Created By: Ominae on March 2, 2015 Last Edited By: Ominae on July 7, 2017

Identity Concealment [WIP]

A situation calls for someone in the police/military/intelligence community to hide his/her affiliation with them.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
NOTE: Not sure if there is a YMMV trope in place for this. Let me know.


There may be a time when the hero or the villain needs to do something covertly to the point that if they were seen, their identities can be given away due to publicly known or identifiable police (or law enforcement agencies), military or paramilitary uniforms, insignias, logos, name or ID tags. That's certainly going to be troublesome if someone was able to detect them and "inform" the relevant personalities. If that's done, their efforts are doomed to fail no matter what they do.

So what can be done? One way is to temporarily dispose/hide anything that can be identified by the public by hiding their uniforms, insignias, logos and IDs until it's safe to use them again. Sometimes, they also accompany the use of balaclavas and face masks. Others include the use of technology such as hacking or creating false identities in order to hide their actual names and affiliations from the public eye. Dressing as the Enemy is also another way of temporarily hiding your face and identity until the time is right. Another is to simply change clothes before the operation is performed until it's over. Or you can just insist that you're not a cop/soldier/law enforcer/etc.

One of the few negative ideas about it is that it can sometimes lead to a Friend or Foe scenario. Others bad scenarios include catching your allies unaware of who you are or miscommunication when the persons or groups involved are not identified correctly by friendlies. Sometimes, the undercover cop/agent/soldier/etc. can be forced into a situation where they need to do something horrible to prove that they're really a criminal/terrorist.

Partially Truth in Television since a False Flag Operation always requires a group to hide anything that can easily identify them if an operation is conducted. Anyone doing an legitimate undercover op needs to pull this off successfully so that they can't be easily unmasked.

Compare/contrast to Secret Identity, which entails to hiding your identity fully from the public. Compare to The Mole, which is one reason why the people involved would hide their true allegiance alongside The Infiltration, which is another reason why people would go to great length to hide their allegiance as a mole.

See Outside Man Insideman, which is a character dynamic trait that goes along with this. A subtrope of this is Must State If You're a Cop and Dirty Harriet.

Any Rogue Agent will probably want to do this to keep attention away from them if they're acting as the bad guy, which in this place with be a subversion of said trope.

Indexed under Disguise Tropes.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In Darker Than Black, this is used by the Public Security Bureau's 4th Foreign Affairs Division whenever they get a case, criminal or terrorist alike, that relates to Contractors. Saito goes undercover as a waiter from a catering company when he infiltrates the hotel owned by the Qing Long Tang triad in order to find out who was responsible for assassinating its prominent members. Averted in the sense that he used his official name instead of an alias. Misaki calls him out on this.
  • One of the new elite police-soldiers in Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is Kazuki Fuse, and he scores well enough in exercises that his superiors choose him to go undercover to locate the renegade band called the Wolf Brigade. Fuse agrees, and begins making contact through the sister of a known anarchist sympathizer, Kei Amemiya. Imagine their surprise when the police honchos discover that Fuse has been part of the Wolf Brigade all along, assigned to infiltrate the police corps.
  • ANBU in Naruto are special black ops-esque teams that every big ninja village has. They are instructed not to carry any identifying mark of their villages, including their signature headbands with the village logo carved on them.
  • This is the main operational method of COSMOS (Children of Soldier Machine Organic System) and the Machiner's Platoon as part of the American military in Spriggan. Since they operate as black ops-type military units and are issued with a variety of small arms and equipment, they can plausibly deny their involvement in an operation in case it goes bad.

