"Let me pass on to you the one thing I've learned about this place.It's a city. Of spies. These locations tend to occur in multi-polar 'verses (that is, with two or more power blocs) and are either neutral locations or the capital cities of the powers themselves. If all the world's spies seem to work in the city a Spy Drama is set in, it's a City of Adventure. See also the Truce Zone, which is very often one of these. Its vast number of spies might also be because a Deadly Decadent Court has set up shop here.
No one here is exactly what he appears.
Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... And not me."
No one here is exactly what he appears.
Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... And not me."
— G'kar, Babylon 5 — "Mind War"
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Anime and Manga
- Roanapur, in Black Lagoon, has a fair number of spies running around in addition to all the criminals.
- Academy City of A Certain Magical Index.
- Thanks to the mysterious Hell's Gate, Tokyo in Darker Than Black is crawling with agents for every faction imaginable, from criminal cartels to national intelligence agencies.
- One of the Marvelman/Miracleman comics ("Spy Story", #21 of the revived series, 1991, by Neil Gaiman) was about a woman living in a city of spies. Turns out all the members of the intelligence agencies of the world who couldn't adjust to the Utopia were put into one big city to intrigue their little hearts out.
- Los Angeles serves as an interesting variation of this in Desolation Jones. It's a city full of spies who've all been forcibly retired and who are kept legally invisible by the government. They also can't leave.
- Bothawui and the other Bothan-colonized worlds (especially Kothlis, home of the cell of Bothan spies who are mentioned in Return of the Jedi) in the Star Wars Expanded Universe are planets of spies. Also Playful Hackers, backbiting status-obsessed politicians, and incredibly brave honor-bound people. With plenty of overlap between these categories. Bothans wear many Hats.
- Post-war Vienna is a hotbed of intrigue (and zither music) in The Third Man.
- Our Man In Havannah. Bet you can't guess which city.
- Casablanca, in the film of the same name.
- Atomic Blonde takes place in Berlin during the end of the Cold War, so naturally the city is full of spies from both the NATO nations and the Soviet Union.
- Boktor (capital of Drasnia) and Mal Zeth (capital of the Mallorean Empire) in The Belgariad. Drasnia tops it all, being a country of spies. Spies are its chief export (that and reindeer).
- King's Landing in A Song of Ice and Fire, though to a lesser extent than some of the other examples on this page, does have a large number of spies for different factions. Although they don't figure into the War of the Five Kings much,supplementary materials indicate that Braavos and Volantis (as well as the other Free Cities) have in the past served in this role
- Essentially anywhere Varys' influence extends could count as such, thanks to his network of "little birds".
- In Robert Sheckley's "Spy Story", there's an entire planet settled exclusively by the spies come to spy on the main protagonist.
- Grantville in 1632 becomes this in later books, as everyone and his mother wants to get their hands on up-time technology. Subverted in that the spying is done fairly openly - most of the information they want is public knowledge, and the Americans don't actually care that much.
- Adding to the mix is that Grantville still has a functioning (if limited) Internet, which offers a very secure way for the aforementioned spies to swap information with one another.
- In Death and Diplomacy, spying, deception and intrigue are the Hat of the Saloi, to the point that every Saloi is secretly spying on not only their two enemy cultures, but every other Saloi. (Except it's not a secret, because everybody knows that, so maybe that's just what they want people to think, and so on...)
- In William Tenn's short, "Lisbon Cubed", Earth itself turns out be a conveniently located neutral site where dozens of alien species secretly run their competing spy rings, spying on each other, while Earth remains unaware of the existence of aliens. The name is a reference to the historical role the city of Lisbon in Portugal played as a spy center during WWII.
- Discussed in the Full Metal Panic! novels when revealing where Mithril had the administrative headquarters for their Pacific operations. The chose Sydney, Australia as its large enough that they can blend by pretending to be the regional headquarters of a multi-national corporation and geographically isolated enough that's its not a natural crossroads attracting a lot of attention.
Live Action TV
- If you were to believe Burn Notice, Miami is full of spies and retired spies.
- Then again, the city attracts a lot of retiring people and is pretty close to Cuba.
- And it doesn't hurt that Florida doesn't have a state income tax, which makes it a popular place for mobile people to have as a residence.
- Babylon 5: The station itself is a massive nest of intrigue, mostly because its the only neutral port around and between the major powers. Being the hub of diplomats means it attracts the dark side of diplomacy, spying.
- Chuck: In the episode, Chuck Versus the Suburbs, Chuck and Sarah go undercover in the suburb of Meadow Branch to find a Fulcrum agent. Later in the episode, it is revealed that the entire cul de sac is actually a front for Fulcrum, which is trying to build their own intersect.
