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Flock of Wolves

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"The park was deserted except for a member of MI9 trying to recruit someone who, to their later mutual embarrassment, would turn out to be also a member of MI9."

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 a criminal operation, only to learn that the criminals are cops running a sting. 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. Oftentimes, it will be remarked upon that if they weren't keeping up the charade, the organization they're trying to bring down probably wouldn't exist.

Once the multiple operations are revealed, Jurisdiction Friction tends to ensue, with the squads arguing about who takes point, who can stick around, and who has to leave.

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. May be part of revealing The Only Believer. Might also drive a character to demand: "Okay, will the real [X] please stand up?" — and then everybody stands up.

Compare/contrast I Am Spartacus and Resistance as Planned. Then there's Mole in Charge for when the leader is a mole, which may occur with this. See also Mutual Masquerade. For literal wolves, see Savage Wolves and Noble Wolf.

Due to the nature of this trope, spoilers abound.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The second series of Code Geass introduces the Britannian Office of Secret Intelligence, whose entire function is to spy on Lelouch, who has Laser-Guided Amnesia and is being used as bait to lure his close allies out of hiding. The entire organization knows how dangerous he'd be if his memories returned, but by the middle of the series, practically everyone is working for Lelouch due to mind-control, blackmail, or emotional manipulation.
  • In Heavy Object, the city of Lost Angels was originally a normal city, but the presence of a nearby Object maintenance base resulted in spies from the other nations infiltrating the city. Said spies created "gangs" to act as covers for their presence, which soon ballooned out of control. By the time the protagonists arrive, all of the civilians have long since left the city; everyone who remains is either a spy posing as a criminal, an actual criminal profiting off their conflict, or a social exile with nowhere else to go.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School: The Girl Who Calls The Stars, everyone wants basically the same thing: to prevent another world war. However, because of the national and factional tensions left by the last war (and the wrench that the Watatsumi slaves' existence throws into everyone's plans) it's about halfway into the movie before any of them realize this. Fortunately, all the soldiers involved know a common language and a surprisingly high degree of them attended school together.
  • This is kinda what happens in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, except that Kyon, the Meta Guy protagonist, isn't one of the "wolves" and is dragged into the title character's Club For Finding Aliens, Time-Travelers, and Espers by force. However, it soon turns out that every other member of the club (including the founder) is some kind of supernatural being that they are supposed to look for. In a way, the title character invoked this trope without being aware of it, due to being a Wrong Genre Savvy Reality Warper.
  • One episode of the Patlabor TV show has them helping the Japanese intelligence service pick up a Soviet defector and his experimental Humongous Mecha in a seaside resort town. Every single person there is said to be a spy of some sort. The one that really takes the biscuit being:
    "You see that dog crossing the road there? It's a Mossad spy dog!"
  • In some episodes of Pokémon: The Series, the Team Rocket trio try to rob civilians, only for them to turn out to be criminals themselves in disguise, sometimes even ones from their own organization. This was sometimes intentional, as some other members of Team Rocket were rivals who would try to throw Jessie and James into their scams out of spite, but in some cases, particularly with villains even more unsavvy than the main trio, confusion and Hilarity Ensues.
  • In one of the Project A-Ko OVAs, every single customer at the Lepton-mothership-turned-restaurant turns out to be a disguised spy... all for different organizations. Cue Blast Out.
  • Shishunki to Danshikou!? to Nakano-kun (Puberty, an All Boys School!? and Nakano-kun): Half the premise of the manga is that the protagonist Nakano does not know that he is the only boy in the all-boys school the story is set, with all the other students being girls posing as boys. The other half of the premise is that the girls don't know this, either. Each and every one of them is hiding their gender under the assumption that they're the only girl in disguise and surrounded by boys.
  • Slayers:
    • In an episode of Slayers Next, the team infiltrates a kingdom dedicated to training priestesses, and takes it so seriously it's supposedly a Lady Land which will execute any man found near its borders, never mind in the city. As it turns out, it's actually full of Wholesome Crossdressers — even the princess is actually the prince, forced to pretend to be a girl because his crazy mother didn't want to annul the rule, yet didn't want to execute her son either.
    • In another episode in Slayers Revolution, every employee and guest on the cruise ship they take turns out to have been hired by their enemies to get the Sword of Light.
  • In the Soul Eater manga, we already knew Crona was acting as a spy for Medusa when the DWMA started getting suspicious. It turned out there were four spies working for three different people (Crona for Medusa, Justin for Asura, and the two women at the cabaret Spirit visits for Arachnophobia) as well as a student that was really a witch (though she wasn't a spy).
  • SPY×FAMILY: Berlint City Hall has at least three undercover agents from two different organization. Yor and the director of policy are assassins from Garden, while one of Yor's coworkers works for the SSS alongside Yor's brother Yuri. They're all working for Berlint's national government, rather than foreign spies, but the two organization seem unaware of each other's presence.
    • The titular family are themselves an example. Loid, codename Twilight, is a master spy who created the family as a deep cover story for his latest assignment, though he genuinely loves them, under the impression that Anya is an innocent orphan and Yor is just a socially awkward city worker. Yor, codename <Thorn Princess>, is a Professional Killer who, having gotten slightly paranoid that her lack of relationship would blow her cover, ended up undergoing a series of shenanigans with Loid that started with him pretending to be her boyfriend and ended with them deciding to go ahead with being married to each other. She's under the impression that Loid is just an ordinary psychologist and Anya is his daughter. Then there's Anya herself, who is actually a mind reader who knows both her adoptive parents' secrets and thinks the whole thing is hilarious as she tries to subtly help them both out with their missions. She's the sole person in the whole series aware that both her parents aren't what they seem, and no one is aware of her status as an escaped psychic test subject. And topping all of that off is the family dog, Bond, who is able to experience brief glimpses of the future thanks to having been experimented on by the same lab that gave Anya her powers... and nobody except Anya herself knows about this, either.
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, it turns out that only one human member of the original party isn't a spy — Kurogane. And two of the spies aren't even aware of it.
  • Played for Drama in The Vision of Escaflowne, in which a flashback shows the shapeshifter Zongi kill a fellow member of his tribe when each was posing as part of the opposite side of a battle. He does not take it well.