Film

Literature
  • In George Mc Donald Fraser's Flashman series, the titular coward is faced with implacable native assassins trying to hunt him down. He reasons that the last place they will look is among native soldiers in the Indian army. So ~Flashman grows his beard long, exploits his native-fluency in Urdu and Pashtu, and signs up, masquerading as an ordinary native cavalryman. Later, he is able to justify this as he is there on Intelligence duties assessing the likelihood of native mutiny and has realized the only way a white Englishman can accurately understand what is going on, is to get to the natives on their level.
  • In Gate, JGSDF soldier Private Hitoshi Furuta masquerades as a chef after an assassination attempt was made at the JGSDF's Alnus base.
  • In Magicians of Gor Tarl and his friend Marcus get jobs as auxiliary guardsmen, which gives them license to freely roam the city armed, while also going around instigating civil unrest as the "Delta Brigade" (named after a failed military campaign in a delta). Occasionally they take off their guardsman armbands, create some mayhem as the Brigade, and then reattach the armbands in order to "investigate" their own crime.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's Starbuck series about the American Civil War, the titular Major Starbuck exposes corruption in the base depot by posing as a notoriously drunken junior officer who nobody takes seriously. He exposes his real identity and higher rank when he is sure, and has proof that, supplies and rifles meant for the front are being sold for profit on the black market.

Live-Action TV
  • Blindspot has Orion, a black ops Navy SEAL team that's responsible for attacks done all over the world and their attacks are blamed on other individuals and organizations.
  • In the episode "Wesenrein" in Grimm, the team moves to save Monroe from being killed by a cult known as the Wesenrein. Since they are going in without official police backup, Nick, Hank and Sean toss their police badges in the unmarked SUV in order to hide any details that can give their identity away as police officers. Averted with Wu, who simply didn't bother to conceal his uniform or minimize it so that the cultists can't identify him as a police officer.
    • This time, it's fully played in "Cry Havoc" when Wu had the foresight to leave his PPB badge at his house to avoid being called out as a police officer against the Verrat.
    Wu: "Just so you know, I left my badge at home."
  • In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Demons", Stabler goes undercover as a paroled sex offender in order to track another parolee whom he suspects of having already reoffended. Part of his undercover work involves letting his fellow detectives hassle him so that he can report to them without the parolee getting suspicious.
  • A subplot in the 4th season of NCIS involves Tony going undercover to flush out arms dealer Rene Benoit as part of an operation sanctioned by Director Jenny Shepard to find evidence on whether Benoit had a hand in killing her father.
    • Throughout NCIS: Los Angeles, this is how agents and support personnel of the Office of Special Project operate. They are a NCIS-sanctioned deep cover anti-criminal/terrorist unit.
  • A subplot of 19-2 involves officers of the 19-2 precinct going all out to hunt down a suspect responsible for beating up one of their own in a trap. Since they cannot hunt down and apprehend the suspect because the investigation and arrest of said suspect is conducted by another department, they decide to wait until they are off-duty and are not needed in the precinct by changing out of the uniforms and wearing civilian clothes so that the suspect won't be able to call them out as police officers.
  • In an episode of NYPD Blue when Medavoy and others go undercover for a prostitution sting, after Medavoy brings his prostitute back to his motel room the prostitute asks if he's a cop. Rather than say yes or no, Medavoy deflects the question; and then moments later when she has definitely proposed exchanging sex for money he arrests her.
  • Throughout the fourth season of Person of Interest, John Reese falls to this when he needs to help Finch and others conduct operations against Samaritan agents and/or to save civilians in trouble by hiding his NYPD badge from plain sight when he has to, wear a balaclava and use his own sidearm instead of the department-issued sidearm. It also helps that Reese has a false identity made by The Machine to hide him from Samaritan. Fusco falls into this also when he wears a balaclava and hides his badge to help Team Machine.
    • HR officers operate like this by wearing civilian clothes with balaclavas and use non-department weapons and gear if the situation calls for it.
  • In the second season of True Detective, Ani, Velcoro and Woodrugh operate in this ways months after the shootout in downtown Vinci by secret orders of State Attorney Katherine Davis after she found some implications one of her fellow attorneys may be in on the take with the local criminal underworld. This meant that they needed to operate without any official backing from the Attorney General's office by being "Special Investigators", which meant that they cannot be named in anyway. It helps that Ani joined in after she got suspended from detective duties in the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, Velcoro was now doing private security duties with Frank and Woodrugh was moved from highway patrol to insurance fraud in the California Highway Patrol due to the scandal with actress Lacey Lindel, which allows him to move around freely without being hounded by the media easily. It also helps that they operate in civilian clothes, which avoid any problems in easily being identified as police officers.
  • Federal agent Vinnie Terranova from Wiseguy willingly gets sent to prison for eighteen months to establish his cover as a street thug. This move results in his recruitment into Sonny Steelgrave's organization, where he rises to become The Dragon to Sonny. However, his cred as a mafia thug causes his father to disown Sonny, and breaks his mother's heart.
  • This is how Camp X-trained agents operate in occupied Europe throughout X Company. They have to use fake IDs and names in order to avoid the risk of being caught by the Wehrmacht or by their collaborators.

