"When a spy finds a listening device, the last thing he does is turn it off."
People notice their phone is tapped, or see a microphone in their potted plant, or otherwise discover that someone is spying on them. So they start acting.
A specific version of this is when two people being audio bugged carry on a conversation for the benefit of the bug while holding the real
conversation by sign language or exchanging written notes. (And the visual conversation will often begin with a note or signal meaning "I should warn you we're being bugged".)
Can be used as Number 33 of The Thirty-Six Stratagems
. Compare Feed the Mole
See also Being Watched
, Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults
and Exact Eavesdropping
Anime and Manga
- Sasuke did this in Naruto by giving his teammates a password that the real Naruto would never be able to remember. The imposter Naruto who showed up did remember.
- Combined with Bluffing the Murderer in The Kindaichi Case Files: On at least one occasion, Kindaichi stages a fight and pretends to go off alone in order to lure out the suspected killer.
- In an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the Major realizes that the Tachikomas are observing her meeting with Batou. She and Batou proceed to hold two conversations simultaneously: they speak audibly to mislead the Tachikomas, while using their neural implants to message each other wirelessly and say what they really mean.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Hawkeye needs to get Mustang a message about the identity of the homunculus Pride, but knows that Pride is observing her, so she signals Mustang by tapping her mug. They then have a long, apparent innocuous conversation that's a cover for a coded message.
- Actually, Roy does this for an undefined ammount of time, he's a well known ladies' man so he acts like he's talking to one of his girlfriends in his phone while in truth he is giving coded instructions to his underlings.
- Light did this with Kyomi Takada in Death Note: They were having one conversation for the benefit of the Task Force listening in, while secretly writing notes to each other containing the real conversation.
- Done rather humorously in an episode of Sonic X with a bugged prison cell. Knuckles cottoned on and interrupted the conversation about the Chaos Emerald with one about food.
- Happens in Girls und Panzer: Miho realizes the enemy is listening on their radio transmissions, so she begins giving false orders through the radio to lure the enemy tanks into ambushes while delivering her real instructions with her cell phone.
- In Astonishing X-Men, Cyclops is aware that the enemy is probably listening to the team's conversation, so he signals Emma Frost to link the team telepathically. He then lays out his plan via the link, while the team has a verbal conversation designed to lure the enemy into a trap. It's particularly effective because the readers aren't aware of the second conversation until the scene is revisited in the next issue.
- Kentucky Fried Movie's segment "A Fistful of Yen". While in Dr. Klahn's headquarters, Loo is about to discuss escape plans with Ada Gronick when she shows him a listening device. They make polite conversation as she shows him the rest of the devices and spies.
Ada Gronick: [speaking quietly] The guards will have to be bribed. We'll need money.
Loo: We can raise the money, that's no problem. [Reaches up and pulls down an overhead microphone, speaks into it] But that would be wrong.
- The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are in a room when Holmes silently informs Watson that there's someone listening at the keyhole. They then have a conversation intended to fool the eavesdropper that they're leaving the country.
- The villains do this to Dick Tracy in the Dick Tracy movie.
- In the movie The Guns of Navarone, the team is going over the plan when one of the main characters hands to the other a note that reads keep talking. The rest of the team keeps talking while Stavros sneaks over to the door catching the eavesdropper and pulling him into the room. It's the first sign that things may not be going as planned.
- In After the Sunset, after the retired jewel thieves discover that the FBI agent has hidden a bug in their apartment, they begin talking like they're getting ready to have sex. (the fact that he's eagerly listening to all this is genuinely creepy). Then the woman claims to have invited another woman over to join them. . .the agent's mother. At this point, they bid him good night, then smash the bug, causing painful feedback in his ear.
- Thunderbird 6: when Lady Penelope is talking with Alan about Skyship One's captain Foster, of whom they both already suspect that he is not who he claims to be, the lamp next to her bed falls of the table, revealing a listening device underneath. Realizing the ship's crew is eavesdropping on her, she quickly alters her opinion about Foster and tells Alan they shouldn't jump to conclusion so fast.
- A villainous example in There's Something About Mary. When Pat finds out that Mary's neighbor routinely intercepts and listens to cell phone calls, he sets one up with his friend where they talk about his philanthropic work with orphan children in Africa, and generally make him seem like the greatest guy in the world.
- In The Wolf of Wall Street Jordan warns Donnie about an FBI bug by writing about it on a napkin that is later used as evidence against Jordan.
- Used in The 39 Clues series, more than once to throw the other Cahills of the track
- During the "David" arc in the Animorphs series, once the team realizes how unstable and dangerous David is, they sometimes do this while discussing their plans, in case he is eavesdropping on them in morph.
- They host a similar fake conversation when some Andalite assassins (claiming to be there solely to kill Visser Three) show up and the Animorphs are pretty sure that the assassins are not what they claim to be. The Animorphs pretend to break up when they strongly suspect Estrid and Arbat are listening in, allowing Ax to join with the assassins and figure out what their real plan is.
