There were names, and lines connecting the names to other names, and some of the lines were in different colors and...
"Tell me," said General Granger, "is there anyone in my army who
isn’t a spy?"
Somebody disguises themselves
as a member of some group to sneak among them
. However, it turns out everyone else in the area is also in disguise. Primarily used in comedy.
A favorite scene is to have the primary detectives bust an operation, only to find out that the people they're busting are cops themselves. Depending on how much hilarity the writers are going for, there may be as many as three or four squads in the room at the time.
Once the multiple operations are revealed, Jurisdiction Friction
tends to ensue, with the squads arguing about who takes point, who can stick around, and who has to leave.
If they turn out to have been on the same side too, then it is Right Hand Versus Left Hand
. Sometimes the result of a Gambit Pileup
. Might also drive a character to demand: "Okay, will the real [X] please stand up?" - and then everybody
Compare/contrast I Am Spartacus
Due to the nature of this trope, spoilers abound.
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Anime & Manga
- This happens in one of the prequel comics for Smokin' Aces.
- One strip of Twisted Toyfare Theatre had Reed Richards turn into a Skrull and gloat to Susan Richards about having tricked her into having sex with him. She promptly turns into another (male) Skrull and replies "Bob, you idiot."
- Marvel Comics' Secret Invasion got close to this trope at times. For example, one meeting of Marvel's Illuminati (the big movers and shakers of Earth's superheroes) ended when everyone at the table realized he was a Skrull. They hadn't even known themselves!
- In a Don Martin MAD gag strip, all the passengers on an airplane look around shiftily. Then they all get up at the same time, brandishing a weapon, and shout "All right, nobody move! This is a hijack!" Everyone looks at each other and sits down, embarrassed.
- See the Miracleman example under Not My Driver. To go into a bit more detail: the City was created as a place to dump all the spies whose lifetime of paranoia had left them mentally unprepared to live in a Utopia. Everyone who lives there is a spy, but they all think most of the others are the ordinary civilians they're protecting.
- One Nightwing comic featured an entire town where almost every inhabitant was someone in the Witness Relocation program.
- A sub-series of Italian stories in the Mickey Mouse Comic Universe has Goofy writing stories in various genres. Using himself as a protagonist and Mickey Mouse as his sidekick. The stories mostly make fun of various genres and their tropes. One of "his" stories from 2003 has the duo as undercover cops posing as prisoners. Their mission being to befriend a certain prisoner and learn his secrets. They soon find out that their superiors went a bit overboard with their planning. With the exception of the secretive prisoner, the prison population consists entirely of undercover cops.
- In the EC Comics Science-Fiction SuspenStory "Infiltration," a secret U.S. government agency for ferreting out Martian invaders who use hypnotic screens to disguise themselves as human beings discovers that it has been infiltrated by an alien. It turns out the agency is actually controlled by Martians, who are all too glad to rid themselves of the Earth "alien" in their midst.
- In one of Alan Moore's Future Shocks stories, a werewolf is loose on a spaceship and plans to feast on all the unsuspecting humans within. Naturally, every person on the vessel turns out to be a werewolf, to their consternation. It's implied that Earth came up with this as a means of getting rid of all the supernatural beings in their midst; the passengers shown boarding another ship at the end are all plainly vampires in Paper-Thin Disguise.
- By the final issue of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, the entire gang except Shocker is discovered to be a double agent working for some other gang or supervillain.
- Early in Monty Python's Life of Brian, Brian's mother disguises herself as a man to attend a stoning. Every other 'man' there was also a woman wearing a beard. (Even the ones who are played by men.)
- In the movie Traitor, Deep Cover Agent Samir is tasked to place thirty suicide bombers on buses as part of a terror attack. He puts them all on the same bus...
- My Blue Heaven, a mafioso turned protected witness is accused of a crime by the local police. In order to avoid being convicted, he offers the police a deal: he knows of some mafia in the area who are looking to buy stolen goods. He gives them the information, they drop the charges. The police burst in, only to find the buyers are actually undercover FBI agents doing a stakeout.