Tabletop Games
  • Stormbringer supplement Stormbringer Companion, adventure "Hall of Risk". One of the possible starts is "On Orders from the Queen", in which Queen Yishana of Jharkor asks for volunteers from her military to investigate the title Hall in the nation of Shazaar. She tells them that the job is "unofficial" and orders them to remove all Jharkor insignia and colors from their armor and shields and deny being from Jharkor if anyone in Shazaar asks them.

Real Life
  • A feature with all police/intelligence agencies when they need to send in officers/agents undercover. This is done by creating false names and backgrounds and use their informants to "vouch" for them while they conduct their assignment to infiltrate the criminal underworld.
  • In the military, special forces only do not wear insignias from their units (Sometimes, but it depends on the unit and/or their commanding officer/s), but they are also trained to handle other small arms and wear clothing other than what their military issues to them so that the hostile nation/organization does not trace anything back to them if the operation goes bad.
  • There's an urban legend that suggests that someone suspected of being an undercover officer should be asked of their true status. This allegation is proven false since undercover officers do not have to do this while performing their work.
Community Feedback Replies: 68
  • March 2, 2015
    arivor
    I don't get it. Is this about every instance of someone hiding their identity? If not, the title and description need to convey what exactly you're trying to trope.
  • March 2, 2015
    Koveras
    Isn't it way too general to be a trope? I wouldn't quite call it chairs, but there are so many different ways and reasons to hide one's identity, I can't really see it working as a usable trope.
  • March 2, 2015
    SteveMB
    It might work better if it's specific to hiding your affiliation (military, police, etc) rather than the more general case of not letting people know who you are.

    Also, the comparison/contrast to Secret Identity (a specific second identity one assumes) should be noted.

