Okay recently I wrote about how in the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe they throw around this “level seven” crap a lot and i been losing sleep over it. I’m losing sleep over it again cuz I should go to bed right now instead of write about this. I mean really, this is silly. In a couple months the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is gonna broadcast on ABC affiliates and I’m sure it’ll all be explained in a way that will make my piss poor attempt below look like a bag of piss. Still I been reading up a bit on how various writers played with the SHIELD hierarchy since the heady days of Lee and Kirby, and I think I can kinda describe how at least I think the TV series is gonna make this work.
LEVEL ZERO: This would describe most anyone who has no idea what SHIELD is, or that it even exists. This isn’t an official clearance level, but might be how some employees of SHIELD look at the people they allegedly serve and protect. This “clearance level” is for anyone that doesn’t work for SHIELD, has never been formally introduced to SHIELD, but how can anyone avoid seeing all of SHIELD’s logos on everything in Manhattan? For an allegedly secret organization, they got a strange way of being inconspicuous. Especially in the Avengers movie.
“what’s that symbol thing all over the place on cars and briefcases of people in dark suits wearing sunglasses who don’t talk much unless they’re bossing us around?” to which his friend says, “I dunno. Who cares?”
LEVEL ONE: “It means SHIELD which is some government organization separate from FBI or CIA any other crap.” General Populous is assumed to be Level One. Some recruits are maybe told they are level one clearance, but it’d be a hazing thing higher level agents do to one another. Ooh. We think you’re so important we gave you first level clearance! That’s top of the line! “oh really?” not really but you’re a freshman and we’re about to stick jello down your shorts.
Although this is not a formal clearance level, there might be times when a common civilian is treated by SHIELD operatives in a special way. Let’s say there’s a guy who has befriended an enemy of SHIELD that’s in hiding. She’s a spy of an opposing organization that’s been hiding from SHIELD out in the open as a sleeper agent, pretending to be a tenant in an apartment building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but she’s just biding her time waiting for orders from her superiors. This guy runs into her in a local bar one night and strikes up conversation. She doesn’t want to blow her cover so she has to be nice to him. Maybe she’s been instructed to blend in with the local color. He takes a shining to her and they start dating. Suddenly, this kid becomes very interesting to SHIELD and they find out that while not a boyscout he does have some “retail level” martial arts training, and he’s a college kid who shows promise in a field of expertise that SHIELD would be interested in encouraging. While not a Rhodes scholar, he’s got potential. Maybe a SHIELD agent would be assigned to shadow this guy, perhaps get a job at the bar he frequents and maybe befriend him. See if they can use this kid to get more information about his girlfriend the possible sleeper agent for THE HAND or whatever. In the scenario described here, the boyfriend might be referred to informally by SHIELD agents as a “Level One Operative.” Particularly if they’re able to bring him on board. Maybe put a wire on him and have him brief them on anything strange his girlfriend is up to.
LEVEL TWO: Most anyone who finds themselves on the payroll of SHIELD would have at least Level Two clearance. If for example the boyfriend in the previous scenario didn’t die, actually followed orders without too many questions, and managed to not cause any other agents to die, he might be brought on board SHIELD on a probationary basis. This would be the first formal clearance level. The key here is a steady paycheck. This isn’t a glamorous gig though. We’re talking mostly spit polish and gophers. That sort of thing. Busy work that needs to get done but the higher level players are too busy to do it. Keep the head clean. Make sure the galley is stocked. Check the fluids on all the cars in the garage.
Anyone from sanitation workers to technicians in particular fields of expertise. If a person has talents and skills that SHIELD needs, but the higher level agents wouldn’t trust the person with more than their car keys, level two is the default. It means the person knows in general what SHIELD is and their goals and mission statements, but not the nitty gritty inner workings and little to no actual secrets. Some of them might know very intimate details about a particular facility, if that knowledge was needed to get daily work done, but they wouldn’t know much more than what they have to know to do their job, and they’d be strongly encouraged to not be too curious about other people’s jobs. And you DON’T converse with anyone of higher level clearance. Even small talk would be discouraged.
