"My name is Bond... James Bond."
Is that so, Mr Bond? You don't think that since your job is a secret agent that perhaps you shouldn't tell everyone your real name!?
Maybe that's why every supervillain you encounter already knows who you are, knows your name, your "secret" code number, what you look like, and how you like your martinis.
Hollywood secret agents seem to have a habit of being remarkably unsecretive, whether it's by using their real names, lack of disguises, waving their weapons and performing stunts in public while dressed in a tuxedo, or merely looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Compare Highly-Visible Ninja and Paper-Thin Disguise. See also The Men in Black, who are also meant to be some kind of covert operatives, but are just as conspicuous.
As a matter of fact, this is often Truth in Television- Real Life spies will deny or cover-up the fact that they are spies, but otherwise they will try to keep their cover-story as near to the truth as possible (as permitted by the circumstances). This is for the very simple reason that it's far easier to get caught out in a lie if you are lying all the time, whereas you are more likely to be trusted (and thus do your job better) if a suspicious opponent digs into your backstory and finds that it's everything you said it was. Naturally, this also helps to avert You Just Told Me and related slip-ups that might get you caught out.
An obsolete version of this is the supposedly-inconspicuous trenchcoat, fedora and shades, which most Genre Savvy modern audiences would describe straight away as "a spy outfit".
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Golgo 13 is known in civilian life as Duke Togo. When using an alias, he goes by... Duke Togo. Or some variation thereof. The general consensus is that, after decades of killing people for money, Duke's untouchable and he knows it.
Groo The Wanderer: Groo once was given a job as a spy, thus proving that there are, at times, people even dumber than Groo. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Groo is ept at some things. Being "covert" is not one of those things.
Jet Dream: Jet Dream and her Stunt-Girl Counterspies are Hollywood Stunt-Girls by day, and private counter-intelligence agents... also by day. Their identities and jobs seem to be, at best, open secrets (if not just plain "open.")
Partially lampshaded by John Stone in an issue of Planetary: "Can't be the best secret agent on Earth if everybody knows about you."
The Shingouz in Valerian are by definition Overt Operatives, as they are an entire race of spies and information merchants. Somehow they still manage to be the best ones in the field, presumably due to their strict work ethics (in spite of claiming to not comprehend the concept of morality), extreme diligence, and insurance that everybody owes them favours all over cosmos.
James Bond, despite the description, largely averts this. He frequently uses aliases, and officially James Bond is just an employee of Universal Exports (actually a front for British Intelligence). Usually the villain finds out despite all this; often he's up against enemies who are either themselves spies or connected to some foreign government or intelligence agency, and he is identified that way, or the villain turns out to be a supposed ally or client of MI6. Most people do not know who James Bond is.
Except in the early 70's when even small time diamond smugglers recognized his name, and the world's top assassin actually had a mannequin of him. Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me knew him too, but he also identified Russian agent Triple X so he might just be that connected. Otherwise, he usually avoids it.
All of those are justifiable with some minor WMG-level extrapolation: the small-time diamond smugglers are tied to Blofeld, and thus might have been briefed in some degree, Scaramanga is no mere mook, but a vastly wealthy gentleman assassin with his own private island ,some ties to the Chinese regime, and an absolute fixation on discovering worthy opponents, and Stromberg could simply be that well versed.
Double Subversion in On Her Majestys Secret Service where Bond adopts the persona of 'Sir Hilary Bray', genealogist, complete with silly accent, glasses and kilt, who is actually a real figure who agreed to let Bond use his identity, so they don't even have to worry about flaws in the background check. Blofeld still knows it's him though, particularly when he's caught sneaking into the bedroom of one of the female guests for some Double-0-Rated action (though he actually catches him out by tricking him with an esoteric mistake on family records that only a real genealogist would know to correct).
In Goldfinger 007 poses as a dealer in illicit gold, only to end up strapped to a laser-table with Goldfinger greeting him as "007". 007 naturally denies it, responding with his cover name which is - James Bond! Guess it wasn't as well known at the time. Goldfinger knew who he was because he was working the Reds and one of Bonds "opposite numbers" identified him while he was unconscious.
