And even if you had...
Do you hear anything? Is it...too quiet?
Several years ago, I enjoyed a comic book series you probably never heard of called Whisper. She was a ninja. More accurately, in her world, she was the ninja. By that, I don't mean she was the most bad-ass ninja. She was the only ninja in the world.
You see, in the history of Whisper's world, the adult Alexis Devin put on a ninja costume to investigate the death of her adoptive father. She learned that he had been not only a businessman, but a ninja in the employ of the Yakuza. Ultimately, the organization's head explained to her that ninjas were a myth, fabricated centuries ago to use the idea of them as a deterrent of fear. Alexis' father had been so enamored of the legend that he had trained to become a ninja, not realizing he was making himself into the only one to actually exist. After his murder, by using the training he had given her, Alexis had also unwittingly taken on the mantle and power of a weapon designed for intimidation. Embracing the idea, she was able to exploit the fear that ninjas inspired against criminals and government agents alike.
Did you know that the United States has over a dozen different members of the alphabet soup club that report to the DNI (Director of National Intelligence) operating under immense secret budgets? Espionage is a big deal. Governments and their militaries have long-relied upon the power of gathering hidden information with invisible eyes. Properly utilized, spies can change the course of a war or make war unnecessary, a single agent accomplishing what ten thousand soldiers might not. It was the serendipitous arrest of British spy John Andre that helped reveal the betrayal of Benedict Arnold and save West Point from being handed to the British. Yeah, that catch was all luck, despite the American military having its own intelligence network. Nowadays, they seem to be working overtime to know...pretty much everything, it seems.
In fiction, we have all manner of intelligence options showing up. We have Bond and Bourne, the IMF, SHIELD, Task Force X (the Suicide Squad), and Checkmate. Star Trek alone has produced the Romulan Tal'shiar, Kardassia's Obsidian Order, and the Federation's Section 31 (which they'll be quick to disavow even exists). Covert manipulation and intelligence gathering is so important a part of governmental and military events that I've had to make sure they were represented in my own world building. In the Theobroma books, the world of Tarakk plays host to the secret activities of the Scales of Justice and smoke agents, the operatives of both being magic-savvy, metamorphing dragons; the infiltrations and espionage of Clan Isharien, rumored to be ruthless practitioners of martial arts and magic; the various government Ministries that vie to influence the Republic of Zadiasam and the lives of its people; and the aloof warlords whose mastery of nanotech and space folding have given them reputations of limitless reach and knowledge.
Conflicts between secret players with access to huge resources can have far-reaching consequences, limited only by the imaginations and ambitions of those pulling the strings from the shadows. Who will determine the outcomes of the wars we see unfolding on the nightly news? Probably the same people who put the figureheads at the forefront of their governments and factions. That is to say, no one most of us have probably heard of. That's just the way they like it. Out of the public eye, the power behind a throne acts freely.