- Game of Thrones: King's Landing is rife with spies for various members of the Deadly Decadent Court. In one scene, Littlefinger is polite enough to point out several of them, including his own.
- Vancouver, of all places, on Intelligence (2006). This makes more sense than you might think. It's is a major world port right next to a major world power (the United States) and right across from two more (China and Russia) in Canada, which has traditionally served as a buffer between the three. Plus the fact that it's a very cosmopolitan city where any nationality blends right in, it could very well be a City of Spies for much the same reason Kathmandu has become so popular.
- The Village in The Prisoner. All the inhabitants are forcibly retired spies.
- Berlin in Pan Am. Of course as the series is set in the '60s, during the Cold War, as noted below this is Truth in Television.
- The planet Arden in Traveller
- Top Secret, adventure "Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle''. The setting is a small neutral European town full of spies.
- Al Amarja, the Mediterranean Banana Republic Over the Edge is based in, is crammed to the rafters with weirdness of every description. The multiple espionage agencies fighting each other in the back alleys is one of the most mundane aspects of the setting.
- Every player character in Paranoia is required to be a member of at least one secret society, and most NPCs are part of one as well. Given that the characters are supposed to be hunting down secret society members, this can get ugly.
- Columbia in Crimson Skies.
- The 'newly created international city of Espiona' in the board game Spy Ring.
- Krakow in Twilight: 2000.
- Eberron goes a step further and has an entire country of spies - Zilargo, especially its capital of Trolanport. It's also the homeland of the gnomes. Adventurers in Zilargo are well advised to Beware the Nice Ones, as Zilargo boasts the most terrifyingly capable secret police force in the setting.
- Planescape has Sigil, City of Doors, which is a city of spies because it contains portals to every plane in the multiverse and is therefore the most strategically important location imaginable. Legions of ideological/philosophical or political factions, religious groups, business empires, crime syndicates, and both sides in the Blood War have agents here.
- The board game Spy Alley takes place in one.
- In Demon: The Descent, any city with a huge Unchained presence quickly becomes a city of spies. The demons must constantly stay one step ahead of the God-Machine, unraveling its plans through moves and countermoves. Most demons organize themselves in small Rings, and many cities have Agencies that can offer demons resources, be they cash, safehouses, or host bodies.
- The AI in Civilization V will almost always plant its spies in the city with the highest espionage potential (because they can steal technologies from it faster), which is based on science output per turn and therefore almost certainly a/the player's capital, especially in single-player. Place one counterspy in your capital and watch him rapidly level up to Special Agent by killing spies from around the world every few turns as world leader after world leader crawls to you, embarrassed and begging for forgiveness.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, Manaan in some ways has this role in its nature as an extremely valuable world that maintains neutrality. While both the Republic and Sith have embassies on the world, neither are allowed to carry weapons on the streets and are both extremely limited and forced to combat by proxy. In addition the trial of Sunry, where both he and his victim were being manipulated by the Republic and Sith, is an example of the types of manipulation that go on. The way in which the Republic builds a secret base with the approval of elements of the Selkath rulers also fits into this type of system.
- Escape Velocity Override has two separate things that fit this in different ways. One is Pax Station, which as pretty much the sole place in which in the United Earth-Voinian Empire peace treaty meaningfully exists is a centre of intrigue, from Voinians hiring human mercenaries to UE agents retrieving Voinian defectors. The other is the entire Igadzra culture — all three of the Strands have a thing as a deliberate policy, and the Igadzra thing is something like devious paranoia. This both means that Igadzra tend to spy on other Igadzra and have led to the Igadzra having the most sophisticated and extensive intelligence agencies and clandestine scheming amongst the Strands.
- Pottsylvania from Rocky and Bullwinkle is shown to be a whole country of spies in the few times it is shown.
As can be seen from the list below, if a city has been (or is) either the capital of a Great Power, or a focus of international conflict/intrigue at one time or another, it will become a real City of Spies. Some of the best examples are:
- Berlin during the Cold War, because it was a city in the middle of communist territory where all four occupation powers were in close proximity (as was Vienna, see below).
- Lampshaded in all conceivable versions of Casino Royale by Bond girl Vesper Lynd (a pun on 'West Berlin').
- Lisbon (World War II) was pretty much this during the course of the war, particularly when taking into account Portugal's neutral status.
- Washington, D.C. (Cold War, present)
- You can even take tours.
- It's not just unfriendly countries (the Communist bloc during the Cold War, China and Russia today) that have a major espionage presence in Washington. There was a major scandal in the late 1980's when Israel, one of the U.S.'s closest allies, was caught conducting nuclear-related espionage, and commercial competitors of the U.S. engage in serious industrial/technical espionage efforts. The F.B.I.'s counterintelligence division has a more than full-time job on its hands keeping track of all these spies and controlling their efforts.
