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[[quoteright:350:[[Film/TheConversation http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/the_conversation_van.jpg]]]]

->''"You know what? I'm sick of being in the van. You guys are going to be in the van next time. I've been in the van for 15 years, Harry."''
-->-- '''Gib''', ''Film/TrueLies''

So here's the plan: to accomplish our mission, we're going to need a {{subtrope}} of TheStakeout. Plotwise, it will go down the same way as a traditional stakeout, but to make things more interesting, we'll be adding a vehicle. A vehicle that looks like any other normal vehicle on the street. But on the inside, it'll be filled with all sorts of electronics and several spies monitoring cameras and bugs they've planted.

Most of the time, this trope will be ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin:

First, we'll need some spies. They can be highly skilled detectives or bumbling idiots. What we're looking for is the ability to further the plot or provide comedy relief as required by the writers. The spies will work for the organization. Most often, it's a slightly corrupt but well-intentioned {{AntiHero}}ic GovernmentAgencyOfFiction that uses this tactic, but the BigBad will often have these too. Sometimes it's operated by a much smaller organization, such as a private detective or a pair of crooks planning TheCaper.

Next, we'll need a van. The vehicle selected will need to provide sufficient space for the spies to do their job, have relatively few windows, and be reasonably maneuverable, high-speed, and, most importantly, ''nondescript''. Of course, it doesn't ''have'' to be a van or even a traditional land vehicle for that matter. After all, surveillance equipment can also be placed in a tractor trailor, boat, aircraft, or spacecraft. It's just that vans tend to look more... ordinary. The van is often, if not usually, camouflaged with a fake business logo (telecoms, electrical contractors or plumbers); in comedies this is often a PaperThinDisguise PlayedForLaughs.

Regardless of its exact form, enclosing the operation in a vehicle has several advantages. First, it allows TheStakeout to move, often following a specific individual, without having to pack up the equipment. The van can tail or pursue a person of interest, or be used to kidnap them. The van can serve as MissionControl as well. In a pinch, the van can be used as a getaway car, safehouse, or emergency headquarters should the ElaborateUndergroundBase be compromised.

Once in disguise, this trope will be completely indistinguishable from its sister trope VanInBlack. Except for one thing: in VanInBlack, you'll never know exactly what the vans are doing, if they're really spying on you or not, or even if they're really there or just a figment of your imagination. But not here. In this trope, you, the audience, represented by this man in the white shirt and blue pants, will have full visibility of the operation from within. Keep that in mind when adding examples and you should fit in just fine.

Welcome to the inside.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* Such vans can also be used by protagonists, generally in police/covert military shows. Section 9 in ''Anime/GhostInTheShellStandAloneComplex'', for example, regularly uses one for undercover surveillance.
* In ''Manga/GunsmithCats'', ATF agent Bill Collins uses one of these to spy on Rally. The girls aren't fooled.
* In ''Manga/PokemonAdventures'', the Shadow Triad has one decked with spy equipment.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The van used by the bank robbers in ''InsideMan''.
* The Zap 'Em Pest Control van in ''Film/MenInBlack'' ironically serves as transportation for a [[BigCreepyCrawlies big bad bug]]. Somewhat {{Lampshaded}} because half of his spaceship stuck out of the back and top.
* Played for laughs in ''Film/OldSchool'', when the protagonists use one of these to kidnap their fraternity pledges, complete with Metallica soundtrack.
* ''Film/BestSeller'' (1987) opens with a long sequence of the robbers driving through the streets of Los Angeles in a black van. However they're not trying to be inconspicuous at all, [[HiddenInPlainSight as the van is fitted with loudspeakers broadcasting political slogans]].

[[folder: Fan Fic ]]
* Happens in one of the early chapters of ''FanFic/TheReturn'' when the super-secret paranormal black-ops team take time out to bust a perfectly ordinary bank robbery. Leads to some mild JurisdictionFriction.

