In fictional worlds, just like the real world, there is a need for elite agents to get the most dangerous jobs done. In the world of Mass Effect, those agents are the Spectres, also known as Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. These agents aren’t just meant to act as super-soldiers.
The organization was founded in 693 CE, right before the Krogan Rebellions erupted and the galaxy was plunged into war. During this time, the Rachni Wars were over, the Krogan had been uplifted by the Salarians, and the Krogan were expanding rapidly across the galaxy due to their high birth-rate. The Council (then made up only of Asari and Salarians) was uneasy about this, so they took some precautions.
In that year, a Salarian operative named Beelo Gurji impressed the Council with his ruthless but effective tactics. Once taken into custody, he was offered a chance to form a new elite corps rather than go to prison. He accepted, and the Spectres were born. This was just in time.
A few years later, the Krogan Rebellions began, and the vicious conflict may have gone very badly, very quickly for the Council if it weren’t for the brand-new rank of Spectre. These Salarian and Asari elites used computer viruses, sabotage, assassination and anything else they could to slow down the rampaging Krogan, which bought the Council enough time to ask the Turian Hierarchy for help. Once the Turians entered the conflict, the Krogan found themselves bogged down in a difficult war, and the genophage ended the Rebellions once and for all.
The model for the Spectres is the STG, or Special Tasks Group; a unit of high-level Salarian operatives who are outside the law and exist outside the regular chain of command. The main difference is that, while the STG is funded by the Salarian Union, Spectres are expected to buy their own weapons and armor, meaning the Spectres have no uniform or standard weapons.
The Spectres are their own rank. No one is promoted to Spectre, nor does a Spectre get promoted. In fact, they exist outside of any military or police force, and they’re not even a part of C-Sec or the Turian fleet. Instead, the Council may choose a well-trained and experienced individual and offer them the chance to become a Spectre. As a Councilor put it, Spectres are chosen, not trained.
Each Spectre is also an independent operative who answers to the Council alone and receives missions from the Councilors. Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre, is unusual in that they are also a part of the Alliance military and operates as a soldier. Otherwise, Spectres keep to themselves.
As for how they carry out a mission, this is also left up to the individual. Spectres are told what their mission is, but the exact mission parameters may be improvised to suit the Spectre’s own preferences and abilities. They don’t decide the what, but they can decide the how. To make this job easier, Spectres are not held to any law or military order. This causes some tension in the galaxy, especially in C-Sec, since a Spectre can go anywhere and do anything for the sake of a mission.
There is some fear that Spectres will take advantage of their unique status and go rogue for selfish reasons, but this is rare. In the event a Spectre does go rogue, another Spectre is sent to dispatch the rogue agent, since no one else can handle a Spectre’s firepower, skills and operational freedom. A good example of this is Commander Shepard being appointed to the rank of Spectre to hunt down Saren Arterius. A rogue Spectre will have their status revoked, losing access to all resources and information that the Council can provide.
A typical Spectre mission may range from assassinating a terrorist leader all the way to investigating a corrupt planetary governor or a smuggling ring all the way to espionage or sabotage, such as setting off explosives in a heavily-defended space station or base. These are surgical strikes, involving a tiny number of operatives who can go anywhere that regular soldiers can’t, and make a huge difference with just one strike. No one, except for the original STG and the ultra-deadly Asari justicars, can even come close to the operational freedom, skills and elite power of the Council Spectres.
The world of Mass Effect is protected by a group of elite agents who work outside the law. Here's what you should know about them.