The 2006 version of Casino Royalehangs a lampshade on this while trying to justify it. After spending a scene going over the details of his cover identity (while flirting with Vesper), Bond simply checks in to their hotel as "James Bond." His reasoning: since his target probably knows who he really is anyway, and Bond knows that they know, he justifies it as psychological warfare.
Le Chiffre: Welcome, Mr. Beach. Or is that Bond? I'm a little confused.
James Bond: Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?
Given the number of different James Bonds who have a appeared in the film series, Fanon suggests that in the film universe at least the name 'James Bond' is itself a cover-name given to a number of different operatives.
Actually used in Casino Royale (1967), where MI6 formally gives the codename "James Bond 007" to every single one of their agents— including the women—in order to confuse people.
Bond usually uses aliases, except when he says he is from Universal Exports, which seems to be a cover name for MI6 in general (so he's technically telling the truth). Ironically, there are times he uses real name/ fake job description, and he is given away by other means- in Tomorrow Never Dies, the villains realise he is a government agent from his suspiciously perfect employment record at the bank. His name is irrelevant.
How about the Union Jack parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me? Way to maintain deniability, unless you're going for the double bluff: "Well, obviously a real British agent wouldn't advertise his allegience like that!"
There is a bit of Fridge Brilliance with regards to how Bond plays with this trope- whether he uses his real name or an alias is often dependant on how connected he thinks the Big Bad is; if they are suspected of working or someone involved with the Soviet Union, SPECTRE or some other well-connected enemy he tends to use a fake name, and otherwise he often uses his real one; both Goldfinger and Max Zorin were involved with the Reds, but he only used an alias with Zorin because he already knew that he was. This is a bit Depending on the Writer and he sometimes has other reasons for using an alias, but its still quite intelligent.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond needs to be coverly dropped via parachute to investigate a sunken British warship near China. The problem? The ship drifted while sinking, and has settled in Vietnamese territorial waters. Which shouldn't be a problem, as long as none of Bond's equipment identifies himself as beign affiiliated with the British or American governments. Which it naturally all does, since all of his equipment for this mission was issued out of US military stockpiles and is all marked as such.
Austin Powers: Powers spoofed this in the title of the first film, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. This "secret agent" is at the heart of the Swinging London scene, and everyone knows he's a spy. He seems to operate as more law-enforcement than espionage anyway.
Except his own wife of 15 years hadn't even suspected about his double life.
In the original french movie La Totale, the lead actor Thierry Lhermitte looks a lot more like the everyman and nobody would reasonably suspect this so-called computer salesman from being a top agent in a counter-espionage agency.
Not an operative, but in Sister Act, Deloris van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer, is an essential witness in a mob case. In order to protect her life until the trial, she must hide in a convent. Her appearance when she first walks in prompts the Mother Superior to exclaim, "That is not a person you can hide! That is a conspicuous person, designed to stick out."
Agent Sands in Once upon a Time in Mexico makes no secret of the fact that he works for the CIA. At one point, he even wears a t-shirt with the word "C.I.A." printed on it in big letters.
Though closer inspection reveals that underneath C.I.A, it says "Cleavage Inspection Agency."
Inglourious Basterds: For a world-renowned actress and double agent, Bridget von Hammersmark is a pretty lousy spy, able to make decent small talk but falling apart quickly the moment someone starts pulling on a thread in her act. It eventually gets her killed.
Jack Bauer on 24 almost never uses an alias, even when working deep cover with drug cartels or right-wing militias. In his case, however, the terrorists never seem to wise up, even though Bauer is undoubtedly one of the best known people on the government's payroll in the 24 universe (having been mentioned on national TV news at least once.) However, the one time he is seen to use an alias, after faking his death, it ends up not doing him any good at all.