    Comic Books 
  • In the EC Comics Science-Fiction SuspenStory "Infiltration", a secret U.S. government agency for ferreting out Martian invaders who use hypnotic screens to disguise themselves as human beings discovers that it has been infiltrated by an alien. It turns out the agency is actually controlled by Martians, who are all too glad to rid themselves of the Earth "alien" in their midst.
  • In The Invisibles, all four members of the Metropolitan Police's secret occult crime squad Division X were actually Invisible infiltrators. Only one of them knew that the others were also infiltrators from the start, and one of the others wasn't even aware that he himself was an infiltrator.
  • In Iznogoud, the Caliph's rival/occasional friend Sultan Pulmankar turns out to have sent two spies to collect information in his palace. As it turns out, one of the spies was disguised as the titular Great Vizar's right-hand man, Wa'at Alahf, with the intent to spend time with Iznogoud and get information out of him... while the other spy was disguised as Iznogoud himself, with the intent to do exactly the same thing with Wa'at Alahf. Predictably, they end up meeting each other instead of the real Iznogoud and Wa'at Alahf, who were minding their own business. By the time they figure out the mistake, they had been trying in vain to con information out of each other for weeks.
  • A sub-series of Italian stories in the Mickey Mouse Comic Universe has Goofy writing stories in various genres, with himself as 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.
  • The City in Miracleman 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.
  • 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!
  • By the final issue of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, the entire gang except Shocker are discovered to be double agents working for some other gang or supervillain.
  • In one of Alan Moore's Tharg'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.
  • 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."

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side:
  • MAD:
    • In a Don Martin 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.
    • In another, a woman gets her purse snatched and yells "Stop thief!". Everybody in the immediate area (including a little boy and a dog) freeze and raise their hands.
  • A Gahan Wilson cartoon in Playboy shows Hispanic-looking revolutionaries overrunning the dictator's office. The dictator, confronting the revolutionary leader, snarls, "You fool — I'm CIA, too!"

