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- "First rule of November Black: do not talk about November Black."
The UNSC's classification of material is relatively straightforward. Unclassified material is available to the general public, while Top Secret material is available only to those who possess the highest security clearance. The grades between those two gradually restrict access based on security ranking, but it is not the only method the UNSC use. November Black is the classification grade given to Secret or Top Secret information, the disclosure of which would be politically devastating to the UNSC, and has been used rarely since its creation - so far, the only material to use it has been captured Covenant intelligence, and the existence of programs that could prove damaging to the UNSC if disclosed.
November Black was created in 2161 in response to Frieden activity on Mars. Traditionally a strong Koslovic bastion, the Frieden had made significant political gains on the colony, but until then had yet to declare themselves openly. The operations to infiltrate this branch of the organisation were given various codenames - EVERGREEN, METATRON, URSA- but the most successful operation was codenamed NOVEMBER BLACK. Consisting of six operatives from the United States Marine Corps, NOVEMBER BLACK was a stunning success - the operatives were able to gain the trust of the Frieden, infiltrating their ranks and gathering valuable intelligence for United Nations forces. In the coming months, this intelligence would be put to devastating use - Frieden codes had been captured, allowing covert messages to be intercepted; the schedules of vital Frieden political and military figures were gained, allowing assassination operations to be undertaken; but more importantly, it allowed Operation: DECEMBER BLACK to be set up. Rather than an outright attack on Frieden operation centres, DECEMBER BLACK was the planting of this information in a location known to be frequented by Koslovic dissidents. With the extent of the Frieden presence on Mars suddenly revealed to them, though not the exact details, the Koslovics wasted no time attempting to remove this influence - in the following campaign, the two sides would fight each other to a standstill, allowing the United States Marine Corps to perform the first orbital invasion in human history, the Argyre Planitia campaign. Weakened by months of conflict, the crushing of both Koslovic and Frieden forces on Mars was swift and effective.
After the Interplanetary War, the name of Operation: NOVEMBER BLACK would be appropriated by the newly-established UNSC as a separate grade of classification, parallel to the traditional Unclassified-Top Secret system. November Black material would be granted access to only by select members of the UNSC holding Gamma Two clearance - effectively, this was restricted to the UNSC Security Committee, the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the heads of other military intelligence agencies. It had been established to categorise information that, if disclosed to the general public, could prove devastating - the actions of the Marines who had infiltrated the Frieden were harsh, but effective. For the most part, November Black material was scarse until the Insurrection - with no major conflicts, the UNSC was left fighting scattered pirate bands taking advantage of UNSC shipping.
In 2490, however, that situation changed. The outbreak of the Insurrection, first in Epsilon Eridani and then across a dozen UNSC colony systems, forced the UNSC into a position it was unaccustomed to after nearly two hundred years fighting low-intensity piracy-suppression campaigns, suddenly transitioning to a fully-fledged pacification and peacekeeping force. The elimination of important Insurrectionist leaders was deemed of vital importance, and efforts were made to create soldiers perfectly suited to the task. Project ORION produced superlative soldiers, but at a cost that made them unfeasible to apply to the general armed forces. The participants not crippled or killed by the experimental augmentations were incorporated into ONI Beta-5 Division, and their actions classified November Black - during the Insurrection, the Spartan-I's would be involved in some of the most important engagements of the conflict, bringing down vital figures to speed the war to its end.
This was deemed not sufficient, however. The publishing of the Carver Findings alarmed many among the Navy and Office of Naval Intelligence, and the projected rise of massive, UNSC-wide uprisings stemming from discontent with the CAA and CMA was deemed simply too much of a threat for conventional armed forces to deal with. The SPARTAN-II Program was thus initiated, also given the classification of November Black - the kidnapping, indoctrination and physiological and genetic augmentation of children would have caused a panic in the civilian populace, and further quickened the escalation of the Insurrection. When the Spartan-II's were first deployed, every single mission of theirs was classified November Black, their existence kept a tightly kept secret, dispite rumours that continued to slip through ONI's data filtration nets. When Section II declassified the existence of the Spartan-II Program to humanity, most of their missions were downgraded in classification - still not available to the general public in anything but a highly filtered and repackaged form from ONI, but enough to satisfy an increasingly terrified populace that the UNSC was capable of winning a war against a massive, xenocidal alien empire.
Still, a small number of Spartan teams remained classified November Black, their operations deemed too sensitive to declassify. Grey Team, for example, remained classified November Black for the entire war given their usual mission profile behind enemy lines; other Spartan-II operations would occasionally disappear from combat records, erased by ONI as part of November Black; and Indigo Team, long kept a secret from even their fellow Spartan-II warriors, was only declassified in 2551 during the Minorca Campaign, when their existence could no longer be kept a secret.
After the war, Indigo Team would return to their November Black status, their operations given the utmost security. Taking part in assassination missions against the Blood Covenant and Kig-Yar Privateer Alliance, exactly where and when they served remains unknown to this day, though historians generally agree that their presence was one of many factors that would win the UNSC and Sangheili the War of Vengeance, and brought it to a swifter conclusion than otherwise might have occurred. It is known that they took part in Operation: TACK HAMMER, Operation: CORSAIR and Operation: LAMENTATION, and were present on Middangeard when the Blood Covenant initiated Operation Tartarus, attempting to save Admiral Lord Terrence Hood, though ultimately unsuccessful. For the most part, though, these are known only because they were highly publicised events in themselves, used as highly effective propaganda material by ONI, their effectiveness heightened by the presence of unbeatable Spartans.
During the Great War, breaches of November Black security status were regarded as a serious threat to the UNSC, and Operation: VORAUSSICHT was set up to find and isolate such breaches. As the nature of the operations breached were discovered, the operation would eventually discover November Black classified operations that were never approved or even known about by ONI, an unacceptable breach that ONI would attempt to clear itself of. Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force personnel would all participate in the investigation, and projects run by all branches would eventually be discovered. The disclosure of such breaches by corrupt civilian Ministry of Justice personnel would eventually topple the Jerome Smithson's Liberal Government.
- "It sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it? "November Black". Like "Red October." I don't know if it means anything, but the sound of it is enough of a reason not to go poking your nose where it doesn't belong."
- "My platoon took part in an assault in a Covenant position on Delta Pavonis that failed miserably. We were retreating, trying to get back to the dropships, getting picked off by Wraiths and Banshees. Next thing I know, rockets start flying down from out of what we'd thought were uninhabited mountains. We captured the base eventually, and then ONI stepped in and told us the rockets hadn't happened, wink-wink hint-hint. Then the entire mission was classified Top Secret. Jeez, you'd think a Spartan was there or something..."
- "Operation: TACK HAMMER wasn't classified November Black, but only because it was a highly effective victory that could be used as a propaganda tool. But there was a lot of effort that went into it that was, though. The existence of the One-Eyed Wanderer's intelligence was classified under it until 2555 - blurry pictures taken by the gun-cam of a Prowler. Then there was the fleet buildup and troop assembly - until the actual operation was underway, except for the ODST's and Spartans, the personnel were told they were going to be peacekeeping on Balaho to stop food riots."
- "Having something like November Black is dangerous. Anything the UNSC doesn't want anyone to know can be designated under it - and while sometimes there are good reasons for this, its open to abuse. KING UNDER THE HILL was November Black. Hot Gates was November Black. The massacre of colonists on Far Isle was November Black. You see the potential for abuse yet?"