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Cloak and Dagger

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Spy agencies in real life are largely dull bureaucracies that exist to gather vast amounts of minute detail, then sort through it for anything interesting. Ian Fleming and the Cold War as a whole changed all that by creating a vast horde of glamorous secret agents devoted to fighting for Queen and Country (or whatever leadership of whatever nation).

Cloak-and-dagger groups are those that have no real relationship to existing organizations but exist to conduct this kind of clandestine fun. When portrayed in a negative light, they are often filled with variations on the Bad Boss who considers their agents disposable: You Have Failed Me and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness may even be the entire point of the plot for the main character(s).

See Fictional Counterpart for examples of how many groups attempt to skirt around real world Geopolitics. See also Spy Fiction. A Sub-Trope of Government Agency of Fiction.

Not to be confused with the Marvel Comics characters Cloak and Dagger (Marvel Comics), or with the original term for swashbuckler stories (cloak and sword).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Black Organization in Case Closed seemed to have this going on, but subverted by some of its members decided to continue having relationships and friendships: Akemi and Shiho (because they are sisters), Rena and Shuichi, Vermouth and "Ano Kata". Others perceive fellow members as tools (Gin).
  • The eponymous Absurdly Powerful Student Council of Best Student Council is so powerful that it has its own intelligence unit, Covert Squad.
  • Of course, England from Hetalia: Axis Powers would be the best spy for the allies.

    Comic Books 
  • Checkmate in The DCU is part of the greater Department of Metahuman Affairs and has a chess motif.
    • Motif is perhaps not as apt a phrase as weird cheesy obsession. For example, there are two heads of the agency, the Black King and the White King (not as racist as it sounds — the White King was for a while, and may still be, Mister Terrific, who is black). Depending on the writer/time period, this is explained as either a division into ops/intel, or normal/superpowered. (Presumably, you need a superpowered team to fight superpowered baddies, and you need a normal team to keep an eye on the supers because you're paranoid.)
    • Opposing the good guys in this are H.I.V.E. and Kobra.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fictional agency employed by the United Nations (and formerly the U.S. government) to fight terrorists.
    • Also, S.W.O.R.D. and, briefly, H.A.M.M.E.R., Norman Osborn's replacement for S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Britain has MI13, which essentially handles supernatural and superhuman affairs in Great Britain.
    • Opposing the good guys in this is Hydra, Leviathan, Department X/the Red Room, the Secret Empire, A.I.M., the Sons of the Serpent, and the Hand.
  • The Global Peace Agency was one of these for O.M.A.C.. Sort of, it's... complicated.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • James Bond:
    • The SPECTRE organization had a short run in the novels and was Bond's full-time archenemy in the movies for a while. Effectively, it is the first known example of a Rogue Intelligence agency devoted to its own profit.
    • The organization Quantum has filled it and SMERSH's role for the Daniel Craig Bond movies.
    • As of Spectre, the titular agency has reasserted itself as the archnemesis of MI6 as a whole and 007 in particular, with preceding enemies in the Daniel Craig films even being retconned as having been — knowingly or otherwise — operating under SPECTRE control.
    • The real-life MI6 is not known to have a "00 Section" made up of specially appointed assassins. In the films not only is it a major part of the organization, it's big enough to have its own section in MI6's headquarters and its own logo (as per The World Is Not Enough).
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Section 31, the Federation's clandestine black-ops group, which was first revealed in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine..
  • True Lies had "The Omega Sector" which seemed to be directly inspired by S.H.I.E.L.D. to the point of having the organization leader Spencer Trilby appear in an eye-patch.