    Fan Works 
  • Ah Ain't Got no Ack-cent!: After Rarity spends much of the story convincing Applejack to use a "Manehattan" accent instead of her regular "Southern" one in order to appear more "cultured", Rarity learns she is the only pony at the exhibit whose refined accent is genuine. Everyone else has a Southern accent and was trying to hide it for appearances' sake.
  • During the Chunin Exams in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto, there are more ringers and outside agents infiltrating the exams than there are actual genin trying to get promoted.
  • In Diamond and Silver's Excellent Adventure, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon accidentally time travel to the past, and wind up among La Résistance in the ancient earth pony kingdom. At the next meeting, the majority of the Resistance reveal themselves to also be disguised time travelers.
  • A Different Outcome: Hollyleaf reveals that she and her siblings were sired by the ThunderClan medicine cat and a WindClan warrior at a Gathering, thereby exposing their parent's breaking of the Warrior Code. Jayfeather responds by announcing and proving that half of ThunderClan has either adopted the kits of other cats or cheated on their mates, lessening the impact of Hollyleaf's announcement on both the other Clans and Hollyleaf herself.
  • Exciting Opportunities: During the diplomatic banquet being held on Illium for Jarrion, Loghain eventually reveals through her telepathy that all of the waiters there are undercover spies sent by rival intelligence agencies. Since each spy had assumed that they were the only ones undercover, they are just as shocked to learn this as the guests and immediately pull guns on each other.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Flock of Wolves, a rather boring meeting of Death Eaters is interrupted by Dolohov (and Bellatrix, and Augustus, and Macnair, etc) revealing that he's a spy. About the only members who aren't undercover are Avery and Lucius- although he only joined the group to hobnob with rich people. Fortunately, all these conversations take place while Voldemort is off somewhere else.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Professor Quirrell decides to allow spies between the armies for the battles he sets up. It gets so out of hand, that one of the students ends up being a quintuple agent. There are three armies. The other two are Dumbledore and a disguised Quirrel, both of whom achieved their objectives far better than any of the official sides.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfiction Make a Wish, all of the Death Eaters on watch when the Death Eater lair was blown up were spies; fortunately, all of them chose that moment to report to their respective organizations, so none of them were killed.
  • When My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic introduced shapeshifting changelings, naturally the fanfic writers went a bit nuts with the concept. After exhausting every possible variation on "Canon pony was a changeling all along", writers started to exaggerate and parody the idea:
    • In Changelings, Changelings Everywhere the mane cast discovers that Rainbow Dash was a changeling all along, then that Pinkie Pie was another changeling sent to find her... the escalation doesn't really stop until it's revealed that Celestia is literally the only pony who isn't secretly a changeling. Several ponies who were replaced with changelings turned out to be changelings in the first place. The story ends with the changelings that were Rainbow Dash and Applejack going to get lunch while everyone sorts out who's on what side.
      "Is anyone here actually a pony? Are ponies even a real thing?"
    • Changeling has a similar premise to the above (everyone but Celestia, Luna, Twilight Sparkle, Trixie, and Prince Blueblood are changelings), and Celestia even name-drops the trope. She also finds it rather amusing that neither Cadence nor Shining Armor knows the other is a changeling.
      Celestia: There are at least five thousand separate changeling hives trying to take over Equestria, and none of them know of more than one or two other hives. It's like a flock of wolves, all trying desperately to pretend that they're sheep.