The reason he hardly ever uses an alias is that the bad guys always seem to know who Jack Bauer is from the outset of the story, and he only ever has a day to stop them anyway. Season 1 revolves around a revenge plot against him and David Palmer; season 2 features well connected villains and Nina Myers who knows him personally; season 3 has drug lords he was undercover against, Nina Myers again, and Bauer friend turned terrorist Stephen Saunders. In season 4 his ID does not matter much but Marwan appears to recognise his name anyway; in season 5 it's a government conspiracy including his old mentor and the President Evil who tried to have him murdered, plus well-connected foreign terrorists; in season 6 his own family are the villains, along with an Islamic terrorist with a grudge against Jack because he killed his brother, with Jack's old Chinese captors thrown in for good measure; and 7 has another government conspiracy with guys who have been The Man Behind the Man since at least season 5. By 8 it no longer matters.
He does use an alias at least once in Season 2, but it's only a fake last name.
Jack being short for John/Jonathan and John being one of the more common names on the planet (for Westerners) it doesn't seem too unreasonable to just use a fake last name and keep his bland first name. Especially since he is already trained to respond to Jack. Its' not like his first name is Rock Meatslab.
Subverted in Season 8, where Jack actually uses an alias and a different first name ("Ernst Meier"), wears glasses as a disguise, and speaks fluent German! It even works! (For a while, anyway.)
Max Smart in Get Smart has been outed any number of times before friends, courts (complete with juries and an audience), police, etc., KAOS knows not only his identity but his address, and he still continues his career as a "secret" agent. And that's just in the first half of the first season! That's the magic of parody for you.
Doubly subverted by Agent 99, who never reveals her real name, even to Max. (On the other hand, she's consequently also routinely addressed in public as "Agent 99.")
Until she marries Max and is sometimes introduced as "Mrs Maxwell Smart" giving away her identity.
In the British show Murphy's Law, despite being a career undercover cop, Tommy Murphy almost always uses his real name. This doesn't seem to cause any problems until the third series, when the bad guys get curious about the "Tommy from Belfast" currently testifying in a criminal trial, and even then the matter is quickly dropped.
The entirety of the Torchwood organization, which is theoretically secret. They barge into crime scenes and restricted areas using their status as Torchwood agents to explain it. In the first episode someone trying to find them does so by going to a pizza place and asking if one of their agents was a customer, and learned nothing. Then she asked if they'd had any orders from Torchwood. That brought her right to them. In a later episode someone managed to find their base by going to Cardiff and just asking people in the street where Torchwood was. They have an SUV marked "Torchwood" and get yelled at by name by random old ladies in the street by the second series, so the whole secrecy thing is a half-joke by now.
SHADO, the alien-fighting organisation in Gerry Anderson's UFO, is supposed to be secret, yet all of its vehicles, vessels and aircraft are clearly marked with the name. Many of its operatives also wear uniforms with SHADO insignia.
Burn Notice : Everybody seems to know who Michael Westen is. Except the bad-guy of the week.
Justified: As per the title, Michael has been burned, which means he loses his government protection, funding, and access to aliases. Also, most of the people who do know who he is are either connected to his past, or to said government. It takes several years before the Miami criminal world starts to become more aware of him (sufficiently higher ups manage to find ways to contact him), but otherwise he always uses aliases.
Michael fit this trope even before being burned. His reputation was so great he was the "boogieman" for the Russians agents, Russian intelligence agencies said Michael Westen was actually a named used by multiple American agents specifically to invoke this trope (only inside the intelligence community of course).
Oleg: The real Michael Westen, yes? Michael: Yeah. Oleg: Back home, your story Russian Intelligence tells to scare. They say you are one name for many people. Special Operations team. They think one person cannot make so much problems. Michael: Nope. Just me.
Scarecrow and Mrs. King: This actually does somewhat better. The Russians know about Scarecrow but know so little about him that they once mistake Amanda for him.
In the NCIS episode "Shalom" Ziva takes one look at a corpse and said "He's not Mossad". Really Ziva? What, did daddy give you the dossiers on every agent in Mossad as a gift for your Bat-mitzvah?
Well, considering her dad is Eli David, and Eli David is, well. . . Eli David — possibly. It can be assumed she recognized (the lack of) some defining features that meant he wasn't Mossad. Which isn't that plausible, granted, but still. And maybe she was just making a conclusion based on the rest of the situation up til then.
