Secrets and Sins
Foundation and Structure
Founded to combat technologically advanced threats on world security (specifically the menace of Hydra), S.H.I.E.L.D. has, throughout the years, remained on the front lines fighting terrorism and extraterrestrial menaces as an international intelligence agency.
In its original incarnation, S.H.I.E.L.D. stood for ‘Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division’, and was a branch of the United States government. Veteran spy and soldier Colonel Nick Fury had set out plans for the organization at some point after World War II, but decided not to act since he felt the U.S. government would deny such a request. A United Nations-based international group somehow obtained the plans, and presented them to the U.S. government as a viable countermeasure against the nascent threat of Hydra. S.H.I.E.L.D. was subsequently formed without Fury’s knowledge.
Fury first realized that his brainchild had been made reality when he was approached by the founders of the group to act as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Public Director, as his predecessor Rick Stoner had met an untimely end. While Fury acted as the operational head of the agency, he answered to these founders, the Executive Board, whose identities were hidden even from him. Otherwise, Fury was the highest ranking agent in an eight-rank tier. Some suspect that Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and the superheroic Iron Man, may have been one of the Board.
As director, Colonel Fury took a very active hand in S.H.I.E.L.D. operations, often going into the field himself on their most important missions. Supporting him, aside from the thousands of rank-and-file S.H.I.E.L.D. agents working around the world, were a core group of capable officers. Fury’s aide-de-camp was the man who had filled the same function for his Howling Commandos in World War II, the boisterous Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan. Another ex-Howler joined S.H.I.E.L.D. in the person of Gabe Jones, whose presence had made the Howlers the Army’s first racially integrated unit. There was also the by-the-books Jasper Sitwell, who balanced and sometimes clashed with the more emotional members of the command staff. The brilliant Sidney ‘The Gaffer’ Levine acted as head of Research & Development, designing many high-tech specialty gadgets to supplement the weapons and vehicles provided by Stark Enterprises. Later, Laura Brown, the daughter of the Imperial Hydra, defected from Hydra to join S.H.I.E.L.D.. Jimmy Woo, hero of clashes with the villainous Yellow Claw, served as S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s FBI liaison agent. Clay Quartermain was a resident ’pretty boy’ super-agent. La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (‘Val’ to her friends), a member of the European jet-set, proved to be equally skilled, as well as one of Fury’s lovers. Another prominent member was Sharon Carter (Agent 13), a frequent partner and eventual lover of Captain America.
The equipment of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been at least as distinctive as its membership. A series of flying fortresses invariably known as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier served as the mobile headquarters of the organization. Other vehicles such as hoverfliers, flying cars and tunneling vehicles rounded out S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s vehicle complement. Agents carried a variety of personal gear as well. Fury’s weapon of choice was a 300-round .15 caliber pistol specially designed to fire explosive-tipped needles. Tear gas boutonnieres, explosive shirts, rear-view periscope hats, camera-phone watches, jetpacks, cigars laced with various chemical compounds (including flash bombs), and other tools of the spy trade insured that S.H.I.E.L.D. agents always had access to the right equipment. One of the most distinctive inventions of The Gaffer was the Life-Model Decoy (LMD), an extremely lifelike android designed to emulate the behavior of a specific individual, usually used to replace someone in danger of being killed. During the Cold War S.H.I.E.L.D. also maintained a large headquarters in New York City, as well as other bases in every major city in the Western world, and hidden outposts in many Communist countries.
Various specialized teams of agents have been utilized, such as the Psi Division and Super Agents. At one time, S.H.I.E.L.D. had command over an incarnation of the Hulkbusters. Throughout the years, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have left the service to perform acts both heroic and villainous. Some went rogue, such as Mentallo, becoming threats to society. Others, like Quasar, joined the superhero community. Since the early days, S.H.I.E.L.D., through Fury, has maintained close ties to groups like the Avengers and Fantastic Four, and with individuals like Captain America, Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), and Wolverine, ensuring that a capable and varied pool of special operatives were readily available. That said, S.H.I.E.L.D. often came into conflict with members of the superhero community who worked through less than legal means or against government aims. Fury’s friendships with many superheroes conflicted with his duties in these cases.
S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s main enemy, Hydra, continued to be a threat throughout Nick Fury’s first years as director. It became apparent that Fury’s old wartime foe, Baron von Strucker, had become the new Supreme Hydra, with plans to to menace the world with a deadly biological weapon. Fury took the fight to the enemy stronghold, Hydra Island, turning this weapon on its makers.
When Godzilla was freely roaming the earth, a task force under Dum Dum Dugan’s command, the Godzilla Squad, set forth to capture him. They used a smaller version of the Helicarrier called the Behemoth, as well as a giant robot called Red Ronin, before Godzilla disappeared into the Atlantic.
Another great threat was formed as a result of a lapse in S.H.I.E.L.D. security, when the supervillain Scorpio, actually Fury’s brother Jake, stole the LMD technology to create the second team of villains called the Zodiac.
The first dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. occurred in the wake of a wide-scale infiltration of the agency, again involving LMDs. In this case, a group of LMDs attained sentience, infiltrating both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, replacing key members of both before being defeated by Fury and an impromptu force of allies.
The reorganized S.H.I.E.L.D. was backed by the United Nations, with the acronym now standing for ‘Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate’. Shortly after, Baron Strucker, long thought to have died on Hydra Island, returned as the new head of Hydra and the organizations again clashed. The new organization had some internal structural changes, with the eight-rank system being replaced by a ten-rank one. Also, there existed “Full Champion License”, a rarely-awarded accolade known to be held by Captain America, whereby the holder has authority to assemble any team they sees fit for any mission they see fit. This was the legal basis for the formation of the New Avengers.
In the wake of Nick Fury’s Secret War in Latveria, he was removed from the directorship and forced into hiding. His replacement was not one of his close associates in the high ranks, but a newcomer, Commander Maria Hill. Her appointment by the U.S. president was meant to ensure S.H.I.E.L.D. bias towards American interests, and her lack of connection to the superhero community was meant to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. from aiding them. This came to the fore when S.H.I.E.L.D. units nicknamed ’Cape-Killers. Currently, Captain America estimates that there were 3,000 S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on active duty.