- Freaked has Ricky jack a milkman for his uniform to try and escape Freek Land, only to run into the rest of the freaks who also had the exact same idea. While they argue, the Big Bad notices the dozen freaks dressed as milkmen from his window and simply remarks that it must be a very competitive route.
- In OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, the hero (who is a french spy passing for a businessman) meets the other foreign businessmen: all but one are also spies.
- In The Departed, the only two named members of The Irish Mob who aren't undercover cops or confidential informants are Mr. French and Fitzy.
- In Captain America: The Winter Soldier it's revealed that HYDRA rebuilt itself and infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning. While loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are implied to outnumber HYDRA operatives, there are still way too many for them to count as just The Mole.
- To Live and Die in L.A.. An informant tells the Cowboy Cop of a courier arriving in town with money for a drug buy. As his superiors won't approve the sting money he needs to entice the Big Bad, he and his partner decide to rob the courier, only to find themselves shot at (the courier is accidentally killed by a stray bullet) and chased by an ever-increasing number of well-armed men with vehicles and radio communication. The two cops barely escape, only to be briefed next day about an FBI sting operation that went wrong and resulted in the death of an undercover agent.
Live Action TV
- Tom Lehrer introduced his song "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be" by saying, "A few years ago I worked for a while at the Los Alamos scientific laboratory in New Mexico. I had a job there as a spy. Now, I guess you know that the staff out there at that time was composed almost exclusively of spies... of one persuasion or another."
- One of the vignettes in The Bonzo Dog Band's "Rhinocratic Oaths" sees a disguised police sergeant carrying out a sting operation at a gay bar (homosexuality being illegal in Britain before 1966), only to find that all the other patrons are policemen... who beat him up.
- The Trope Namer, even if it doesn't use those words in the caption, was a comic from The Far Side, where a wolf fashioned a crude sheep costume to infiltrate a flock of sheep that turned out to be composed entirely of wolves in sheep costumes.
- In another one, a guy is standing in a crowd of people in front of a mirror, yelling 'the vampires are everywhere'. Meanwhile, across the street there's a pair of workers hauling a large mirror, and the man screaming about vampires is the only person with a reflection.
- A Gahan Wilson cartoon in Playboy showed Hispanic-looking revolutionaries overrunning the dictator's office. The dictator, confronting the revolutionary leader, snarled, "You fool — I'm CIA, too!"
- Occurs in Paranoia
- Paranoia in general lives on this trope. The PCs are charged by The Computer to hunt down mutants and secret society members. Every PC is both a mutant and a secret society member.
- The Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies), introduced in the supplement Acute Paranoia (1986). When Friend Computer heard about this secret society, it sent Troubleshooters to infiltrate it and report back to Internal Security; however, since the Real Life Wobblies fell apart before Alpha Complex was created, they were executed for failing to find it. After several iterations, one clever team created the Wobblies so they'd have something to "infiltrate". At first, every single member was an IntSec spy, but later they started finding "real" members of the society... who were actually spies from other secret societies.
- In Prototype, the game devolves into a three-way war between the infected, Blackwatch, and the player character, Alex Mercer. Prototype 2 seems to have the same setup (albeit with a new protagonist and Alex now leading the infection), but as the game progresses, it's revealed that practically half of Blackwatch is secretly working for Mercer.
- In Metal Gear Solid 2, the confederacy of terrorists Raiden fights against has six key leaders: Solidus, Fortune, Ocelot, Olga, Vamp and Fatman. Of these characters three are secretly operating on behalf of the Patriots (Olga, Ocelot and Fatman) and one is secretly operating on behalf of Naomi Hunter (Vamp). Only Solidus and Fortune aren't answering orders from outside parties. However, Fortune was plotting to betray Solidus, who himself had anticipated her betrayal and was plotting to betray Dead Cell.