  • Draconis Memoria: With the war between the Ironship Syndicate and the Corvantine Empire drawing closer, both sides scheme to undermine and rob the other to gain an edge in the seemingly inevitable conflict. Exceptional Initiatives and Cadre both engage in espionage, sabotage and assassination on a regular basis, not to mention all the other minor factions, such as the Co-respondent Brotherhood, enacting their own schemes.
  • The titular organization of Declare, in which an agent's catechism includes the question, "Would you fight magic with magic?"
  • The Bureau, the 'deniable' British intelligence service of the Quiller series by Adam Hall.
  • Kim is more realistic, but the "dagger" part shows, especially around Mahbub Ali. He's still annoyed to no end when someone tries to kill him and it's not personal.
  • In the later Honor Harrington books, Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki fill this role, ostensibly on behalf of the Kingdom of Torch. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that officially, Victor Cachat is an agent of the Republic of Haven, and Anton Zilwicki is an agent of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, two nations which are actually at war with each other Until Mission of Honor. They tend to team up to go after their nations' mutual enemies, primarily the Mesan Alignment. Their respective governments rarely sanction these efforts, and at worst are occasionally frustrated to learn they have no idea just what their agents are up to, but they are more than happy to reap the benefits.
  • The Culture series novel The Hydrogen Sonata is a cloak and dagger espionage thriller fought by Sufficiently Advanced Alien AI starships over a secret left behind by even more Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • The Nexus Series: Imagine a Cold War based around mind-hacking instead of nukes and you're halfway there.
  • The titular Red Room organization is a branch of an Ancient Conspiracy devoted to covering up the supernatural. Unlike most such groups, they act like a glamorous movie espionage organization with advanced magically-enhanced technology. This is implied to help divert agents from thinking too hard about the immoral nature of their work.
  • Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series has the Orion Team operating inside the CIA, as an assassination squad. Over the course of the series, they branch out into hostage rescue, investigation and deep penetration, but their missions usually involve a fair amount of killing terrorists.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Airwolf had The Firm, although it was an obvious stand-in for the CIA.
  • Alias had SD-6 and an ever increasing number of strange terrorist organizations arrayed against it.
  • CONTROL from Get Smart is an example as is its opponent KAOS.
  • La Femme Nikita was characterized around an organization known as Section One.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is another example.
  • Section 31, the Tal-Shiar and the Obsidian Order are the cloak and dagger organizations of the Federation, Romulans and Cardassian. One episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, however, shows Bashir and Garak (The first is British, the second is an actual spy) stuck in a James Bond style holo-program. When Bashir says that he is under cover as a rich playboy, Garak says that he joined the wrong intelligence agency. Mostly played straight otherwise, though Section 31 serves more to raise the question of whether it is okay to betray your principles in order to preserve it than anything else. Starfleet Intelligence (the actual, openly admitted intelligence agency of the Federation) slides into this on the few occasions they get involved with the captains' missions.
  • The Good Guy agencies on Chuck are nominally the CIA and the NSA, though they bear little resemblance to their real-world counterparts. The Bad Guy organizations, Fulcrum and the Ring, seem largely made up of rogue espionage agents.
  • The Canadian series Adderly never did make quite clear whether "ISI", International Security and Intelligence, was a US, Canadian, or bifederal agency.
  • In Nikita, the government agency Nikita used to work for is called Division.
  • The organization of burned spies in Burn Notice.
  • The Agency filled this role for Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
  • Tenacity and their enemy agency Turmoil in Born to Spy.