[[folder: Film ]]
* In ''Film/TheSiege'', it's the ''FBI'' protagonists who get themselves bugged by military intelligence officers hiding in a van (New York's placed under martial law at that time). The FBI promptly turns tables and arrests the officers for obstructing a federal investigation.
* How the French agents patrol New York City in the 1998 ''Film/{{Godzilla|1998}}''.
* TheHero's coworkers in ''Film/TrueLies'' operate one for the "Omega Sector". The film features the van as MissionControl and kidnapping vehicle as well.
* ''Film/{{Sneakers}}'' has a van like this. Whistler ends up having to drive it across a parking lot despite being blind.
* The NSA van in ''Film/EnemyOfTheState''. The problem with doing this is shown when Robbert is able to spot them and call the police on them, claiming they are drug dealers.
* ''Film/TheNakedGun 2 1/2'' does this. And then the cops get stuck in the van for parking too close to a wall.
* The expository opening scene of ''Film/SmokinAces'' features FBI agents in a van.
* ''Film/{{Rubber}}'' deconstructs the van when one of the viewers of the ShowWithinAShow points out how stupid the trope is.
* DEA agents are stationed in one in the opening of ''Film/DeltaForce2TheColombianConnection''. Then the BigBad's men show up and shoots the thing into kingdom come.
* The heroes of the first ''Film/AttackOfTheKillerTomatoes'' movie drive around in a car with "FIA Unmarked Car" stenciled on the side.
* In ''Film/TheTallBlondManWithOneBlackShoe'' Francois, the title character, is mistaken for a spy - a team of agents bug his apartment and listen in from a van made up to look like a florist's. They record a sexual tryst he's rather unwillingly having with his best friend's wife. Later, they're playing it back as the friend is just outside on a bicycle - he concludes his wife is having an affair with a florist.
* In ''Film/GoodNeighborSam'', a midcentury domestic comedy starring Jack Lemmon, a woman stands to inherit a fortune conditional on her being married, and circumstances have Sam (married to her friend) masquerading as her husband. Suspicious relatives hire a private eye to spy on them in a vacuum cleaner repair truck parked on the street for days - everyone involved is wise to him and struggle to keep up the ruse.
* ''Film/AWalkAmongTheTombstones''. Private eye Matthew Scudder is hired by a heroin trafficker to find the serial killers who dragged his wife into a white van and murdered her. At one point Scudder is being followed by a white van with dirty license plates, marked with the phone number of a plumbing business that isn't listed in the phone book. He takes down a man following him, only to be arrested by his colleagues -- DEA agents who are using the van to watch his client, and want to know what Scudder is doing associating with him.

[[folder: Literature ]]
* The [[TheDragon Delta Force]] in ''Literature/DeceptionPoint'' are introduced like this (albeit in a hidden tent rather than a van).
* The short story "The Van on Atlantic Street" by Desmond Warzel is an example of this, though it's unclear throughout exactly who they're spying on, or, for that matter, who they're spying ''for''.
* Milgrim from Creator/WilliamGibson's ''Literature/SpookCountry'' serves as a translator in an ordinary one of these. Late in ''Literature/ZeroHistory'' he gets to ride in a cooler one for a different reason.
* ''Literature/TheBadPlace'' begins with the Dakotas staking out the Decodyne Corporation, waiting for a crooked night watchman to steal the company's latest program for a competitor. Julie is well behind the building in a car to provide backup for her husband--Bobby is in a van filled with surveillance equipment doing the actual watching and recording of the crime. Unfortunately, the thief spotted Bobby despite the Dakotas using multiple vans and trucks for the stake-out and hired goons to try and kill him.