    • Everyone's a Changeling follows that premise all the way to the bitter end. Not only is every pony in Equestria actually a changeling (most of them amnesiacs who don't realize they're changelings), but so is every sapient creature, every animal, every plant, every building, and every object. Even most of the rocks and geological features are just more changelings. As Chrysalis, the changeling queen, simply reminds all her wayward changelings what they really are, she conquers the world in the most anticlimactic way possible. And she promptly gets bored out of her skull. The fic ends with Chrysalis restoring the old status quo by ordering her changelings to go back into their disguises, then casting a mass amnesia spell—right after she learns she's gone through this whole cycle countless times before.
  • Professor Arc: In the chapter 14 omake, Jaune, Ozpin, Oobleck and Port are all revealed to be frauds who stumbled their way into becoming faculty. Ozpin invokes Insane Troll Logic to declare Miss Goodwitch - the only real teacher in Beacon - is a real teacher masquerading as a fake masquerading as a real teacher. She Rage Quits from the nonsense.
  • Seventh Horcrux has this happen as a result of Voldemort believing the rumors about Sirius being a traitor and inviting him into his inner circle, and Hagrid never being cleared for the Chamber of Secrets murders. Before long, between Sirius, Snape, Hagrid, and Voldemort's own You Have Failed Me tendencies and paranoia regarding actually loyal individuals, nearly all of his top brass are Order of the Phoenix plants, with only Lucius being mostly loyal.
  • One of SHIELD's more remote bases in Walking on Sunshine is staffed entirely with LMDs. Dumdum sums it up as a bunch of infiltrators infiltrating each other. After learning of the situation, Fury orders the base left alone, citing that it's tying up resources that would otherwise be infiltrating SHIELD for real.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Assignment (1997). The plot involves a Doppelgänger of terrorist Carlos the Jackal who is trained by the CIA/Mossad to impersonate him, so he can make contact with a former lover of Carlos. However she turns out to be an informant for French intelligence; they ambush the man they think is Carlos and he has to kill several agents in the process of escaping.
  • The Believer: Danny starts a class advocating Nazism, and is later told most "students" are police informants, not actual neo-Nazis.
  • 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 to count as just The Mole.
  • Cypher: Played with. It turns out that ALL the attendants of the conferences that the protagonist visits across the country in his job as a corporate spy are also agents of DigiCorp sent to spy on their competitors. However, they're not actually spies, but targets for DigiCorp's brainwashing program.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. (Even the ones who are played by men.)
  • 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.
  • In OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, the hero (who is a French spy passing for a businessman) meets the other foreign businessmen: all but one are also spies.
  • Screamers: It turns out the N.E.B. camp has been infiltrated by Ridiculously Human Robots. How bad is it? There are only three soldiers left: a female captain and two male privates. Only one of the privates is an actual human, both the captain and the other private are robots. Ironically, he's the first to get killed under suspicion of being an "infiltrator"—after being accused of such by one of the actual robots!
  • The Super Cops (1974). The protagonists are approached by a Dirty Cop who turns out to be an undercover agent for the Knapp Commission into police corruption. The protagonists in turn try to arrest him for conspiracy to frame them. Turns out they were both tape-recording each other, and the police brass avoid embarrassment by promoting all concerned.
  • To Live and Die in L.A.. An informant tells the Cowboy Cop about a courier arriving in town with money for a drug buy. As his superiors won't approve the sting money he needs to entice the Big Bad, he and his partner decide to rob the courier, only to find themselves shot at (the courier is accidentally killed by a stray bullet) and chased by an ever-increasing number of well-armed men with vehicles and radio communication. The two cops barely escape, only to be briefed next day about an FBI sting operation that went wrong and resulted in the death of an undercover agent.
  • 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...