Actually, it's a bit of Fridge Brilliance. Ziva was the control officer of at least one agent (Ari) and was nominally a Liaison Officer at the time. It would absolutely make sense she would know who the agents operating in her area are.
Joe Friday occasionally went undercover as a criminal on Dragnet, which can be unintentionally hilarious, because everything about Jack Webb screams "cop," even when he uses the alias "Joe Fraser."
Covert Affairs is a justified version: Since the CIA actually gives out real names with an assumed cover identity, nobody is really expecting Annie to not give out her real name. Also subverted in one episode-when she helps her sister with some photography, the agency orders the pictures of her taken down.
In Alphas Gary's autism makes him not very good at going undercover, often refers to himself as a secret agent, often in front of people who aren't supposed to know, and when another member of the team is giving a cover story has identified it as such.
The Wild Wild West: James West fits this trope perfectly, which is hardly a surprise given that he's modeled directly off of James Bond. His partner, Artemus Gordon, is a bit better at the "secret" part of being a secret agent.
El Chapulín Colorado: One story featured the world's most famous spy. It was a case of Reality Ensues as, because of the spy's fame, nobody hires him. Once he got word of a formula that made things invisible, he decided to steal it so he could use it to gain an edge his fame wouldn't ruin. By being able to enter places without being seen.
The whole idea behind Alex Rider is that his status as a teenager means that he should be more covert because bad guys will think he is Just a Kid, however not only does he keep doing things that clearly a kid would not do, such as parachuting into secret enemy bases, but many bad guys in his books seem quite capable of finding all about his connections to MI-6.
In strong contrast, the Cherub Series agents are so secret even most members of the British Government can't find out about them, the existence of CHERUB is never revealed, CHERUB agents have very strong covers, and while they have exotic training most of the time they do things that any ordinary teenager would do.
In Daniel Silva's series of novels about Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, Allon is actually known to other countries' intelligence agencies as being a participant in the targeted assassinations carried out in revenge for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and is in fact arrested for this in one of the books. Also, while he does have a covert identity as an Italian art restorer, his accent is clearly not that of a native, and this gets lampshaded by having his colleagues remark on his oddness, and one of them jokes that he might be Osama bin Laden.
A couple of the Matt Helm novels actively used his status as a government assassin who had been around forever and everyone in the trade knew by reputation in order to have him act as a decoy or to intimidate the local baddies.
The Wrecking Crew, the second Matt Helm novel, had him using his real name and background, so everyone would think he was a former assassin who had been out of the business for decades (true) and was pretty much useless now (false). The badguys who assumed this didn't survive to the end of the book.
Golgo 13 almost always uses some variant on "Duke Togo" as a cover identity. Which wouldn't apply except that Duke Togo is also the name he goes by in public. He has subverted the trope by using fairly different names, but he keeps coming back to Duke Togo.
But if he was caught, who would the government in question use when they needed people shot in the head?
Subverted in the Discworld book Maskerade, with two operatives are extremely overt due to being Corporal Nobbs and Detritus, some of the Watch's best known and least deceptive members - who are there to distract attention from their real agent, who's been there for some time already.
Vetinari uses a similar plan in Going Postal when he had someone tailed by an incompetent agent: if you see Vetinari's spy, it's a spy he wants you to see.
Double Subverted in Jingo. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs are trying (and failing) to pretend to be Klatchian. However the Klatchians they are talking to assume that Colon and Nobbs must actually be Klatchians from a different part of Klatch pretending to be Ankh-Morporkians, since Ankh-Morpork would not use such obvious Overt Operatives.
Compared to his cinematic alter ego, the James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels is portrayed in a relatively realistic manner. Nevertheless, when he's in London, Bond's real name is known, as is his true employer ("Something at the Ministry of Defense.") The precise nature of his job is still unknown, but the fact that he's doing some sort of secretive work is not. This is pretty much Truth in Television (see Valerie Plame, below, for what's actually a rather typical, if unusually widely-known, example, below.)
The unnamed agents in Data East's Secret Service, who go around performing their duties in elegant tuxedos and hundred-dollar dresses, while driving around Washington D.C. in an attention-grabbing bright red Ferrari.
