malcolm Reed has been an agent of Section 31 for years, recruited for covert missions as a young ensign. Now, Reed is asked to leverage his position on the NX-01 to sabotage a mission to aid in one of the department's latest secret operations.

3. Section 31 played a major role in shaping Klingon history

In the original "Star Trek" series, the Klingons were depicted as ordinary humans with slick mustaches and silver and gold tunics. It wasn't until the first film — "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" — that Klingons received their iconic forehead ridges, and it was "The Next Generation" that developed them into an honor-bound warrior race. For decades, however, there was never any explanation given as to their sudden change in appearance, with most fans willing to chalk it up to a change in make-up afforded by a bigger budget. That all changed with the "Star Trek: Enterprise" episode titled "Divergence" — which saw the Klingons undergo a physical metamorphosis — and Section 31 played a key role in making it happen.

A two-part story that kicks off with the abduction of Dr. Phlox from Earth, "Divergence" centers on the Klingon effort to replicate the super soldier science that led to the creation of Augment leader Khan Noonien Singh. But it's soon discovered that Section 31 was behind Phlox's kidnapping: They'd made a secret deal with the Klingons to help cure the Augment virus that was inflicting their people. While Phlox was able to find a cure, the side effect was the erasure of Klingons' identifiable forehead ridges, explaining why they appeared the way they did in the original "Star Trek" series.

4. Section 31 returned thanks to Bryan Fuller

In 2005, the end of "Star Trek: Enterprise" closed the curtain on the franchise on the small screen for more than a decade. The next series, "Star Trek: Discovery," debuted on the streaming service now known as Paramount+, and to some fans' surprise, it once again featured the black ops Starfleet division known as Section 31. 

First appearing in the background, fans were puzzled by some officers aboard the U.S.S. Discovery wearing solid black Starfleet badges, which were later revealed to denote Section 31 operatives. This was a major change from previous appearances, where the organization was deep underground and known only to a select few. But it appears by the era of "Discovery" that the agency was no longer quite so secret, although they remained relatively elusive and mysterious. While it wouldn't be until Season 2 that Section 31 began to play a bigger role in the story, it was the series creator Bryan Fuller who made the decision to bring them back into the fold.

Fuller — who'd become the showrunner of the series in 2016 — was eventually ousted before the show reached the air. But when first announced, Fuller mentioned that Section 31 would be "some marble through the meat of our season," suggesting that there were big plans for the rogue intelligence agency, even if they didn't pan out until Season 2 (per Variety).

5. They wanted to use time travel as a weapon

Season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery" brought Section 31 to the forefront, with the organization coming into prominence after the end of the Klingon War. As revealed that season, Section 31 had been engaged in a temporal arms race with the Klingons — who they knew were experimenting with time travel. Determined to beat them to the punch, Section 31 created Project Daedalus, a research project that resulted in the creation of a special exo-suit that was capable of traveling through time. 

The final suit was created by a husband and wife team of Section 31 researchers, Mike and Gabrielle Burnham. But just as the project began to see results, Klingons were able to locate the Burnhams and eliminate them, ending progress on the time travel initiatives of Section 31 and leaving their daughter an orphan. Years later, however, a series of red bursts that appeared across the galaxy coincided with the arrival of a mysterious being known as the Red Angel. This being turned out to be Gabrielle Burnham, who'd escaped the Klingon attack by using the Project Daedalus suit to travel through time. Ultimately the suit was sent more than 900 years into the future to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

6. Their artificial intelligence projects almost wiped out all life

In Season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery" we learned that — in the 23rd century at least — Section 31 operated more openly than in other eras. They even had their own ships and a starbase headquarters at a converted penal colony — which also served as the home of the advanced artificial intelligence known as Control. This powerful A.I. was responsible for much of Section 31's decision-making, providing recommendations for operational tactics and even advising on new recruits.

Unfortunately, Control gained a measure of self-awareness, and suddenly found itself with its own chilling goal: To wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy. With its power over Section 31, it had the means to orchestrate an elaborate plot to acquire data collected over untold millennia by a strange alien sphere, which was key to completing its objective. Eventually, Control became corrupted and attempted to take biological control of Section 31 operative Leland to acquire the sphere data. It then used its control of Section 31 to turn on the USS Discovery and the USS Enterprise. Though Control was eventually neutralized, the USS Discovery was forced to take the sphere data nearly 1000 years into the future to prevent the artificial intelligence from ever resurrecting.

