[[quoteright:350:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/russianspyftvolga_1934.png]]
Not Film/JamesBond/[[Series/{{Alias}} Sydney Bristow]], although that's one for TheShipYard...

A vehicle, in whatever medium, that looks like a civilian one, but is actually there to gather intelligence. Typically disguised as fishing trawlers, because they're so ubiquitous on the oceans that even though every navy and spy agency knows fishing trawlers are used for spying there's no way to know ''which'' ones are spy ships and which are genuinely just there to catch fish.

Supertrope of VanInBlack.

See also BlackHelicopter.

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!!Examples:

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[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* In ''[[ComicBook/GIJoeARealAmericanHeroMarvel G.I. Joe Special Missions]]'' #1, the Joes stage a mission on a fake fishing trawler.

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[[folder: Film ]]

* As a LongRunner series of movies about spies, ''Film/JamesBond'' films of course have several examples:
** An odd variation in ''Film/TheManWithTheGoldenGun''. James Bond discovers that the partially sunken RMS Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Victoria harbor has been turned into a British listening post for spying on the Chinese.
** ''Film/ForYourEyesOnly'' has one accidentally fish up a SeaMine and sink.
** This goes back to ''Film/DrNo'': Quarrel runs a simple fishing boat, but he helps out secret agents all the time.
* ''Film/TheFinalCountdown'' has the ''[=USS=] Nimitz'' task force shadowed by a Soviet-flagged "fishing trawler" that isn't doing much fishing.
** Truth in television, see real life below
* ''Film/TheWackiestShipInTheArmy'' (and the subsequent RecycledTheSeries) was set in the Pacific theater of World War II and centered about the crew of the a leaky wooden twin-masted schooner (the USS ''Echo'' in the movie and the USS ''Kiwi'' in the series) whose mission was to place spies behind Japanese lines. The ship's cover was an itinerant trading vessel sailing under a neutral flag.

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[[folder: Literature ]]

* ''Polar Star'' by Martin Cruz Smith. The protagonist discovers that the Soviet factory ship he's working on is broadcasting fake submarine signals meant to be picked up by an American spy vessel -- one of the trawlers that provide their fish.
* Tom Clancy's ''Without Remorse'' has Russian "fishing trawlers" following a fleet battlegroup on a highly classified and sensitive mission. Fortunately, they're known to be gathering intel and are easily fooled.
* In ''Literature/TheBible'', when Joseph had become vizier of Egypt and his brothers came to buy grain, Joseph pretended he thought they were this. As they had earlier sold him for a slave one can see why.
* ''Literature/HonorHarrington'' presented many variations on this:
** Dedicated spy ships disguised as merchant vessels, sometimes trolling around for suspiciously long periods of time waiting for a cargo to arrive.
** Actual merchant vessels collecting what information they could for their government, including merchant ships captained by [[HomeGuard reserve officers]] from their home navies). These ships would sometimes be fitted out with better communications equipment or engines to help them gather info and run it home, in addition to carrying out their actual freight-hauling business.
** Fast [[{{Courier}} Courier Boats]], either [[DiplomaticImpunity operating in an official diplomatic capacity]] or simply under the employ of a merchant or journalist agency that would have legitimate need to send messages quickly.
** Merchant ships trying to shadow a military force on the move is much rarer (as it is very difficult behavior to justify InUniverse). The one time it happens, the Havenite warship being tailed [[RealityEnsues turns around and attacks their follower]] once it becomes clear there is no legitimate reason for them to be following them. Unfortunately for the destroyer crew, the merchant ship was actually a [[AWolfInSheepsClothing heavily armed privateer]], and the ensuing battle [[CurbStompBattle is a short one in the Privateer's favor.]]
* At one point in Literature/TheThrawnTrilogy, smuggler and information broker Talon Karrde is discreetly informed by an ally that the ally's ships will attack the Imperial shipyard at Bilbringi. In order to spy on the resulting chaos, Karrde arranges for his ships to take on a legitimate shipping contract to deliver parts to Bilbringi (a ruse which he uses several times, equally often for spying or sabotage). [[MeaningfulBackgroundEvent While there]], they also happen to record a mysterious but trivial detail that ultimately proves highly valuable to the New Republic.

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[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* The ''DoctorWho'' story "Remembrance of the Daleks" has a variation. The Seventh Doctor encounters an antenna van that ''seems'' to be tracking who's paid their TV license fee, but is actually tracking alien (read: Dalek) energy signatures.

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[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* Free Traders can sometimes do this in {{Traveller}}.

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[[folder: Video Games ]]

* The second mission of ''AceCombat5'' has the player character and his squadron investigating a reconnaissance vessel that had launched [=UAVs=] near the Osean shoreline. Later in the game, the ''Andromeda'''s signal intercept capabilities play a key role in the plot.

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[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* ''TheSimpsons'' featured one with the letters F-B-I painted prominently on the side. (The letters stood for "Flowers By Irene".) Cue the line, "I wonder why that [moving van / florist's van / pizza delivery van / whatever] has been parked there for two weeks," or similar, whereupon the van instantly screeched away and was replaced by another (that was just as suspicious).
** "Homer the Father", a 2011 episode had a series of these, each of them having the initials of an American government agency [[IThoughtItMeant but standing for something completely different]] ([[ChinaTakesOverTheWorld CIA = Chinese Intelligence Agency]], [[CheeseEatingSurrenderMonkeys FBI = French Bureau of Investigation]], and [[Series/TheATeam ATF = A-Team of Finland]]).

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[[folder: Real Life ]]

* [[TypesOfNavalShips Many navies do it:]]
** The USSR had at least ten types of these, such as the "Okean" and "Primorye" classes. Much of their commercial fishing fleet was, according to TheOtherWiki, also engaged in spying ops on the side. These "trawlers" frequently were used to spy on US carrier battle groups as that was the greatest threat to the Soviet Navy.
* Before WWII, a small Japanese fishing boat was actually mapping the coast of Southern California and northern Mexico, and listening to radio signals.
* USS Pueblo. This was a rather less subtle type, rather than being disguised as a commonplace civilian vessel it was openly a US Navy vessel, but officially a "technical research ship" that was supposedly [[BlatantLies researching atmospheric phenomena]]. The lack of a disguise meant that such ships could be equipped with a more extensive array of electronic surveillance devices it also meant their true mission was pretty much an open secret.
** Another "technical research ship" was the USS Liberty, infamously attacked by the Israeli military in an apparent case of mistaken identity during the [[UsefulNotes/ArabIsraeliConflict Six Day War]]. Whether Israel actually mistook the Liberty for a much smaller Egyptian ship as claimed remains deeply controversial to this day and quickly became fodder for conspiracy theories.
* In modern times submarines have largely taken over this role from surface vessels as they are more easily able to escape detection(obviously). This largely happened as a result of the USS Pueblo incident. This is known as ELINT(Electronic Intelligence) and is one of the most useful purposes for submarines today.
* GhengisKhan and probably every other ruler in the world used merchants as spies from time to time. As they are among the few people who will be traveling, it makes sense.

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