Section 31 is the subject of the new Star Trek film for Paramount+, starring best actress winner Michelle Yeoh. She’ll reprise her Star Trek: Discovery role of former Empress Philippa Georgiou. In Star Trek’s Mirror Universe, she once ruled an empire with an iron fist. Now exiled to the main “Prime” reality, she found a new home in Starfleet’s secret arm of their intelligence apparatus, known as Section 31. But who and what exactly is Section 31, and how long has it been a part of Trek lore? Although we first heard about them in Deep Space Nine, in the Trek timeline, they’ve been around since the very founding of Starfleet.
Starfleet’s Biggest Secret, Exposed on Deep Space Nine
Section 31 made its first appearance in the Deep Space Nine sixth season episode “Inquisition.” In that 1998 episode, a mysterious man named Luther Sloan (William Sadler) who claimed he was from Starfleet Internal Affairs tried to recruit Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig). Eventually, Sloan revealed to Bashir that he’s part of Section 31, a secret autonomous intelligence agency that works within the shadows of Starfleet. An organization with no supervision, and no problem doing things that were against Federation principles. The name came from Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter, which allowed for “extraordinary measures to be taken in times of extreme threat.”
Dr. Bashir felt Section 31 went against the very principles they founded the Federation on, and refused to join. His commanding officer, Captain Benjamin Sisko, told him if Section 31 tried to recruit him again, to take them up on the offer. If only so he could function as a double agent, as to learn more about them. The next time Sloan appeared, Bashir accepted his offer, and went on a mission for him. One where he was manipulated and used to further Federation goals during the Dominion War of 2374-2375. The excuse for something like Section 31 among Starfleet higher-ups who knew of them was that Starfleet needed an equivalent as ruthless as the Romulan and Cardassian spy organizations.
Section 31’s Most Shameful Moment
Eventually, Bashir learned of Section 31’s most heinous plot. They created a morphogenetic virus that spread to the Dominion’s Founders, the Changelings, all in an effort to wipe out their entire race. Although Bashir discovered a cure, the virus proved that Section 31 was willing to commit genocide to preserve the Federation. This fact would come back to haunt them in Star Trek: Picard season three. In this most recent season, we learned that torturous experiments on captured Changelings by Section 31 resulted in a new offshoot species, one hellbent on revenge. They made no distinction between Starfleet and the organization Starfleet knew existed, yet turned the other way when they did something abhorrent.
Section 31 in the 22nd and 23rd Centuries
The next few times we saw Section 31 were in Enterprise and Discovery, both prequel series taking place over a century before the events of DS9. In Enterprise, we learned how Section 31 recruited NX-01 Officer Malcolm Reed in its earliest days, circa 2154. On Star Trek Discovery, which takes place a century after Enterprise, Section 31 played a big role too. The organization had its own fleet of Starships, and seemed to operate officially with some supervision from Starfleet intelligence. That seemed to contradict what we knew about them from both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise.
Eventually, there was an attempt by Control, a dangerous sentient A.I., to take over Section 31. Although the combined efforts of the starships Discovery and Enterprise stopped Control from executing its plans, Captain Pike blamed the entire fiasco on Section 31. It was during this time that Empress Philippa Georgiou joined Section 31. Coming from an “evil” universe, she had no problem doing morally murky things for the Federation. Starfleet Command promised to reform Section 31 into an agency with much more transparency going forward. Again, this does not mesh with what we know about Section 31 a century later in the DS9 era, when they are once again a secret organization.
Section 31 in Lower Decks and Picard
In the post-Dominion War era, our first mention of Section 31 was in the animated series Lower Decks. The character of William Boimler was actually recruited into Section 31. And by his time, they seemed to be common knowledge. If even someone on the U.S.S. Cerritos, the least important ship in Starfleet, knew about Section 31, then it’s not really a secret anymore. Decades later, in Star Trek: Picard, Daystrom Station is an off-the-books Black Site, where Captain Riker said Section 31 stored their most secretive projects. This just proves once more that by 2401, just about everyone knew about this once ultra-secret organization.
Section 31 in the Kelvin Timeline
We never heard about Section 31 in the era of Kirk and Spock. Obviously, because they hadn’t been conceived of yet. However, they played a big part in the lives of their alt-timeline counterparts in the film Star Trek Into Darkness. In that universe, Section 31 was under the command of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller). This version of Section 31 had its own massive operation, and a giant starship called the Vengeance.
It was this version of Section 31 that awakened Khan Noonien Singh from his lost 20th-century sleeper ship. Once awakened, they tried to harness his genetically advanced mind for tactical advantages against their enemies. Unfortunately, Khan proved too much to handle for Section 31, and he helped bring the organization down. Because of this, it seems Section 31 became common knowledge a century before it ever was in the Prime Universe.
The Future of Section 31
The new Star Trek: Section 31 movie starring Michelle Yeoh might fill in some of the gaps and explain some of the inconsistencies we’ve seen regarding this organization. How did they go to open secret in the 23rd century, only to go back to something only a select few knew about a century year later? Certainly, a movie that is all about the evolution of Section 31 would help to explain many things about the supposedly Utopian Federation. After all, this shady group does the things no one wants to talk about that help preserve this perfect galactic union. There’s definitely an epic movie in that story.