  • March 2, 2015
    Koveras
    Hiding Your Allegiance might work as a trope.
  • March 2, 2015
    Daefaroth
    I can't find a trope for a Disavowed Mission. I am kind of surprised.
  • March 2, 2015
    Koveras
    ^ Well, we have the Privateer, at least.
  • March 2, 2015
    DAN004
    Dunno, but Disguise Tropes is pretty much the subindex of this.
  • March 2, 2015
    Ominae
    Okay. Thanks. Will note suggestions here.
  • March 2, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    Anime
    • One of the new elite police-soldiers in Jin Roh The Wolf Brigade is Kazuki Fuse, and he scores well enough in exercises that his superiors choose him to go undercover to locate the renegade band called the Wolf Brigade. Fuse agrees, and begins making contact through the sister of a known anarchist sympathizer, Kei Amemiya. Imagine their surprise when the police honchos discover that Fuse has been part of the Wolf Brigade all along, assigned to infiltrate the police corps.
  • March 2, 2015
    Ominae
    Added. Thanks.
  • March 3, 2015
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Blue Linked media section titles.
      • Corrected spelling (precient -> precinct).
  • March 3, 2015
    Arivne
    Film
    • Force Ten From Navarone. During World War II Force Ten meets up with some Yugoslavian partisans friendly to the Allies, who take Force Ten to their village. Once there the partisans reveal that they are actually Nazi-allied Chetniks by revealing their Chetnik badges.
  • March 3, 2015
    Ominae
    Added in.
  • March 3, 2015
    DAN004
    Can't this be done by a villain? (Got no examples of it tho)
  • March 3, 2015
    Ominae
    Yeah if no one objects. I amended the entry since there was a villain example. Though I see this being done by hostile military units more than police officers unless they're rogue or dirty cops.
  • March 3, 2015
    DAN004
    • ANBU in Na Ruto are special black ops-esque teams that every big ninja village has. They are instructed not to carry any identifying mark of their villages, including their signature headbands with the village logo carved on them.
  • March 3, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The crew hired to man the RLS Legacy in Disney's Treasure Planet are described by Captain Amelia as "a ludicrous bunch of driveling galoots," however she tolerates them as competent spacefarers and presumes they're proper citizens of the republic. Once Jim Hawkins discovers that the whole crew are actually ruthless pirates under John Silver's command, he runs to the Captain with the news. This forces Silver's hand, and he announces "Change of plans, lads: We. Move. Now." Mister Onus then raises the alien Jolly Roger flag, and the mutiny begins.
  • March 3, 2015
    DAN004
  • March 4, 2015
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Stormbringer supplement Stormbringer Companion, adventure "Hall of Risk". One of the possible starts is "On Orders from the Queen", in which Queen Yishana of Jharkor asks for volunteers from her military to investigate the title Hall in the nation of Shazaar. She tells them that the job is "unofficial" and orders them to remove all Jharkor insignia and colors from their armor and shields and deny being from Jharkor if anyone in Shazaar asks them.
  • March 4, 2015
    Ominae
    @Oneuglybunny

    - Haven't seen it yet, but I wanna clarify if the Legacy is a military-type ship or not and if the pirates are just pirates?
  • March 4, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    ^ Ominae: it can be presumed that the RLS Legacy is a private commercial ship, since it was commissioned by Doctor Doppler for a voyage of exploration. However, both Captain Amelia and First Officer Arrow both wear proper military uniforms. It may be that in-universe, all spacecraft are commercial / scientific in peacetime, and conscripted to the Space Navy in wartime. The pirates presumably have always been pirates. Of course, they couldn't be the pirates under the legendary Captain Nathaniel Flint, unless they have inordinately long lifespans. However, the fact that they are a united brigand force under John Silver and brought a Jolly Roger flag with them marks them as longstanding space pirates. In this case, they're operating undercover as a legitimate commercial crew.
  • March 4, 2015
    DAN004
    Does this count?
    • In Dressrosa arc in One Piece, Koala investigates pirate ships of the pirates that are doing shady deals with Doflamingo's group. She discovers that they're actually legal ships of several countries in disguise, with their coat-of-arms being hidden under pirate cross-bones.
  • March 5, 2015
    Ominae
    @OUB

    - Unless the pirates operate in a paramilitary fashion and stuff, I don't think I can include them?

    @DAN

    - Who operates them? Military? Paramilitary?
  • March 5, 2015
    gallium
    deleted, not really an example
  • March 5, 2015
    Ominae
    Redacted.
  • March 5, 2015
    DAN004
    @Ominae: if you asked about Naruto, it's paramilitary.

    For One Piece, it's like in many political thrillers and cop stories about the government doing shady deals.
  • March 5, 2015
    gallium
    This seems like People Sit On Chairs. Denying your affiliation is axiomatic to undercover ops tropes like The Mole or The Infiltration.
  • March 6, 2015
    Ominae
    Read the arc summary in the wiki, Dan. Except it suggests that trade merchants are doing the thing by themselves without backing from the country's military (or paramilitary forces).