Ironically these guys aren’t as expendable as some higher levels of agents. You need the guy who supplies everyone with bullets more than you need some of the guys firing the bullets. So if a higher level agent needs a chopper equipped with a list of junk ready on the helipad by six hundred hours, including his favorite beverage in a thermos and a pack of smokes in the glove compartment, these are the guys probably fulfilling that request. The unsung heroes who keep SHIELD oiled up and ready. The ones nobody notices. I would imagine they’d get paid very well with amazing benefits and aside from the daily grind the only real criteria would be to keep their mouth shut about anything they see. A few years in this clearance level with positive marks in your personnel file, and you might one day get promoted to the next level. Or you might just be stuck here for all eternity. Again, the unsung heroes are needed more than meat shields.
This would also be where anyone being trained for upper level positions would start. Extensive training in multiple disciplines would be expected of all field agents, and other training regimens would be available depending on a plebe’s expertise.
LEVEL THREE: Low level clerical workers and technicians would start about here. Also perhaps some administrators and officers, but not people who are permanently in charge of other people. Maybe even plebeian field operatives and would-be agent types. These are the grunts and meat shields. Most of the time they’re doing all the routine stuff like gathering data or cleaning up the messes of higher level units. Stakeouts would be common. Maybe a Level Three would be charged with the task of posing as a proprietor for a florist storefront which was actually a disguised temporary SHIELD office gathering data in the neighborhood as they looked for a HYDRA safe house or storage facility. So they’d spend many days boringly filling orders for flowers and answering complaints of customers, pretending to flirt with the little old ladies who come in and addressing whatever requirements of a proprietor of a florist shop, and then one day shit would hit the fan and they’d take a bullet in the chest w/o warning. Smart L3s learn to duck, or wear a bullet proof vest under their disguise.
A routine job for this position would be to stand in one place and observe then report what they find. Actually engaging the enemy would probably be the last thing these guys are trained to do. Remain inconspicuous. Learn to tail someone without letting them know you’re following them. Call for backup if things get dicey. Observe and report. Do not engage. Of course I imagine low level operatives often jump the gun and then get hospitalized and/or reprimanded. The smart ones follow orders and keep their noses clean. If they prove their worth they get higher clearance on a Need to Know basis. The key for smarter operatives is to be prepared when asked to BE backup for higher level operatives.
LEVEL FOUR: This would probably be for any SHIELD employee whose job is essentially to lead two or more lower level operatives. Foreman positions and regional officers. If a room of clerical workers are all level two, their boss is probably level four or higher. If some low level operatives are on a 24/7 stakeout for a week, this is the guy they call when they have to report anything suspicious. This would also be a position for any technician or special research consultant whose been working for SHIELD for awhile and has settled in, essentially doing their work for SHIELD cuz they like the funding and they don’t mind if SHIELD uses whatever they discover. Such an associate might be more interested in the science than in working up the ranks of the company, but they’d need to be in charge of a laboratory of research assistants and human guinea pigs. Such people would have at least this level of clearance. They may have a few security officers assigned to them and they’re led to believe they can boss those guys around, but odds are the officers are told to behave as if they’re level three but they’re actually level six, and their real job is to make sure the scientist doesn’t accidentally cause the facility to explode, or cause one of the human guinea pigs to turn into something worse than The Hulk.
This level would actually be a very comfy spot for most SHIELD operatives. You probably have your own office. You have people to answer to, sure, but you also have anywhere from two to maybe a couple dozen people who report to you on a daily basis. You got a company car. Three square meals a day. Handsome benefits package and along with a hefty salary you got a line of credit that lets you get your work done w/o any hassles. You probably have annual budget meetings where you have to prove to someone somewhere that whatever you did the year before was worth the expense, but aside from that the world’s your oyster.
Or maybe you’re a seasoned level three operative whose been around long enough to know enough about the inner workings of SHIELD by sheer osmosis that they just promoted you to this security level anyway cuz they know what you know and you know what they know. Maybe you don’t have a formal office cuz you travel a lot, but wherever you go there’s always a hotel reservation for you (made by level twos you didn’t even know were there). A higher level guy tells you what they need you to do, you go do it, and they pat you on the back and give you a higher line of credit. Ooh, and the next gig is in Paris. There’s a guy there whose got information we need, or is threatening to blow something up and your job is to handle it. You can handle it. Odds are you’re not autonomous. You may still be part of a team and you answer to some higher up guy but in the field you know many of the other operatives and provided your people skills are good, it’s like being a part of a fine oiled machine when it’s working well. Or a badly written soap opera when people aren’t taking up their part of the slack.