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]
* ''Series/{{Leverage}}'' does this sometimes--Hardison ([[HollywoodHacking The Hacker]]) is often in the van. He even [[ICallItVera named his van Lucille]].
** In the episode "Two Horse Job", Parker and Hardison are using a van to carry out surveillance on Sterling.
** The FBI themselves have a fairly obvious van as well.
* ''Series/TheWire'' does this a lot, both by the cops and by Omar (a stick-up artist - he only uses a ''van'' in season one and briefly in season four, though). Featuring such antics as Detective Sydnor complaining that the van is full of Detective Carver's empties, and the fact that Carver is eating such a variety of junk food while on stakeout outside a mini-mart, Omar looking out the van window and watching for hints of where the stash-house is (and Bailey taking notes based on what Omar observed, on a sheet of notebook paper on which they were clearly playing hangman before), Omar and Renaldo watching a convenience store they suspect is a drug front, and getting distracted watching Detective Kima Greggs watching the same convenience store from her own vehicle, and so on. And though no one's actually in it, season 2 features a subplot where the Stevedores Union steals the valuable surveillance van from Commander Valcheck as part of their [[EscalatingWar series of petty revenges on each other]] and begin shipping it around the world, sending Valcheck taunting photos of it from each new location, which continues even after [[spoiler:Sobotka is killed]].
* The Dog washing van from ''Series/ArrestedDevelopment''.
* The Bug Van from ''Series/MiamiVice''.
* Done occasionally in Season 1 of ''Series/WhiteCollar'', and OnceAnEpisode in Season 2.
* Spoofed in ''Series/{{Life On Mars|2006}}''. Sam Tyler convinces a dubious Gene Hunt to use a bug to gather information on the bad guys, saying "One day this stuff will bring down Richard Nixon." Gene is sitting in the van [[BrickJoke when he suddenly says]], "Wouldn't they notice a great big van parked outside the White House?"
* One sketch in ''Series/ThatMitchellAndWebbLook'' features a spoof variation: two people, in a van, keeping an eye on the field agent and advising him. The only difference is that their advice is about what quips and [[DoubleEntendre double entendres]] to use.[[spoiler: That and providing the same service for the villain.]]
* On ''{{Series/Dollhouse}}'', the agents follow and monitor the Actives in surveillance vans, just to make sure everything goes well.
* In ''{{Series/Chuck}}'', sitting in the van during a mission was considered drawing the short straw. Whoever had to do it often didn't stay there, especially if it was Chuck or Morgan.
* On ''Series/ParksAndRecreation'', Leslie and Tom use a van to spy on the community garden to see who has been planting marijuana in it. Leslie decides instead to spy on her friend Ann who lives next to the garden and is going on a date with Leslie's ex-boyfriend.
* In ''{{Series/Justified}}'' the Marshals use this several times when scoping out where fugitives may be hiding, with varying levels of complaining from those who get stuck on van duty.
* ''Series/{{NCIS}}'' does this a lot. Usually with [[HollywoodNerd McGee]] in the van.
* The Cooper family in ''Series/KCUndercover'' have one (being a family of spies after all). During missions one member (usually Ernie) stays inside to act as MissionControl.
* ''Series/{{Alias}}'': Many missions begin with the field agent (usually Sydney) finalizing her disguise in a van (or appropriate local equivalent) while going over the plan with MissionControl. Then she hops out of the back of the van and heads around the corner to the office/bunker/party while her backup waits inside.
* After a few episodes of ''Series/{{Scorpion}}'', the team acquires a van from their employers at Homeland Security, ostensibly so they don't have to keep bumming rides from Paige and Cabe on the way to missions. In practice, the van, much like the team itself, often takes on a far more active role than it was meant to -- even having its engine blown up once. It includes wireless connectivity and room for Happy's tool chest.
* One of these shows up on ''Series/HillStreetBlues'' of all shows, tailing Hill and Renko's cruiser. (Does that count as an inversion?) When Renko finally confronts the occupants they turn out to be a local TV news crew who've been doing a report on police activity, and are less than impressed with [[DonutMessWithACop Andy's doughnut habit.]]
* In ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'': The Trio set up a stake-out van to monitor Buffy's activities and coordinate their attacks. There is a brief dispute over whether the very conspicuous Death Star decal added by Andrew really is appropriate on a vehicle that's supposed to be low-key.
* ''Series/{{Supernatural}}''. Sam and Dean have to use this trope in Season 7, because every Leviathan knows their face on sight, so just sitting in a car or ImpersonatingAnOfficer (their usual tactics) to gather information could get them killed.

[[folder: Video Games ]]
* In ''VideoGame/HitmanBloodMoney'', one of these vans is used by FBI agents to control and monitor their witness protection efforts. Spiking doughnuts meant for the agents there with sedatives or poison is probably the best way to get an FBI agent suit in this level.
* In the ''SamAndMax'' episode, ''Reality 2.0.'', because Max became president last episode and moved the Oval Office to the corner of Straight & Narrow, the Secret Service is staked outside in a truck marked [[PaperThinDisguise "Secret Serv Ice Cream"]].

[[folder: Web Original ]]
* When Battlecat and Minx (Battlecat's daughter) of the ''Roleplay/GlobalGuardiansPBEMUniverse'' weren't hanging around rooftops [[TheStakeout staking out a wanted criminal]], they were usually parked in Battlecat's CoolCar staking out a wanted criminal. While their rooftop stakeouts always ended in discussions about Minx's current boyfriend, the car stake-outs would always end up being about Battlecat's still being in love with Minx's mother some five years after the divorce (and after his ex-wife remarried).

[[folder: Western Animation ]]
* ''WesternAnimation/DuckTales'': The Beagle Boys use the "Spies in A Van" technique in "The Bride Wore Stripes" and "My Mother the Psychic".
* ''WesternAnimation/FamilyGuy'': In "Stuck Together, Torn Apart", Peter and his friends spy on Lois with a high-tech police van.
* Used in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/AmericanDad'' Stan and a fellow agent camp out in a van, spying on a house full of terrorists. Unfortunately, the terrorists notice the van parked ''right outside'' and take them both hostage.
* In the ''{{WesternAnimation/Superfriends}}'' episode "The Balloon People". Dr. Noah Tall and Twisty use one called the "Snoop Wagon" to spy on the title characters. Bonus points for having an exterior radar dish and extendable telescope.
* Mr. Crocker in ''WesternAnimation/TheFairlyOddParents'' used a fairy-tracking van disguised as an ice cream truck at least once. This proved horribly ineffective since he was immediately mobbed by kids. To drive them away, he converted the van into a spinach truck... and was immediately mobbed by [[ComicStrip/{{Popeye}} sailors]] instead.