Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3.
Cerberus is a secretive organization in the Mass Effect universe that exists to protect and advance human interests in the galaxy. Many Cerberus personnel think of their organization as merely pro-human, but outsiders widely regard Cerberus as an anti-alien terrorist organization.
Known Cerberus operations are controlled by an individual who calls himself the "Illusive Man". Cerberus has small cells operating on many planets in the Terminus Systems.
Because the Illusive Man likes to keep Cerberus operations under tight control, the organization never has more than about a dozen operations in progress at any given time. Even so, some Cerberus projects have "gone rogue", conducting their operations in ways that would be unacceptable to the Illusive Man and attempting to hide their actions from him.
Cerberus revenue comes from an assortment of legitimate front corporations and wealthy benefactors and amounts to several billion credits per year. This revenue stream was severely stressed by the Lazarus Project, which involved the resurrection of Commander Shepard from a dessicated corpse and the construction of the Normandy SR-2; Cerberus only had two other active projects at the same time.
The Illusive Man, once called Jack Harper, founded Cerberus after the First Contact War and an incident with the turians involving a Reaper artifact (no connection to the Reapers was known at the time). Cerberus used covert operations to destabilize alien governments, acquire alien technology, and generally try to improve the socio-political power of humanity relative to the other major races. Initially Cerberus was a Systems Alliance black ops group with limited oversight, but it went completely rogue in 2183. Since it operated with an "ends justify the means" attitude, it was labeled a terrorist organization.
When Commander Shepard revealed the threat of the Reapers, the Illusive Man took it very seriously. He recognized that a Reaper invasion could cause the extinction of humanity, and he took steps to prevent such an outcome. He made the capture of Reaper technology one of the primary goals of Cerberus. He also recognized Shepard as "an enemy of his enemy", so he assigned one of his best operatives, Miranda Lawson, to look out for him. Unfortunately, Shepard was killed in a Collector ambush, but the Illusive Man refused to give up. He sponsored the Lazarus Project to find a way to bring Shepard back from the dead, dedicating the majority of Cerberus's resources to the effort. In 2185, they succeeded, and Shepard used Cerberus resources to defeat the Collectors, after which Shepard and Cerberus parted ways.
The arrival of the Reaper invasion fleet was a turning point for Cerberus. With no time left for subtlety, Cerberus came out of the shadows, using recovered Reaper technology to indoctrinate captured civilians, rapidly creating an army of loyal soldiers. All other operations were suspended, and Cerberus dedicated all of its resources to finding a way to control the Reapers by turning the remote signal that controlled husks back on the Reapers themselves. Various military operations were also conducted to block efforts by Shepard to destroy the Reapers before the Illusive Man's plan to control them could succeed.
The Reapers initially gave Cerberus a wide birth, intending Cerberus to be a distraction as the Reaper harvest of the galaxy was underway. Eventually, however, Cerberus found success in hijacking the Reaper control signal to husks. The Reapers found this too dangerous to ignore, and destroyed the Cerberus research facility Sanctuary on the planet Horizon.
The Illusive Man intended to use the Systems Alliance's Crucible project to extend this control ability to the Reapers themselves. Ultimately, though, he was too influenced by Reaper indoctrination to see his plan through to the end, and only ended up undermining the war effort against the Reapers, nearly resulting in the Reapers' victory.
Cerberus would qualify as a significant non-military power in many settings. It has a well-developed intelligence network and the resources of several large, interstellar corporations. Cerberus can deploy squads of special ops agents for specific missions and runs a small fleet of warships, but it is evidently not a match for a major government organization in a direct confrontation. They are, however, dangerous to governments that have committed most of their resources to fighting a greater threat.
- The Illusive Man
- Miranda Lawson
- Jacob Taylor
- Kai Leng