- The opening video on the National Spy Museum tour estimates that DC has more spies per capita than any other city on the planet.
- Which causes problems when selecting areas for dead drops or covert meetings between spies and their handlers. Because thousands of spies have been working in cities like Washington and Moscow for over half a century, there's very few 'ideal' locations that haven't been used before. In theory a security service could stake out these places permanently and have a good chance of catching a spy in the act.
- Also during the The American Civil War, with DC set between Confederate Virginia and Confederate-friendly Maryland and a good number of residents sympathetic to the Southern Cause. DC's mirror opposite city, the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, was riddled with Union spies and sympathizers,note and perhaps more to the point, all of the slaves in Richmond—including those in Confederate President Jefferson Davis' own household—were natural Union sympathizers and therefore natural Union spies (Davis' housekeeper, for instance, was a Union agent).
- Moscow (same)
- Casablanca and Tangiers (World War II)
- Hence Casablanca.
- Istanbul (Practically Forever.)
- Helsinki (Cold War, present):
- Because it was close to the Soviet Union, largely sympathetic to the West, but neutral. The Finns were quite aware of their situation, practicing a policy of "bowing to the East in such a way that it could not be seen as mooning the West."
- For a while it looked like that Helsinki had lost its importance as a spy city in the aftermath of the Cold War as Finland was no longer situated in between two powerful military alliances. However following the Russian annexation of Crimea military intervention in Syria and the resulting tensions with the United States, spy activity has once again spiked and according to Finnish Security Intelligence Service it has reached Cold War era levels.
- Tallinn, Estonia (Today), because it was once part of the Soviet Union, but is now firmly in the Western camp (part of the EU and NATO). Since 2008 the city is home to the NATO Cyber Defense Center. This last is not particularly surprising: Internet penetration in Estonia is ridiculously high (the country was the first to hold official online elections), the country has a large number of internet-based companies including Skype, and Estonian systems are a common target for Russian hackers.
- Kathmandu (since about the early 2000s): With Nepal being sandwiched between the two next likely superpowers, and a strategic prize for either, the capital has become like this. Sympathetic towards India mostly, but makes sure to keep Beijing in the loop.
- Vienna (Cold War, Present). Most people don't realize this, but Austria, like Germany, was carved up into four occupation zones after the end of World War II, with Vienna also being divided. The terms under which the occupation of Austria ended mandated that Austria become a neutral state, which it did, so its situation ended up being rather like Finland's. Also, a large number of international institutions are based in or have major offices in Vienna; of these, the most important are the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
- The Congress of Vienna at the end of The Napoleonic Wars was a great time for this as well. The British delegation went so far as to take their own service staff on the way with them, knowing that every Austrian they hired would be working for the Austrian government. Others didn't think of this and as a result the Austrians picked them blind.
- More recently, spy swaps between countries like the US, Russia and Britain have still been known to take place in the area. The (now infamous) MI-6 informant Colonel Sergei Skripal was 'exchanged' at Schwechat airport in 2010.
- Iga, Japan (Feudal ages): It's where ninjas originated and where most of them lived during the feudal ages in Japan. It became so independent of the rest of Japan that it became a de-facto city state until 1581, when it was destroyed.
- Prague seems to be the setting of many tales of espionage and intrigue across several genres.
- London particularly during World War II when it was the main staging ground for the war efffort but other periods as well. During the Cold War naturally and the early days of the age of sail, both Civil Wars and half a dozen other time periods, the place was swimming with people selling information to all sides of these conflicts. It probably has dozens of spies in residence to this day due to being one of the largest and most influential cites in the world.
- Vientiane, Laos in the 1960's thanks to its unusual coalition government of neutralists, communists and right-wingers, formed because JFK's administration didn't want to risk a direct confrontation in the region. Instead all sides waged a proxy war through the various Laotian factions until the communist forces became powerful enough to take over by military force in 1975.
- Geneva and other Swiss cities. Being a neutral country with many international agencies is enough to be a spy magnet in any era, but especially during World War 2 when Switzerland was a neutral in the middle of Nazi-controlled Europe that did extensive business with both sides.
- Tehran during WW2. Local government was too weak to do anything with spies.
- Stockholm (World War II), as you can read in Courier From Warsaw, similarly to Lisbon, above (but with colder weather).
- Rotterdam in the Netherlands during World War I, being located at the crossroads of all the major players on the Western Front, was a hotbed of espionage for both Entente and Central intelligence.
- New York today. Thanks to the United Nations, just about every nation in the world has a diplomatic presence in New York, even nations like North Korea or Iran that are hostile to the US.