7. They recruit the best and the brightest

Section 31 isn't the kind of intelligence agency that anyone can apply to join. As a mostly secretive, underground organization, new operatives are recruited by Section 31 directly and enlisted into the service based on their special skills or abilities. To make sure Section 31 only employs the best of the best, they typically target the most brilliant tacticians, as well as those with the stomach for crossing ethical lines. Their leadership has also been known to include a diverse array of Federation species, and in the 23rd century that included Vulcans, Humans, Andorians, and Tellarites.

The first time we met Section 31 was when they attempted to recruit Dr. Julian Bashir — who they valued for his genetically engineered mind. In Season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery," however, Section 31 set its sights on a pair of even more unique individuals.

Introduced in Season 1 of "Star Trek: Discovery" was a twisted, despotic tyrant from the Mirror Universe, Philippa Georgiou (played by Michelle Yeoh). An analytical genius and ruthless military tactician, Georgiou was quickly identified as an ideal candidate for their organization. She was recruited alongside Ash Tyler — a Starfleet officer who had been an undercover Klingon agent but had chosen to remain human. Though Georgiou would leave with Discovery for the 33rd century, it sounds like she'll find her way back to the organization in time to lead the Section 31 movie.

8. They were on the front lines of the Dominion War

While Section 31 doesn't have an army of soldiers at their command, their work played a key role in the Dominion War that played out in the latter half of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Under the leadership of Luther Sloan, Section 31 used the war as an opportunity to gain intelligence on the Romulans — who were temporarily allied with the Federation and the Klingons — knowing that they could well be the next combatants that Starfleet would face. 

However, intelligence gathering wasn't the only action Section 31 took during the conflict with the Dominion, and they played a much more active role than anyone expected in the war effort. But their operation to fight back against the Dominion wasn't without controversy or consequences. As revealed in the "Deep Space Nine" episode "Dogs of War," it was Section 31 that created the fatal disease that had infected the changeling Odo, and who passed it on to the Founders of the Dominion in an attempt to destroy their entire race.

In the end, Dr. Bashir was able to successfully capture Sloan and get the cure to prevent their genocidal gambit, but it was only Odo who forced Starfleet to give his people the cure. Decades later, the plot wasn't forgotten when a splinter group of changelings sought revenge on the Federation in "Star Trek: Picard."

9. Section 31 exists in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek universe

By 2009, "Star Trek" had been off the air for several years when blockbuster director J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with an all-new cast, spawning its own series of films set in an entirely different universe than the previous 40-plus years of stories. And in the sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness," Abrams proved that Section 31 was too good an idea to keep limited to the small screen and featured the covert intelligence agency at the center of his plot.

In the film, the genetically engineered Augment named Khan Noonian Singh is revived from cryo-sleep by Section 31. Like their Prime Universe counterpart, this version of the organization sought new recruits and felt Khan's genetically enhanced mind would make the perfect asset for their organization. Their leader, Starfleet Admiral Marcus, wanted him to help defend the Federation in the wake of the destruction of Romulus and a looming war with the Klingons. Giving him the identity of "John Harrison," Section 31 tasked Khan with developing new, more powerful weapons for Starfleet, blackmailing him with the threat of killing his fellow Augments who were still in stasis.

Unfortunately, Marcus underestimated Khan — who ultimately betrayed them — and when Marcus seemingly killed Khan's Augment brothers, it set the villain on a vengeful path of destruction. In Marcus' attempt to cover up his scheme gone wrong, he nearly ignited the war with the Klingons that he had sought to avoid and was ultimately defeated by Kirk and the Enterprise.

10. Some thought Section 31 was a rip-off

The idea of a shadowy secret intelligence agency is nothing new, as pretty much every major fictional universe has its own spy network — from Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. to Torchwood on "Doctor Who." But in the early '90s, some fans felt that Section 31 was another attempt by "Deep Space Nine" to steal from fellow sci-fi series, "Babylon 5." 