In Warhammer Fantasy Battles Deathmaster Snitch is known by the name Snitch. Of course being an assassin is a respected profession for a skaven, and as a bipedal rat he can't exactly blend in with other races no matter what he calls himself. It might pose issues with rival clans if skaven weren't in a constant state of paranoia anyway.
In Paranoia, many Internal Security agents go undercover as members of another security group; this usually works okay (as long as they're not actually called on to fix a malfunctioning nuclear reactor or whatever), but a few of them are completely incompetent at hiding it; their every word and action practically screams "hi, I'm an Internal Security plant!". They're usually fed false leads and otherwise left alone, lest Internal Security send someone competent in their place. (A few of them act this way on purpose so no one will notice the other Internal Security plant.)
Solid Snake himself is normally somewhat overt (although he relies on just not being seen, not false information) and even does a nice subversion in Sons of Liberty. Disguised as a Navy SEAL, he succeeds in infiltrating the Big Shell with the SEAL team. We in the audience instantly know it's him when he takes his balaclava off, and we expect Raiden to call shenanigans...but it turns out Raiden somehow doesn't actually know what Solid Snake looks like, so it works.
Snake himself is more of a paramilitary special ops operative. He's never really trying to be a spy, but rather trying to maintain covert operating status during his mission. If people find out he was there after he's left, that's fine, because he's already accomplished his mission at that point.
Sonic Adventure 2. The game features a cut-scene in which Shadow puts two and two together and realises that a famous government spy he's apparently familiar with (or has read about somewhere), Rouge the Bat, is the same character as the anthropomorphic female chiropteran who chased them, chose to help their world domination plan and referred to herself as Rouge.
To be fair to Shadow, he'd only been awake for a few days after 50 years at that point, so he wouldn't have known about her spy lifestyle before then. Eggman, on the other hand, probably should have known, but it's not like he works with others who aren't an Eldritch Abomination enough to bother with a background check.
A perfectly viable approach in Alpha Protocol. The game doesn't penalize you for being a heavily-armored, assault-rifle wielding, grenade-flinging juggernaut who massacres his way through the entire game - beyond your handlers calling you out for being overt and violent.
Mike Thorton is only too eager to tell his name to everyone he encounters. (It's implied a couple of times that it may not be his real name, but it's still the name under which he is wanted by the American government for most of the game.)
This is similar to the Metal Gear Solid approach above. You can play the suave secret agent who works from the shadows and charms information out of people, but if you'd rather be the tough-as-nails soldier that does whatever it takes to get the job done... more power to you, as long as you get the job done.
Also, Steven Heck. Almost every operation he's involved with results in a Cruel and Unusual Death, such as suffocating a Vatican official with wafers. He's still one of the most mysterious characters of the game though.
Gigolo Assassin. You play a hapless sex worker turned super secret agent. The problem? You're, uh, kind of really stupid and you're only wearing bikini briefs down below.
Subverted in that the Spy is clearly identifiable only when he is not on a mission, so to speak. Behind enemy lines, the Spy is (supposed to be) just as covert as you'd expect him to be - spies are very overt in displaying their existence, but that does not damage their cover when actually spying.
The intro to the remake of Syndicate mentions that the corporations employ covert agents like yourself. With the liberal amounts of firepower you can access and must use, covert you most certainly are not. Miles and his fellow agents even have the Eurocorp logo emblazoned on the shoulders and chests of their nifty black trenchcoats/body armor.
Franklin Drake in Star Trek Online is a variant. The issue isn't that he is a open about being a spy, because most of his appearances have him work with you on intelligence-related matters, or even that he is a spy for the Federation, but rather about which organization he works for — Section 31 is supposed to be so super-secret that even the Federation government doesn't really know that it exists, yet Drake openly identifies them as his employers (rather than, say, claim to work for Starfleet Intelligence) and provides the intel and resources to back up that claim. Might be explained for a Starfleet captain (he could be angling to recruit them, like with Bashir), but for Romulan Republic commanders....
