In the early James Bond films, SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) was an international terrorist organization that aimed to control the world, or at least to make a boat load of money while trying. SPECTRE was headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a criminal mastermind who insisted upon unconditional loyalty and success, where the price for failure was certainly death, generally via some exemplary punishment. SPECTRE retained its members’ loyalty in much the same way that they conduct their business in the world: through terror.
The general tactic behind SPECTRE operations was to facilitate war between the East (Warsaw Pact Bloc) and the West (NATO) and when one side would win, SPECTRE would step in and destroy the weakened superpower that’s left standing. SPECTRE has pursued this goal in a number of ways, from interfering with American space launches (Dr. No) and manipulating spies on both sides to kill them and retrieve valuable intelligence equipment (From Russia with Love), to stealing nuclear bombs (Thunderball) and hijacking American and Russian spacecraft (You Only Live Twice). Other schemes included Blofeld trying to obtain himself a title (Count de Bleuchamp) and a pardon (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and holding the world for ransom using a diamond satelite superweapon orbiting in outer space to destroy nuclear targets (Diamonds Are Forever).
SPECTRE was organized in a strict hierarchy, with No. 1 as supreme leader and subsequent agents holding progressively diminished responsibilities. No. 1 answered to no one, No. 2 only answered to No1. No 3 answered to both Nos. 1 and 2, and so on. In the event that one of the agents was killed (either by outside operatives or by internal cleansings), subsequent agents got promoted, never breaking the hierarchy.
Blofeld may have appeared in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only, when a man in a wheelchair with strong resemblances to him tried to kill Bond out of revenge with a remote-controlled helicopter. Bond regained control of the helicopter and dropped him into a smokestack, apparently killing him once and for all.
After roughly four decades of absence from the film series, the criminal organization will return (albeit in a different continuity, that of Daniel Craig’s Bond) in the 24th Bond film, the aptly named SPECTRE.