First airing in 1993, "Babylon 5" shared a lot in common with "Deep Space Nine" — which was released at the same time. Both were set on a fictional space station commanded by a military leader who is also a quasi-religious figure, and both chronicled a long, drawn-out war with an implacable foe. So similar were the two shows, in fact, that the "Babylon 5" creator, J. Michael Straczynski, has often suggested that "Star Trek" studio Paramount stole his premise – supported by the fact that he had pitched them his show years before. 

With the debate brewing over whether "Deep Space Nine" had ripped off Straczynski's series, fans watching both shows raised an eyebrow when Section 31 was first introduced in 1998. "Babylon 5" had an eerily similar concept in their series — a secret organization called Bureau 13. Of course, there's no direct evidence to suggest that the writers plagiarized the idea. It's more likely that the creation of Section 31 was a result of parallel thought, as conspiracy-laden thrillers were wildly popular in the late '90s thanks to shows like "The X-Files" and "Dark Skies."

11. Section 31 was sparked by a single line

Section 31 was the product of "Deep Space Nine," the series that most often explored the darker side of the "Star Trek" universe. It was the brainchild of series showrunner and executive producer Ira Steven Behr, and it was an idea that came to him thanks to a single line of dialogue in a Season 2 episode titled "The Maquis." 

An episode that introduced a morally dubious faction of the Federation, "The Maquis" saw Sisko and the crew battling fellow members of Starfleet. Often quoted for its stinging critique of Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of the future, one famous line has Sisko blaming the problems they're facing on Earth — a veritable utopia –saying, "It's easy to be a saint in paradise." This led Behr to wonder, "Why is Earth a paradise in the 24th century? Well, maybe it's because there's someone watching over it and doing the nasty stuff that no one wants to think about" (via Digital Spy).

And Behr wasn't alone, with series writer Ron Moore — who later oversaw the rebooted "Battlestar Galactica" — echoing that sentiment. "Utopia is an ideal, it's not achievable," he told Gizmodo. "There's an idea of humans striving towards perfection and never quite able to achieve it, and Section 31 is emblematic of that."

12. Section 31 hasn't always been popular with fans

Despite its popularity with writers, Section 31 wasn't always popular with fans or creators on the show that spawned it. Writer David Weddle talked about how the introduction of the concept proved divisive from the start. 

"There were many that were screaming for our heads over that show, [saying] that it betrayed everything that 'Star Trek' stands for and the value system that Gene Roddenberry promoted," he explained in a chat with Cinefantastique Magazine from 1998. "Others said that of course, the Federation would have to have an organization like this. Fans would get into these long ethical and political arguments, really struggling with issues like that."

Today, Trekkies continue to debate the merits of Section 31, with some decrying more recent additions to their mythology. While many dislike developments seen on "Star Trek: Discovery" — insisting that the organization was better portrayed in "Deep Space Nine" — there are others who dislike them entirely. "Section 31 is the worst thing about 'Deep Space Nine' in my opinion. It is antithetical to Trek, the ideals of the show, and I didn't like any of the stories," said one Reddit user in 2016. With a new movie announced for 2024 focusing entirely on Section 31, fans who aren't so fond of them may just have to get used to them as it seems they're here to stay.

13. The Section 31 movie was Michelle Yeoh's idea

When Michelle Yeoh joined "Star Trek: Discovery" it was still a major coup for the franchise, as she'd been an international superstar for decades. She began the series playing Philippa Georgiou, captain of the USS Shenzhou, before transitioning into her evil, Mirror Universe counterpart who would eventually join Section 31. And according to the actor, she relished every minute of playing the ham-fisted villain.

"Can you imagine having a role like that to play? It was like the most delicious meal ... Oh, yeah, I was having a great time," she told IndieWire in 2018. As a result, Yeoh petitioned to get her own spin-off before the series even began airing, according to producer Alex Kurtzman. "Michelle came to me and said let's do a spinoff of this character," he said. "Except the series hadn't aired yet. So really, no one knew what it was going to be and no one knew if it was going to be successful, so the moment it became successful we started that conversation."

Though it's faced repeated delays due to Yeoh's busy schedule and the studio's massive slate of other "Star Trek" projects, it would seem her Academy Award win just months earlier may have finally sealed the deal.