In Girl Genius Ardsley Wooster, after a long but ultimately ineffective (that is, the target knew all along) cover opp as Gilgamesh Wulfenbach's manservant, has skipped into this territory with his dirigible-hopping announcement of himself to a foreign power as "Ardsley Wooster, British Intelligence." It was tactically viable, though, and it's not like his cover wasn't blown already.
Well, his cover had been blown all along to Gil (and at least someone else in the Wulfenbach government, as someone's apparently been feeding Gil information on Wooster's background—he assures Punch and Judy that he's been "told [Wooster] is quite good.") The only other person before the dramatic airship entrance/exit who saw him to identify him acting as an enemy was Bangladesh Dupree, who spent the period immediately following that with her jaw wired shut AND bigger fish to fry. The bigger question up to that point was whether he was still working as a Double Agent for Gil. Given the circumstances of said dirigible hopping, apparently not, though he's not exactly working against him, either.
The Omega Key: Adam really should have kept his big yap shut. But then, he wasn't expecting that anyone would take him seriously, or that the hot chick he was hitting on was the antagonist.
Kara in Covert Front is clearly not concerned with stealth. Her default costume is a greatcoat which is very conspicuous, especially on a woman, and when sneaking around she repeatedly executes complex acrobatics that would draw the attention of anyone present. There is some justification for the outfit, as it conceals her features somewhat and most of her work consists of breaking into places where any person would be deemed suspicious.
Sir Thomas Henry Browne in The Dead Skunk becomes known throughout Paris as a British spy — so much so that Sorbonne students prank him with fake secrets.
Archer: Sterling Archer of ISIS tends to get a lot of this, probably stemming from his Jerk Ass behavior and the fact that he tells everybody he meets that he's a secret agent. As early as the third episode it's revealed that Archer is responsible for the deaths of no less than three fellow agents via blowing their cover frivolously in an attempt to get laid.
Kim Possible. Oddly, villains never think of going after her family, and even if they do it's usually for reasons unrelated to Kim's job.
On El Tigre, every hero's true identity is common knowledge, with the exception of one-time hero La Tigressa (Frida).
One interesting factor of the whole Valerie Plame scandal is that she was apparently a covert agent yet was an ambassador's wife well-known by a number of important people. Although in her case much of her covert activity had taken place before she'd been married and the CIA was in the process of moving her to "official cover" (that is, she'd be officially working for the US government but not officially the CIA) when she'd been outed.
Rather, unofficial cover means your link to the US government is deniable, whereas official cover puts you in the diplomatic corps (or somewhere else in the government, but usually the diplomatic corps), entitling you to diplomatic immunity if you're caught. In neither case is one allowed to admit they work for the CIA, and in either case it's a crime for anyone in the know to out the officer as a CIA employee, because not only does it place the officer's lives in jeopardy, but also the lives of any agents they've ever been in contact with.
Villainous real-life example: Oddly, Carlos the Jackal led a lifestyle similar to that of Bond and was a fairly inept terrorist, and only escaped capture for so long because his Soviet and Arab employers feared what would happen if they stopped protecting him.
Princess Stephanie Julianne von Hohenlohe. A Jewish member of a German noble family, she acted as a Nazi spy and messenger to sympathizers in the UK and United States despite being very well-known as a close friend of the Nazi hierarchy.
Ian Fleming based James Bond at least partially on a Yugoslav playboy named Dusko Popov who was an agent for the Nazis and then turned to become a double-agent for the British and lived a very high-profile lifestyle, particularly in casino gambling.
This high-profile lifestyle was not a hindrance to his career, since his 'spying' basically consisted of handing himself over to MI-5 as soon as he arrived in Britain, then spending the rest of the war sending the Abwehr fake information from fictitious agents as part of the XX system.
Should be noted that the Abwehr at this time was run almost entirely by members of the anti-Nazi resistance, and Popov was just one of many spies encouraged to undermine their own efforts. He was probably recruited precisely for his own anti-Nazi credentials.
Eddie Chapman, codenamed Agent Zigzag, was a very similar case: A criminal before the war, he was recruited by the Nazis and ran straight to MI-5 to tell them all about it. As with Popov, he was James Bond before there was a James Bond, indulging his love of casinos, booze and women on a government tab; he also fed the Nazis numerous false reports that their V1 weapons were falling short of London, causing the targeting to be adjusted so they stopped hitting it and started overshooting.