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, there are several groups spying on other groups. SAVAGE, Maar Sul's elite military corps, has the Covert Operations Department, the Grand Alliance has the Blades of Vigilance who are heavily involved in spying on the factions which oppose the Alliance, the Crimson Coalition has the Mullencamp spy network which monitors the Coalition territory and any non-Coalition faction it can gain access to, the Magicracy of Alent has Shadowstrike which keeps tabs on Alentian criminals but is also involved in internal affairs within the Anti Mage Police. Then there are also underworld organizations which use cloak and dagger methods, most notably the Union Workers, the Order of the Black Rose and the Dwarven Triad.
  • Each of Open Blue's major nations has one of these.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Forgotten Realms, due to the nature of this setting, has a lot of secret and semi-secret organizations ranging from information brokers to assassin guilds to Hero Secret Service groups. The most important ones made it into a sourcebook quite appropriately named Cloak & Dagger.
    Ed Greenwood: But there's another sort of secret society that we can't spotlight in the rules [...] We ruin its secrecy by talking about it. These small, local, lowdown cabals of crooked merchants are a vital, ongoing, many-layered (as in "You shouldn't have just one at a time") part of the "home" Forgotten Realms campaign, and in many, many lively, long-running D&D campaigns set in any world. They're just the thing for framing or hiring PCs and plunging them throat-deep into unexpected and usually unwanted adventure.
  • Eberron: Being based on pulp adventure serials, the setting is designed with this as an option. Breland's Dark Lanterns are the most famous spy group, but Zilargo has the Trust, the Secret Police who a third of the nation directly works for. Every nation has at least some sort of espionage organization, allowing for plenty of intrigue. Karrnath's used to be the Emerald Claw, until Kaius III realized they were nothing but pawns for Lady Illmarrow and cut all ties; now they're just a terrorist organization that sometimes pretends to be made up of Karrnathi patriots. They still make good enemies for an adventure like this, though.
  • Delta Green had the titular agency as the Renegade branch of the US government that had broken away to fight the Old Ones. Still working for the USA was Majestic-12. Opposing them included the Karotechiaand numerous other fictional spy agencies.
  • The Old World of Darkness had Project: Twilight which was a supplement detailing real-life government agencies reactions to the supernatural. However, they included the SAD which was a well-funded "X-Files" in the FBI and several secret societies in the NSA.
    • The Technocracy is one huge example of this.
  • The d20 based game Spycraft existed for no other purpose than Cloak and Dagger adventuring.
  • Anima: Beyond Fantasy has, most notably, the Emperor's Hand and Les Jager -described by the author as a cross between the Real Life Gestapo and SS.

    Video Games 
  • City of Heroes has the Malta Group, an international coalition of intelligence agents formed during the Cold War to get around their government's unwillingness to conscript superheroes into the intelligence community.
  • Metal Gear: FOXHOUND, anyone?
    • With the history of the organization revealed, it's even more complicated. Precursor organization FOX was developed as a special operations team within the CIA, with Naked Snake, Zero, Sigint and Paramedic existing as a complete unit (with the authority to request help as needed from other agencies). After 1963, Naked Snake left and the organization was repurposed and went through several iterations, eventually becoming special forces unit FOXHOUND, which was then disbanded in 2015. And FOX also operated with the support of another organization of "cleaners" called XOF, which eventually became a fully special operations group in its own right in 1973.
  • Team Fortress 2: Reliable Excavation Demolition, meet Builders League United. Possibly a subversion in that neither group has any real idea what they're fighting for or why they would need a small, color-coded briefcase from the opposing company.
    • The name is referenced by the Spy class weapon "Cloak and Dagger".
    • The Spy's official class role, as given in the original 2006 gameplay trailer, is "Uncloak and Dagger".
  • The agents of Halo's Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) undertake all sorts of morally shady activities, some of which are kept secret even from UNSC High Command. ONI is also the organization responsible for creating The Hero, Master Chief.
    • And ONI is named after a Real Life agency with much more mundane objectives.
  • There are several in Alpha Protocol. The titular agency is employed as a deniable asset by the U.S. government, allowing them to conduct operations at their discretion and later say that they had nothing to do with it. In the case of the game, the US government says "Neutralize Shaheed", but doesn't care how the agency goes about it. Also, it exists as an agency without oversight at all, making the entire operation less a case of plausible deniability and more a case of complete long it's burned to the ground when they're in danger of being discovered. G22 exists as a standalone agency, working for no government and operating only on their own recognizance, and while they specialize in datamining and intelligence-gathering, they also have a robust and effective paramilitary representation. They're also implied to be an abandoned previous incarnation of Alpha Protocol. Deus Vult appears to consist of one man with several direct operatives working in the open as part of the Veteran Combat Initiative, a mercenary group. And, you guessed it, they're also implied to be an abandoned previous incarnation of Alpha Protocol.
  • Deus Ex has UNATCO serve as this at the start of the game. They're actually puppets of The Conspiracy, leading you to defect halfway in.
  • The eponymous Splinter Cell and Third Echelon in general serve this role. While technically they're strictly in human intelligence, Fisher nonetheless aggressively pursues information and has, at least once per game, been called on to assassinate a specific person.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Bretons tend to be extremely talented in pursuits of espionage. Breton double agents, assassins, and spies have turned the tide of wars throughout recorded history. It was in fact a Breton assassin who killed the Colovian Petty King Cuchulain leading to the ascension of Cuchulain's General as his replacement. That General's name: Tiber Septim.
    • Mephala is a Daedric Prince whose sphere is "obscured to mortals", but who is associated with manipulation, lies, sex, and secrets. Given all that is within her sphere, she could be considered the patron deity of spies and assassins. The Dunmer consider her as this directly, as she is the patron of the Morag Tong.
  • In Fallout 4, the Railroad adopts this persona, especially the agent known only as "Deacon". They use dead drops, safe houses, secret signs to provide information about areas, store weapon and supply caches for operatives all over, like to speak covertly and even use a sign and countersign to identify one another, even have their own equivalent of Q to make weapon and clothing mods and generally know a lot about the goings on in the Commonwealth. Ultimately subverted, as they aren't an intelligence agency, they are actually a people-smuggling operation looking to liberate all enslaved synths. Their adversary, the Institute, actually has an even better intelligence-gathering apparatus due to a long list of paid informants and synth doppelgänger double agents.
  • Wintermoor Tactics Club: The Tactics club is able to engage in activities resembling this genre to scout out the competition beforehand, gaining an advantage in the ensuing snowball battle from their espionage work. This doesn't work on the Student Council, who prepare multiple fake-outs and even a trap for the Tactics club... but finding all of them earns their respect and gives the party bonus Tactics points during their first combat encounter with the Clubless.

