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.
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
In general, a favorite scene for any crime show writer 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.
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."
- 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 the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction Changelings, Changelings Everywhere the mane cast discovers that Rainbow Dash was a changeling all along, then that Pinkie Pie was another changeling sent to find her, then that a sizable fraction of Ponyville's population was changelings. Twilight Sparkle summons Princess Celestia, who arrives with her sister and hundreds of guards. But Princess Luna was the Changeling Queen in disguise, and the guards were actually her army. Mister Cake reveals himself as Lord Chitin, and almost all of the remaining ponies turn out to be his army. All of the Mane Cast reveal themselves as agents of one of these two factions, after which every single remaining pony (and most of the inanimate objects) in Ponyville disclose that they are members of an anti-royal changeling rebel group. Before battle can be joined however, Chrysalis' elite reveal that they were secretly working for Chitin, the guards join the rebels, the rebels also work for Chitin (but not really), and half of Chitin's army (including the traitors from Chrysalis) are actually loyal to her. Maybe. Also, Nightmare Moon was actually Chitin's sister, not Celestia's. And one of the Faction heads (but we don't know which one) is really a Double-Changeling disguised as a changeling to bring them down from within.
- In the Harry Potter fanfiction Make A Wish, all of the Death Eaters on watch when the Death Eater lair was blown up were spies; fortunately, all of them chose that moment to report to their respective organizations, so none of them were killed.
- Ah Ain't Got no Ack-cent!: Everypony - except Rarity - at the EACE is hiding their southern ack-cent, for the exact same reason as Applejack.
- 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.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Cybill, Cybill dressed up as a prostitute to research an acting role she'd accepted. She asked another lady of the night what it was like being a prostitute, but it turned out she was also an actress. They asked a third woman, but she turned out to be a journalist. The three asked a fourth woman, but 'she' turned out to be a male vice squad officer.
- In a really funny season opener of the short lived show The Agency, there was a bust of suspected terrorists, and it turned out it was all undercover cops from different agencies.
- Saturday Night Live had a sketch called "Narc School" about a High School where every single student was really an undercover narcotics agent.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show had an episode where Mary and Rhoda join a dating club for divorced people despite being single rather than divorced. At the end of the episode, it turned out that everyone there was single and not divorced except for the club founder.
- Law & Order: SVU had the team attempt to infiltrate a pedophile "club" of sorts...only to discover that some other organization (FBI, most likely) was also setting up a sting operation. An exasperated Captain Cragen wonders aloud if this inability of the Good Guys to work together is why the Bad Guys keep staying ahead.
- The Original Flavour Law & Order had a (lethal, naturally, considering this series) fallout from such an event during the 60s, where it turned out several supposed Communists/Hippie Protesters were actually cops and other agents spying on each other, and being purposely kept in the dark.
- More hilariously, Reno911 did this with a drug sting.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation also did this with gun runners.
- NCIS, too, when Tony and Ziva acted as an assassin couple.
- In an episode of Frasier, the son of a wealthy woman is trying to prevent Frasier from hitting her up for a donation (to save his old school, which is on the verge of bankruptcy). Niles distracts the son by saying one of the caterers at the party is trying to get her to finance a play. When the son asks out loud if any of the caterers are trying to get a play financed, they surprisingly all raise their hands.
- There was an episode of Get Smart where Max becomes a Double Agent to infiltrate a KAOS cell, but it turned out everyone in the cell was from another agency (FBI, CIA, Naval Intelligence, & Scotland Yard).
- An ep of Night Court had the FBI run a sting on a visiting judge using Dan as a shill, attempting to get Dan to catch the judge on tape trying to bribe Dan; turned out a different group of FBI agents was running a sting on Dan using the judge, trying to get Dan to take a bribe. Both groups of agents burst in, and recognize each other...
- One sketch in Do Not Adjust Your Set has a very blatant policeman trying to infiltrate a criminal gang while they're planning a robbery. Eventually it turns that everyone there is a undercover agent of some sort. They decide to go along with the robbery anyway.
- In the MacGyver episode "Honest Abe", Mac gets shanghaied by his CIA agent friend Abe to take down a South American dictator and a corrupt Army Major (played by Ben Stein) supplying the former with weapons. Eventually, one of the Major's lackeys reveals to the other he's a Federal agent seeking to bring down the Major... and the other lackey reveals he's one as well. And via background checks they discover that Abe is a CIA agent (they thought he had retired) and Mac is with the Phoenix Foundation. Naturally they are dumbfounded at the revelation that they are involved in an operation involving four secret agents of different agencies while they previously thought they were acting alone.
- In a The Daily Show episode spoofing Chatroulette's recent media attention, Jon decides to try it out. Besides the usual perverts, everybody Jon encounters is either a reporter or another Daily Show correspondent. When he gets to Katie Couric, she even complains that she is trying to do a piece on Chatroulette but so far she only got reporters.
- Parodied on The Office, where every single member of a gun standoff turns out to be a double agent.
- 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 Doo Dah 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 comprised 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', unaware that only he has a reflection.
- In yet another, a stick insect hides in a bush...which is made of stick insects.
- 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!"
Tabletop & Other Games
- 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, its 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.
- Occurs in Paranoia with 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 Wooblies 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- This article from The Onion. 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.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, 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 Sponge Bob Square Pants, 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 went 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.
- 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?" Subverted, as it turns out those two were the only moles. They were by far his best students, though, and the only other H.I.V.E. student who was actually competent ends up making a Heel Face Turn later on.
- Depressingly enough, this has been Truth in Television at times. 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.
- Cops busting undercover cops is also done deliberately at times, to justify bringing a deep-cover asset out without blowing the asset's cover. So far as the crooks are concerned, their trusted colleague has merely been arrested and jailed.
- Image Boards like 4chan, which usually consists of Trolls trolling Trolls.
- 4chan is so well known for its trolls, that some have become regular entertainment. The trolls, who feel they're losing their edge, mix it up a bit by trolling the other forum-goers by either being an incredibly obvious troll or simply not trolling. This enrages the others, since they have come to expect trolling, and aren't quite used to trolls who troll by not trolling. And now the word "troll" has lost all meaning to you.
- 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.
- 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.
- Check "Double Cross System" in that other wiki over there. It was the most brilliant tour-de-force of British intelligence: They managed to find out and turn every single German agent that the Germans sent to Britain during the whole war. The head of the "Double Cross System", John C. Masterman, estimated that, by 1941, the MI-5 actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in the United Kingdom. And he was right.
- Of course, the head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, was deliberately sabotaging Nazi intelligence operations from the inside and feeding British Intelligence information at the time.
- It got to the point that MI-5 had to actually jail some of the spies that landed in Britain, rather than letting them report back false information. If it seemed that nobody had gotten caught, after all, the Nazis would've found that suspicious.
- The classic shell game scam will often feature a crowd of what appear to be pedestrians, taking interest in a supposedly legitimate game of chance. The odds are that everyone in that crowd except for you (the mark) are in on the scam.
- It is said that the only reason the Klu 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.
- A sad case seems to be the German extreme right-wing party NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, National-democratic Party of Germany, yeah, there still are those around, too). They are infiltrated heavily by the Verfassungsschutz (Protectors of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency). How heavily, you ask? 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.
- The saddest thing about this? 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.