Chances are by this point the education is more a formality than a requirement. You’d have the equivalent by now of a masters degree in whatever your specialty is, and formidable training in hand to hand, weapons, vehicles, demolitions, and a rounded out knowledge of cultures, histories, and whatever SHIELD has learned that superiors want all SHIELD agents to be familiar with. You are not kept in the link with regards to the front line of SHIELD’s defenses. What you work on is usually stuff that’s not overly time sensitive. If a situation escalates, you support the higher ups who sweep in and then sweep out, or if they’re not available you guys handle it yourselves. I would imagine there’d still be some grunt work at this level, but there’s also a fair share of glamour and champagne.
LEVEL FIVE: These are the bosses of the bosses, and the ones who take the calls from the levels two through fours when things get dicey. They also have their own team of operatives that they work well with and if the lower level operatives need help, these guys are the cavalry. This is the middle management of SHIELD. Special officers and regional directors, as well as research and development personnel whose inventions and efforts have led to innovations in SHIELD weaponry or equipment that has seriously improved daily workings. You not only have a few people who answer to you. You have several groups of people that you juggle. There’s a lot of paper work to deal with. Many headaches. Personnel issues to iron out. It can be rewarding but also frustrating. If you used to be a field operative, this might be depressing cuz it’s a glorified desk job. You still have all those benefits and perks as well as a nice salary, but you don’t have time to enjoy any of it cuz there’s all these boring meetings, you have to coordinate all this data your field agents are accumulating, you’re on call twenty-four seven. You can only delegate so much authority, and if you want something done right you do it yourself.
Being at this level means you know pretty much all the nuts and bolts inner workings of SHIELD, though you may still be in the dark with regards to more recent developments. A curious thing at this level of the game though. Odds are most Level Fives are under the impression they know everything about SHIELD and if they don’t know something it’s just cuz the higher levels just learned about it and they’ll formally brief you soon. Only, some of those details don’t make it to you. You might be on top of things regarding your day to day work, but if it’s happening half way around the world or it doesn’t apply to your sphere of influence, superiors will conveniently keep you out of the loop if they can plausibly deny anything that might come up. Information is currency and the only way to keep some knowledge valuable is to not share it with everyone. That’s why organizations like this are sometimes rather dangerous. An information agency that fears the dissemination of some information is usually not a good thing.
LEVEL SIX: Veteran field agents, operatives, and directors. The bosses of the bosses of the bosses, most of which answer directly to the executive director. If you had been level five for awhile, and you’re brought up to speed on the most recent dealings, you’re told you’re now level six. Presumably, from now on you will be regularly briefed on the latest intel that SHIELD has at its disposal. This is not always the case. There’s some cards that Nick Fury may want to keep close to his chest for awhile, and there’s a constant flow of new information. A lot of this is Need To Know and if whatever you’re doing doesn’t require it, you’re not gonna be in the loop. At this point in the game, being available to be in that loop is probably important.
LEVEL SEVEN: This would be for Nick Fury’s eyes only, and that of any agents that he personally trusts in the given moment. A level seven agent can bring a level six agent up to speed on specific level seven intel when its germane to an immediate case. They can do this without alerting Fury immediately, but it’s assumed he’d be briefed later.
LEVEL EIGHT: If Nick Fury doesn’t know that Coulson was an LMD and survived Loki’s attack on him, then Coulson and the Council are going behind Fury’s back. This task force Coulson is making may not be something any of the AVENGERS can know about, and that would include Fury.
Nick Fury may also have his own Level Eight security level, with information he simply doesn’t share even with his closest peers. Perhaps at this point everyone at Level Seven also has information they keep to themselves. If so, that’s seriously messed up. The thing is, Nick Fury answers to a Council and they keep their faces hidden from him. So even Nick doesn’t know everything that’s going on. If the comic book is any indication, Fury is as expendable to the Council as any grunt, and the people calling the shots are not to be trusted.