  • Secret Agent Men parodies this type of organization, even calling its two separate sections "Cloak" (for overt, glamourous work) and "Dagger" (covert dangerous work, like special ops).

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • SMERSH (Smyert Shpionam {Смерть шпионам}, "Death to Spies")was a Real Life agency. It was a subsection of the then-NKVD during World War II, whose existence was devoted to halting espionage within the USSR. The organization was disbanded — officially, that is — shortly after the end of the war, but Ian Fleming appropriated it and used is as what amounts to a terrorist organization funded by the KGB.
  • Real Life spy agencies often have little in common with their depictions in media, in small part because of ignorance but also because real life spy-work is rarely so glamorous. Some fun facts that have been ignored by the media are:
    • The real-life portfolio of the U.S. National Security Agency is signals intelligence and cryptanalysis (codebreaking). That hasn't stopped screenwriters and others from depicting "NSA agents" engaging in espionage fieldwork which in reality would be handled by personnel of the CIA, FBI, or various military intelligence agencies.
    • The KGB in real life are often called "Dzherzhinsky Square", after the street where the headquarters are located (which in turn is named after the first head of its predecessor, the Cheka). Before the Bolshevik Revolution (and again after the dissolution of the Soviet Union), Dzherzhinsky Square was known as Lubyanka Square, which gave its name to the Lubyanka Building, headquarters of the KGB and its predecessor agencies, and still headquarters of Russia's internal security service, the FSB. The KGB are also generally depicted as having the same power and nightmarish disregard for life as the real life NKVD, their predecessor in the Stalin era.
    • MI6 is actually an agency called SIS, with James Bond as the most egregious producer of this inaccuracy. It hasn't been called that since World War II, well before Ian Fleming served. The agency now has to use the title in its recruitment advert. Still, no apparent hard feelings as SIS has allowed its real-life headquarters building to be featured in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films as the home of MI6 and its 00 Section.
    • Contrary to popular belief, Canada does have its own intelligence agency, called C-SIS (Canadian Special Intelligence Service). As with most Canadian agencies, it doesn't get much publicitynote . The girl at the end of Quantum of Solace is the only one that comes to mind.
      • A Season 4 episode of Stargate Atlantis went to great lengths to point out how "stupid" a name C-SIS was for an intelligence agency ("That's the best you could do?"), but this is also completely in check with the rest of the tongue-in-cheek Canadian bashing on the show (most of the cast and crew is Canadian, and the entire franchise is filmed in Vancouver).