- This comic about Wonder Trading in Pokémon X and Y (a new feature in which you trade Pokémon with a random player without knowing what you're going to get).
- Get caught cheating in Titanfall, and you will only be able to connect to servers reserved for cheaters.
- The basic premise of Virtue's Last Reward is that nine people are kidnapped and forced to play a Deadly Game by someone called 'Zero'. As it turns out, four of the players actively worked to create the game, and the other four know who Zero is, or can at least make an educated guess. The only people who are as innocent as they claim are K and Quark, given that Alice probably knows everything Clover does.
- This article from The Onion (which parodies the rumor that most of the members of the Ku Klux Klan being mostly run by undercover policemen). Conversely, they also once made a reference to a child porn site being busted by authorities, and every single visitor to the site claimed to be a concerned citizen trying to infiltrate the site and bring it down from the inside.
- The premise of this College Humor sketch is that at one time, Kwantlen University accidentally put all the Resident Advisers on one floor. Hilarity Ensues as they gather around for a fun meeting not knowing that they're all Resident Advisers.
- The girl in this story from Not Always Learning deliberately says something rude in French to the class, to prove to her teacher that she's the only one in the class not using an online translator for her homework.
- The Simpsons
- In one episode Bart went to an auction to mess with the bids. When he won, he snickered and bolted for the door. At which point the auctioneer awarded it to the second highest bidder... who also snickered and bolted for the door. It is revealed that no one placed a serious bid for that item.
- Another episode had Lisa pretend to be part Native American. When she confesses her fraud during a Native American conference, almost everyone there reveals they were faking their ancestry as well, including one guy who was two dwarfs in a raincoat for some reason. Ironically, Homer then mentioned that their family actually does have Native American ancestry.
- The Dog City episode "Disobedience School" had Bugsy Vile taking over the school and trying to turn the students into delinquents. After the climax, all students in his class turned out to be infiltrators from various police agencies.
- On Duckman, a televangelist hosted a forum of other religious figures, who at the end were revealed to be fakes - except for the Ayatollah, who just wanted to improve his image in the states.
- In SpongeBob SquarePants, Squidward and SpongeBob enter a dance contest together, with Squidward inside SpongeBob doing all the dancing. When they are found out and disqualified, all the other contestants reveal that they too had help. The prize went to the only one who danced on his own: Patrick, who was actually rolling on the floor because of a cramp.
- Similarly, Spongebob once tried to disguise as Mister Krabs when he molted his shell so he wouldn't look like a sissy in front of his old buddies; once Mister Krabs makes his confession, the others all reveal that they, too, had something to hide.
- In an episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, a picnic is accompanied by a series of parent-child games. Jimmy, who naturally despairs of Hugh winning anything unassisted, invents something that more or less instills hypercompetence in athletics. When Cindy wins after the device malfunctions, it's revealed that her "mother" is actually her bodybuilding aunt, which would mean the prize goes to the Neutrons - except that they fess up to cheating as well, at which point the presenter runs through every team present until near-terminally unathletic Carl and his father are revealed to be the only ones who haven't cheated in at least one of the events.
- Played for Drama in Batman Beyond - Terry attempts to stop an illegal weapons sale, but it turns out the 'dealers' were actually Gotham PD. When Batman intervenes, the buyers run for it and get away. Commissioner Barbara Gordon chews him out for his rash behaviour. "It took us two months to set up that sting, and two minutes for you to ruin it!"
- On Invader Zim, Zim and GIR were once captured by even stupider aliens who thought they were an actual human and dog. These aliens' disguises were even more pathetic, such as human masks that they held to their faces with sticks.
- Teen Titans has a Playing with a Trope example. After finding not one but two undercover heroes, Brother Blood suspects this of the H.I.V.E Academy. "Was anyone in my school actually there to LEARN?" They were the only moles at the time but another student has a Heel-Face Turn later on.