- In the Discworld books, Vetinari sends all his semaphore communiques using codes that are "fiendishly difficult" but not unbreakable. He wants people to read them so that he knows what they think he thinks they're thinking.
- In one of the Foreigner novels, protagonist Bren is in a situation where, to communicate with the alien atevi, he must use the communications systems of a group of humans who are not only eavesdropping on him, but blocking the transmission of anything they don't like. To get around this he sends a message comparing his situation to a scenario in a particular genre of atevi popular culture, a comparison which seems innocuous to the human eavesdroppers but which clearly explains exactly how much trouble he's in to any atevi.
- In John Grisham's The Rainmaker, Rudy Baylor discovers that the attorneys for the insurance company he's suing have tapped his phone. He considers exposing them, but he realizes he'll never prove they were the ones who did it. Instead, he leaves the tap in place and feeds them false information, making them look like fools in the courtroom and rigging the jury in his favor.
- Used in the third Sammy Keyes book by Sammy and her friend Marissa, who are catcher and pitcher, respectively, of one of their school's softball teams. They're eating lunch before a big game when Sammy notices a member of the rival team lurking nearby, so she and Marissa start loudly going over what signals Marissa's going to use for each of her pitches—the wrong signals, of course.
- In Doom: Hell on Earth, Fly and the squad meet some infiltrators posing as drug dealers and making zombie serum. The spies blast obnoxiously loud music and everybody talks about bands and drugs while holding the real discussion on notepads.
- Invoked in Conan And The Manhunters. Some priests pay a couple of guards to stand outside a prison window and discuss how the city's treasure is going to be stored in the basement of their new temple. Conan, a robber chief this round, is in that cell and manages to escape. The priests needed magic present to begin the awakening, and there was no way Conan's band could move all the cash without a wizard's help. Complications ensue.
- In The Dresden Files book Cold Days, Harry knows Lara has placed bugs in Thomas' apartment. So when he calls up a contact, he speaks with a representative of the contact, warns them the line is bugged, and uses big words like "operative." Harry knows this will get her attention and send her to keep track of whomever Harry has contacted. The bluff comes when Harry reveals he wants Lara to try and track Odin as he will spot them and this will tell him how the White Court does its surveillance now. This information is payment to him for agreeing to meet Harry at all. Harry then blows out every electronic device in Thomas' apartment, which really should have been a tip-off, but was awesome nonetheless.
- The Tommy and Tuppence book The Secret Adversary uses this with the character of Annette. Annette is actually Jane Finn, pretending to have trauma-induced amnesia so she can't be forced to reveal the location of a set of secret documents. Part of her ruse is "forgetting" how to speak English and only using French; at one point, she realizes she's being spied on and starts crying and wailing in French so her kidnappers are convinced the amnesia is real.
- Doonesbury: While Zonker is being kept in a hotel awaiting trial for possession of marijuana, Mike finds a bug under a lamp. The two start very obviously acting, talking about how completely sober Zonker is in order to tip off the prosecutors that yes, they know there's a bug in the room. It gets the case thrown out of court.
- A MAD strip suggested several ways to mess with them (for the kind of eavesdroppers who are just nosy folks, not spies). Like on an airplane: "That nice Arab guy gave me this package for his grandma. I bet it's a clock - you hear how it's ticking?"
- In Metal Gear Solid, Liquid and Ocelot discuss their PAL codes and Snake's card key deactivating Metal Gear Rex, knowing that Snake is spying on them, to further fool Snake into unwillingly doing their bidding for them.
- From Avatar: The Last Airbender: a masterful example by Azula, when she has Mai and Ty Lee purposely reveal that they're Fire Nation in disguise... to the pair of Dai Li agents they knew were eavesdropping, overhead. She knew they'd ferry the news back to Long Feng, and knew he couldn't resist the opportunity to use it against her. So she wasn't surprised when those same agents brought her to his cell, where he coerces her into helping him under threat of exposing her to the Earth King. Azula "reluctantly" agrees. It doesn't end well for Long Feng.
- In one episode of Gummi Bears, the king tries to find out a famous chef's secret recipe by listening at the door, which the chef thwarts by reciting absolute nonsense instead of his ingredients. However, this does not thwart Cubbi, Sunni, and Tummi, who are hiding in the kitchen and can write down the actual steps he's taking.
- One episode of King of the Hill centers around Dale attempting to sue the Manitoba Tobacco Company for "ruining Nancy's skin" with their cigarette smoke, so he can use the money to get her some plastic surgery. They send him a singing placard fish that's bugged, in order to get proof against Dale's claim. Being the paranoid nut he is, Dale almost immediately recognizes the bug, and decides to counter-bluff them. Unfortunately, he does this in some of the saddest and most painful scenes in the series by acting as a total Jerkass towards her.
- In one episode of American Dad!, Stan decides to stage a "disappearance" to see how quickly Francine would move on without him. When he gets back, he discovers that Francine had intentionally moved on as quickly as was plausible to get to him, remarking that it was suspicious that the house was full of Incredibly Obvious Bugs.