    The Naruto part is included.
  • March 6, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ But for One Piece it's still about hiding their allegiance, right? In this case, to their own country.
  • March 7, 2015
    Ominae
    Yeah... I'll put that aside and reflect whether I need to further fix the intro post so that it can be included.
  • March 7, 2015
    Antigone3
    Would it be worth mentioning the Urban Legend that undercover cops have to identify themselves as cops if asked?
  • March 7, 2015
    Ominae
    Perhaps. I can put that in real life...
  • March 8, 2015
    Arivne
    ^ ^^ Snopes has that Urban Legend here.
  • March 10, 2015
    Ominae
    After some time to think about it, I'm not putting up the One Piece example. I will put in the Darker Than Black examples maybe later.
  • March 10, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ My point being, the name is still too broad if you limit this to cops/militaries hiding their allegiances.
  • March 10, 2015
    Ominae
    I could perhaps include the part where someone is doing it on behalf of the national government. But I want to see if others will agree.
  • March 14, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Literature: In Magicians of Gor Tarl and his friend Marcus get jobs as auxiliary guardsmen, which gives them license to freely roam the city armed, while also going around instigating civil unrest as the "Delta Brigade" (named after a failed military campaign in a delta). Occasionally they take off their guardsman armbands, create some mayhem as the Brigade, and then reattach the armbands in order to "investigate" their own crime.
  • April 11, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Would this cover instances of cops going undercover and answering no when asked "Are you a cop?"
  • April 11, 2015
    Ominae
    Yep.
  • April 11, 2015
    Chernoskill
    • In Clear And Present Danger, the members of the black ops team inserted into the colombian jungle must leave their dog tags in the helicopter before they jump out and start their mission.
  • April 11, 2015
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of NYPD Blue when Medavoy and others go undercover for a prostitution sting, after Medavoy brings his prostitute back to his motel room the prostitute asks if he's a cop. Rather than say yes or no, Medavoy deflects the question; and then moments later when she has definitely proposed exchanging sex for money he arrests her.
  • April 11, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    Live Action TV
    • Federal agent Vinnie Terranova from Wiseguy willingly gets sent to prison for eighteen months to establish his cover as a street thug. This move results in his recruitment into Sonny Steelgrave's organization, where he rises to become The Dragon to Sonny. However, his cred as a mafia thug causes his father to disown Sonny, and breaks his mother's heart.
  • April 12, 2015
    StrixObscuro
    Live Action TV
    • In the Law And Order Special Victims Unit episode "Demons", Stabler goes undercover as a paroled sex offender in order to track another parolee whom he suspects of having already reoffended. Part of his undercover work involves letting his fellow detectives hassle him so that he can report to them without the parolee getting suspicious.
  • March 13, 2016
    Ominae
    Haven't been back here for a while due to personal reasons. I'll see if I can update this more and maybe a picture to illustrate this...

    Also will look over this entry to see if it needs to be junked or needs to be fixed up (A LOT).
  • March 13, 2016
    DAN004
    See also Must State If Youre A Cop ykttw.
  • March 13, 2016
    Ominae
    Saw that. TY.
  • March 13, 2016
    AgProv
    • In George Mc Donald Fraser's Flashman series, the titular coward is faced with implacable native assassins trying to hunt him down. He reasons that the last place they will look is among native soldiers in the Indian army. So ~Flashman grows his beard long, exploits his native-fluency in Urdu and Pushtan, and signs up, masquerading as an ordinary native cavalryman. Later, he is able to justify this as he is there on Intelligence duties assessing the likelihood of native mutiny and has realised the only way a white Englishman can acurately understand what is going on, is to get to the natives on their level.

    • In Bernard Cornwell's Starbuck series about the American Civil War, the titular Major Starbuck exposes corruption in the base depot by posing as a notoriously drunken junior officer who nobody takes seriously. He exposes his real identity and higher rank when he is sure, and has proof that, supplies and rifles meant for the front are being sold for profit on the black market.
  • March 13, 2016
    Ominae
    Thanks. Added.