The entertainer Noël Coward pleaded to become an agent for British intelligence. The British government finally relented, signed him on and found he actually was pretty good at it since his status as a celebrity entertainer got him into many shindigs where loose lips were plentiful.
There have been lots of celebrities who did some spying, with real identities and hidden agendas. This makes it plausible if it's like Noel Coward presenting himself as Noel Coward, the entertainer, who is secretly a spy. The far-fetched part is when the spy uses his own name but a fake job description, like James Bond the weapons dealer, instead of John Smith the weapons dealer.
Not precisely true. Most modern "spies" actually do exactly that, using their real name but pretending to work as something else. In the CIA, at least, this either means as a US government employee ("official cover," as above) or as an employee of a private company ("unofficial cover," as above); in the latter case, the company has arranged with the CIA to give the agent an office or other place to work so that they can come into work every morning, maintaining deniability. Cover in modern intelligence has been described as more like lying about one's job than lying about one's identity.
Wolfgang Lotz was a real-life Israeli spy who hung out in Egypt posing as a former Wehrmacht officer running a stud farm for the Cairo elite. His original name was Wolfgang Lotz and he grew up in Germany. Mossad destroyed the documents in Germany that showed that he was Jewish and left the rest in place.
One reason Lotz got caught was that he was introduced to a genuine ex-Wehrmacht officer at an Egyptian event; they were supposed to have served in the same unit in the Afrika Korps at about the same time and Lotz failed to double-talk himself out of that fix.
The Military Liaison Missions were established as a temporary measure to maintain relationships between the occupying powers during the demilitarization of post-World War II Germany, and were kept going throughout the Cold War because both sides found them useful for gathering ground intelligence. The teams (which had quasi-diplomatic status and were authorised to travel anywhere in their clearly-marked, olive drab Opel sedans except in pre-designated special areas) consisted of military intelligence personnel in uniform.
At least one uniformed US officer was shot to death by a Soviet sentry in the 1980s while carrying out this type of snooping a bit too keenly; the sentry received a commendation for diligence.
Fair play towards a former enemy does admit that while it may have been trigger happy, they might have had a point, depending on the situation. And it was likely a hard decision for a sentry to have to make.
French and British operatives were also killed in the missions.
"Military liason" goes back well before the Cold War as a term for "In-house spy". Most major embassy's maintain one or two of these. In this case any disguise is for the sake of good manners rather than tactics: he is a handler rather than an agent. It does not matter if people know who he is so long as they do not know whom he meets with. This habit is so common that the only embassies that do not have an equivalent official stationed would be those from governments that consider the host-nation completely uninteresting (something like, e.g. embassy of Germany in Helsinki) or lack the resources to conduct intelligence work there (something like, e.g., embassy of Tuvalu in...more or less anywhere).
SIS handlers used the position of Passport Control Officer in British embassies, though by the late 1930's it had become a Paper-Thin Disguise. This was compounded by the fact that during the late 1930's, there were large numbers of people wanting to emigrate from Europe and therefore their fake job took so much of their time that there was none left over for espionage.
Overt operatives are also occasionally employed as a distraction. While everybody's chasing the Highly-Visible Ninja, for example, the inconspicuous ones go to work.
The US's "Secret Service" consists in large part of tall men who wear matching suits and visible hearing aids, standing near the President and looking about as inconspicuous as a tuba player sitting in on a string quartet. These people are dangerously skilled and dedicated bodyguards—but there's more to the Secret Service than that. While you're looking at guys in suits, there are plenty of agents you'd never recognize who're looking at you.
On one occasion, hapless Vice President Dan Quayle tried to strike up a pleasant conversation-and-election-pitch with a young lady at the venue he was visiting—only to find out that the young lady was a plainclothes Secret Service agent there to protect him. (Naturally, for security reasons, he wouldn't have been told who those agents were.)
Chances are this happens with some regularity, for that very reason. Quayle's (somewhat overstated) reputation as a bit of a dope means that it draws more attention when it happened to him.