Agent Provocateur

In spy lingo, this is a covert operative whose job is to incite rebellion, entice defectors or goad the enemy into a foolish action (sometimes to the point of skirting with the False Flag Operation). Even though it's a sexy French word, the Agent Provocateur got the short end of the sexy spy stick. They are looked down upon by...pretty much everyone.

It may have something to do with the fact that—as a Treacherous Advisor—they are inherently untrustworthy. One side (the Agent Provocateur's true alignment) believes they are inciting foolish, risky attacks against them, while the other side (the infiltratees) thinks they are inciting foolish, risky behavior in their friends.

Confused yet? That's probably why these guys aren't nearly as popular in fiction as they are in Real Life. In Real Life it's good if no one can figure out a covert operative's cover. In fiction, on the other hand...

Common conspiracy theory trope. See also Astroturf. Not necessarily one of Les Collaborateurs, though he or she may double as this. Not to be confused with a Honey Trap.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Ishval uprising is supposedly the result of a soldier accidentally shooting an Ishval boy. It was actually Envy, who had posed as an Armestrian soldier and shot the child with the intent of causing the rebellion. This is pretty much the Homunculi's modus operandi: they start wars for the express purpose of drawing the enormous transmutation circle Father needs for his master plan.
    • In the 2003 anime adaptation, a group of special forces had been tasked with starting the Ishbal uprising. This group of special forces is then used in experiments to create chimeras who are let loose after the 5th laboratory arc and expose the whole conspiracy. The story of the child getting shot is then spread around as a coverup.

  • A Civil Campaign: Byerly is actually an ImpSec agent working to support Lord Dono's claim to the countship. Or at least to actively encourage the rather extreme shenanigans Dono's rival attempts.
    • Byerly's job was merely to observe, and report any suspicious activity. His working as an agent provocateur against Richars was done entirely on his own. ImpSec had no official interest in which side won the Countship.
    • Frustrated by the inherently reactionary nature of his job as an Imperial Auditor, Miles briefly ponders the probability of convincing the Emperor to deploy an Auditor Provocateur.
  • The State Councilor novel contains enough of these to make Erast Fandorin swear he'll never take political cases again.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: Gwen is falsely accused of being one.
  • Sten: Mercury Corps uses this as a matter of course. Sten incites rebellion on Vulcan by fulfilling the Mig folk story of "one of their own" who will get out, return, and lead them to freedom. Especially effective because he is, and does.
  • Nom Anor from the New Jedi Order, several times in different disguises.
    • In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, this is the role of "Vengeance", supposedly a grassroots organization of citizens outraged at the political crises du jour, actually an Imperial infiltration team of maybe a dozen guys, posing as a massive organization. In addition to starting riots and otherwise stirring up trouble, they use high-tech stealth blasters and redirection crystals to make it appear that planetary forces (and in one case, Han Solo) are shooting back at protestors. In their final act on Bothawui, they go one step further, arranging for the planetary shields to be shut down, and infiltrating members onto selected parts of the multispecies fleet in orbit to incite an all-out war by bombarding the planet.
  • James Mowry, the hero of Eric Frank Russell's Wasp, is sent down alone to an alien planet to stir up as much trouble as he possibly can.
  • The backstory of Riviera in Neuromancer who has a sexual fetish out of betrayal. He enjoys seducing women, turning them towards radical causes, then handing them over to the Turkish Secret Police and assisting in their torture.
  • Death on the Nile has one of these as the Red Herring.
  • On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett. Ross Perot and his executives are approached by a shady character who offers to get their colleagues out of an Iranian prison in exchange for a considerable amount of money to be paid into an escrow account (meaning the money isn't handed over till after the deal). After debating the matter, they decide to refuse because they suspect they're being set up for a bribery charge.

     Live Action — Film  
  • The film Matewan, about labor unrest and the formation of a miner's union in 1920s West Virginia, had the Baldwin-Felts Detective Organization engaged in this activity, through their mole in the union persuading a young miner to plant a bomb to shut down one of the mines.
  • Dark Blue World (2001). One of the inmates in the post-war prison in Communist Czechoslovakia suggests they steal a tool from the doctor's office and use it to break out. Later he admits the guards put him up to it, so they could have an excuse to beat up the protagonist. According to the DVD Commentary this was Truth in Television.

     Live Action Television  
  • The Prisoner. This trope causes the failure of the escape attempt in "Checkmate". Number Six works out how to identify the spies among the inhabitants of the Village, and thus is able to recruit a team of genuine prisoners. Unfortunately on the night of the escape the prisoners become paranoid that Number Six is an agent provocateur trying to incite them, so denounce him to Number Two.

  • King David sent one of his men to Absalom to give bad advice so that David could escape Jerusalem and prepare for war.


     Western Animation  
  • Captain Barca from Exo Squad is one, constantly enticing younger Pirates to rebel against Simbacca, while on Phaeton's payroll.

     Real Life  
  • While police sting operations (such as asking to buy some drugs hoping the suspected drug dealer would agree, then catching them in the act) bear a close resemblance to this trope, the police have to be careful. Crossing the line into persuading someone to commit a crime they otherwise would have been unlikely to is called entrapment, and depending on the jurisdiction can get evidence dismissed or even cause the whole case to be thrown out.
  • Throughout history, Agent Provocateurs have been sent inside a few social movements with the intent to destroy them and stir up controversy to help discredit the movement. The Other Wiki provides a list of proven and suspected cases here.
    • COINTELPRO was an American government program of Agent Provocateurs deployed between 1956 and 1971. Agents were sent to infiltrate the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, among others.
  • Some people have assumed that Tumblr has been the targets of these - not because the government wishes to discredit the Social Justice movement(s) prevalent on the site, but because Trolls are simply bored and want to dismantle the movement(s) by invoking Poe's Law.