    Not sure if the hats are okay.
  • March 13, 2016
    DAN004
    So how are you gonna do fixes? Would you change the name or broaden the description?
  • March 14, 2016
    Chabal2
    Gate: The heroes are attacked by foreign Special Forces (believed to be American, Russian or Chinese, the three countries who wanted control over the portal) who are quickly eliminated by the unkillable demigoddess Rory. While they don't carry any identification, it's rapidly determined that they had to be American... since some of the soldiers were black.

  • March 14, 2016
    Ominae
    dAn

    - Maybe fix description a bit to clear up confusions.
  • September 16, 2016
    oneuglybunny
    Not to muddy the waters, but we have Overt Agent, and a slew of Covert X tropes. May I suggest rename to Covert Agent, which is an individual with allegiance to one party, but poses as someone else to infiltrate a hostile or suspect group. That is what this proto-trope is about, n'est-ce pas?
  • September 17, 2016
    Ominae
    If anyone else agrees, then I won't mind changing the title.
  • September 17, 2016
    DAN004
    ^^ ain't that be The Mole?

    Reading the description, it sounds like it's anytime one conceals their identity for any reason.

    So a Missing Supertrope?
  • September 17, 2016
    oneuglybunny
    ^ Y'know, I'd almost gone along with the idea that Identity Concealment and The Mole are the same thing. And as far as plot mechanisms go, the two are identical. The only reason not to discard this as an unnecessary duplicate is that Ident Conc is the Good Guy version, and leave The Mole for Bad Guy snoops and saboteurs, which would create Sister Trope s. Although, that will create the problem of where to categorize the Double Agent.
  • September 18, 2016
    Ominae
    That's probably something we need to hammer out.
  • September 18, 2016
    DAN004
    ^^ heroic version is Reverse Mole
  • March 20, 2017
    Ominae
    Update. I'll start to fix this as soon as I can. I'll need to update this to make this a Hero trope. A subversion for this would be that bad guys (unknown to the public) in the police/military/intelligence agencies use their jobs for cover for their activities.
  • March 21, 2017
    Getta
    Title probably should be clearer too
  • March 30, 2017
    Ominae
    Any suggestion would be nice 'cause this is the closest title I can use.

  • March 30, 2017
    eroock
    Dirty Harriet is a subtrope.
  • April 3, 2017
    Ominae
    Well, changed the title. It's not better, but I'm still trying to piece it up.
  • April 3, 2017
    Getta
    So stuff like superhero identities fall here too, right? Assuming they don't make it public like say Iron Man.
  • April 4, 2017
    Ominae
    I don't know. My answer would be no since this tripe falls specifically for characters who go deep for police/military/intelligence.
  • April 4, 2017
    Getta
  • April 5, 2017
    Ominae
    That can work. Assuming no one objects.
  • April 5, 2017
    TomWalpertac2
    The NCIS entry needs a little editing.
    • NCIS has done this multiple times.
      • A subplot in the entire 4th season of NCIS involves Tony going undercover to flush out arms dealer Rene Benoit as part of an operation sanctioned by Director Jenny Shepard to find evidence on whether Benoit had a hand in killing her father.
      • One episode featured a home-grown terrorist operation buying explosives from an Israeli seller. The team know that the buyer will investigate Ziva, so McGee does some computer magic and redacts Ziva's legitimate US history in order to get past the suspicious buyer.
      • Throughout NCIS Los Angeles, this is how agents and support personnel of the Office of Special Project operate. They are a NCIS-sanctioned deep cover anti-criminal/terrorist unit.

  • July 7, 2017
    hszmv1
    @Gretta: I would say the difference between this and Secret Identity is official knowledge. Superman is Clark Kent is not an example of this. Superman is Bizarro as part of Batman's Plan to infilitrate the Legion of Doom is. The former is not part of any mission to infiltrate the Daily Planet to find criminal wrong doing and Superman has no plans of leaving that life any time soon. The later is a specific mission, with a specific intelligence gathering goal that his colleages are at some level aware of and can support him in his cover.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=uwr4vfp38vi7h3txtff7n9ah