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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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 count as The Mole.
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 an FBI agent seeking to bring down the Major and promises him immunity if he cooperates... and the other lackey replies he doesn't have to since he's also an undercover agent for Office of Budget and Management. 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 a couple of people showing their junk, 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.
- Humorously referenced on Star Trek: Voyager. In the pilot episode Maquis rebel Chakotay finds out his First Officer Tuvok is a Starfleet undercover agent working for Captain Janeway. Later on in the season he finds out his girlfriend Seska is a spy for the Cardassians. In fact, she is a Cardassian.
Chakotay: You were working for her, Seska was working for them — was anyone on that damn ship working for me?
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Time of the Angels", the Doctor and River search for a Weeping Angel in a cavern that they think is full of ordinary statues. They're wrong.
Amy: Wait, you said the Aplans have two heads, right?
Doctor: Yes, of course.
Amy: So...why do all the statues only have one?
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it slowly becomes clear that every single member of The Team on the Bus except for Coulson is spying on someone, whether it be Coulson, each other, or just S.H.I.E.L.D. in general.
- Skye is a mole for the Rising Tide, an Anonymous expy hacktivist organization. Coulson wins her over relatively quickly though, convincing her that if S.H.I.E.L.D. is Big Brother, it's a protective and well-meaning one that just goes overboard sometimes.
- May is a mole for Director Fury, of all people, sent to keep an eye on Coulson and make sure nothing went wrong with his resurrection. She also built the team (by providing Fury with a list of roles which he translated into a mission order to give to Coulson) so that she could take Coulson down and repair him if it became necessary.
- Ward is a mole for HYDRA and its Centipede program, searching for the secrets of Coulson's resurrection. He seduced May in order to cement his cover—unaware that she had all the information he needed.
- FitzSimmons are a mole for no one, at least at first. Mostly they just had the bad luck to end up in the middle of a bunch of conspiracies. They do start working against Coulson when he won't let them properly study the drug that brought him back to life, though. They want to hook it up to a S.H.I.E.L.D. mainframe to figure out how to mass-produce it and save countless lives, while he is freaked out about where it came from and possible side effects.
- And then of course we have Coulson himself. He was in charge of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project that was working on the drug to bring back an Avenger in case they fell in battle, and recommended it be shut down since there were horrific side effects and the only thing that barely worked was erasing all memory of the treatment from the subjects' minds. He became its first success, but a few days after he discovered this, he began to exhibit those psychological side effects himself.
- 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'. 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 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 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.
- 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.
- Similarly, 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.
- 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.
- 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 is in on the scam, except for you (the mark).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.