- In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Bad Guy", Doomstone appears to be a Wretched Hive, but all of its inhabitants are merely pretending to be cutthroats and badasses - because they assume everyone else is the genuine article.
- Futurama featured an episode of robot soap opera All My Circuits, wherein a "Previously On..." segment featured several clips of characters claiming they had amnesia. This culminated in a scene where Calculon sat all the characters down in a room and demanded, "Does anyone here not have amnesia?" No one can answer.
- A common gag in Loony Tunes versions of Red Riding Hood; the wolf character dresses up as grandma to take her place in bed and wait for Red, only to find the bed already full of other wolves!
- There's more than one incident on record where the "crooks" caught by a sting operation turn out to be officers running a sting for some other agency. Sometimes this is just for show, to bring in an undercover operative without blowing his cover.
- Image Boards like 4chan, which usually consists of Trolls trolling Trolls.
- Famously, during the McCarthy era in the USA, the FBI had many of its members infiltrate the American Communist Party. It was estimated that, at its peak, approximately two-thirds of the American Communist Party consisted of operatives on the FBI payroll.
- The Communist Party of Great Britain during the Cold War consisted in around a 35-35-30 split of Security Service agents, KGB agents, and genuine members...many of whom would either quit or join one of the other two groups.
- Conservapedia. Trying to separate the trolls from the genuine maniacs is a Mind Screw of a task, not helped by the fact that people are judged there mostly by how much they suck up to the site's Small Name, Big Ego founder. One time, the wiki's creator decided to purge a large amount of the accounts. It's been said that he banned all the legitimate users, but kept the trolls. This overlaps with Poe's Law.
- The Something Awful presence on the conservative "alternative to facebook", The Tea Party Community, is a particularly wonderful example of this - at this point it's not clear how many normal users of the site there even are anymore, mixed in with all the Something Awful trolls, trolls pretending to not be trolls, people trolling them intentionally... and trolls from other places, who don't necessarily realize it's been taken over by SA.
- Tales abound of Agent Provocateurs infiltrating student political societies in the US only to find that the most radical elements are agents from a different source and all the actual students are perfectly reasonable and unobjectionable people.
- Supposedly when the Allies got hold of Nazi records at the end of World War II, they learned that every German spy in Britain had been found and turned into a double agent by Allied intelligence. In fact, "Double Cross System" found and turned every German agent in Britain. By 1941, the MI-5 actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in the United Kingdom. It got to the point that MI-5 had to actually jail some of their turned spies rather than letting them report back false information. If it seemed that nobody had gotten caught, the Nazis would've found that suspicious.
- It is said that the only reason the Ku Klux Klan is still around is the undercover police agents — they're the only members who reliably show up for meetings and pay their dues on time.
- The German extreme right-wing party NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, National-democratic Party of Germany) is infiltrated heavily by the Verfassungsschutz (Protectors of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency). When talking about disbanding the party, the highest court ruled that with so many protectors in the party - which would all be exempt from prosecution - any abolishment trial would be doomed to fail. In fact, it seems that many of these planted moles are using their immunity and the paycheck from the Verfassungsschutz to actually help the party to survive. In one case, a high member of the NPD stated openly that without being paid from the Verfassungsschutz, he wouldn't have been able to build up the party's branch in his state.
- In the former East Germany, the Stasi made generous use of informers in the population to spy on antigovernment forces. So many, in fact, that the BBC reported that as many as one in seven East Germans were on the Stasi's payroll.
- It's standard practice for many live-action roleplay events, such as dinner-theater murder mysteries, to assign everyone a hidden agenda and/or a motive to kill the designated victim.
- Reportedly Anne Bonny, a pirate famous for disguising herself as a man, once became attracted to another pirate on her crew. She revealed her secret to the pirate and tried to flirt with him at which point she was shocked to discover that said pirate was Mary Read, another pirate famous for being a woman disguised as a man. This was rather awkward to say the least.