By Author:

  • Philip K. Dick:
    • The Eyes Have It revolves around an Inspector Javert character who hunts aliens (indistinguishable from humans except for glow-in-the-dark eyes) and dissects them. He informs his superiors that there is an alien spy among them, only for it to turn out they are all aliens except him.
    • The Game-Players of Titan, which involves aliens from Titan that can make themselves appear human, has a scene in which the protagonist discovers that he is the only member of the anti-alien resistance cell he's joined who isn't an alien sleeper agent.
  • Stanisław Lem:
    • The Star Diaries: One of the stories has a planet full of agents disguised as robots trying to infiltrate an evil computer's (nonexistent) robotic army.
    • In another of his stories, during hearings on the robot infiltration problem, every member of the hearing turns out to be a robot.

By Title:

  • Beach Music:
    • The novel contains a dark take or two on this. In one case, Capers, a member of the main character's True Companions, joins an anti-Vietnam War student group with Shyla (another member of the group of friends, and who is passionately against the war) only to betray both the anti-war group and his friends by having been an undercover government agent the whole time. He tries to minimize the damage by saying that Shyla and the others were all just innocent dupes, and the leader of the student group was only real extremist and responsible for all of the more dubious and/or illegal actions the group took. At the trial, it turns out that the leader of the student group was also a government agent all along.
    • Another case is something of an inversion. An undercover police officer tries to turn a peaceful student rally into a riot, but is caught and kicked out immediately because they realize he's much too zealous and dressed like too much of a stereotype to possibly be real.
  • Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero had Bill getting recruited by an insurgency and then by military intelligence; eventually a bust occurs and every insurgent turns out to be (or at least says they're) working for the military.
  • In Harry Harrison and Ant Skalandis's novel Deathworld vs. Filibusters, the Pyrrans have finally managed to defeat the pirates only to find out that Henry Morgan, the pirates' leader, and several of his Number Twos were working for various agencies all this time, all under deep cover in order to expose the entire organization. The Pyrrans don't care and execute Morgan for all he has done (being an agent doesn't excuse murdering and pillaging).
  • Discworld:
    • In Monstrous Regiment, the main character disguises herself as a man to join the army, only to find that nearly every single member of her squad is also a woman in disguise. Even the very masculine Sergeant Jack Jackrum, who has been in the army for decades before the main character joined. In fact, the only male is the decidedly effeminate Lt. Blouse. Their disguises, including that of the pregnant Shufti, are so effective that when they opt to try the old "pretend to be the washerwomen" trick, Blouse deems himself the only one sufficiently capable of acting female to pass muster. (And he's right — he makes it past the guards just fine, while the rest of them have rather more difficulty. The real washerwomen, who are mostly the indentured wives of the soldiers on their side, aren't fooled by Blouse's antics, but play along anyway.)
      • And when the girls are put on trial for impersonating men by the Straw Misogynist army, Jackrum sends about half of the officers out of the room, and reveals to the other half he knows they're all women. Roughly a third of the army's high command (including the highest ranking general), turns out to be female. Even better is when Jackrum does this, he sees the way the women are looking at each other and is stunned to realize that most of them thought they were the only one in the army doing this. (The aforementioned highest ranking general says that she realized others were doing it and had discovered a few and kept their secrets, but didn't know it was so widespread.)
    • A humorous aside in a footnote in Hogfather, following a passage mocking conspiracy theories about Ancient Astronauts, relates how aliens have had to stop abducting people from the Earth. It turns out so many different extraterrestrial species have been doing so, or monitoring each others' attempts to do so, that they've only succeeded in abducting other aliens, and they want to sort things out to determine if there even are any Earthlings. They begin to suspect they have exactly one native with large feet.
    • The Discworld Companion describes how the Turtle Movement in Omnia protects itself from the Corrupt Church by only meeting in small cells, in which everyone wears masks. Which is why the senior churchmen who are members don't know that every other senior churchman is a member as well.
  • The Serge Storms books. The first time, undercover agents of three different law enforcement agencies infiltrate a drug ring and try to bust each other (leading them to wonder if all drug dealers in Florida are secretly undercover cops). The second time, a group of people planning to overthrow Castro is composed almost entirely of agents of Cuban intelligence. The only exception is a retired CIA officer. The sad thing is that they all know it and yet they still make plots they have no intention of implementing and send reports back to Cuba about what was discussed in the meetings.
  • A variation in The Dresden Files book Death Masks, where Harry appears on a talk-show talking about the supernatural. The guests are himself (a wizard), an "ectomancer" (psychic who can communicate with the dead), a Roman Catholic priest from the Vatican talking about faith v. the supernatural, and a university professor who specializes in debunking claims of the supernatural. Harry only agreed to the show so that he could speak to the ectomancer, as the man would not otherwise meet with him for fear of being caught in the crossfire in the ongoing supernatural war. Harry soon discovers that the other two guests also appeared on the show in order to have inconspicuous meetings with him on business that was completely unrelated to the other people there. Not only did they want to talk with him, but they were each also a different type of supernatural being. It is ultimately revealed that every single guest appearing on the "Is The Supernatural Real?" panel had a power or was a supernatural creature of some kind.
  • Eyes of the Calculor by Sean McMullen. After an electromagnetic pulse shuts down their technology, the Highliber forcibly conscripts mathematicians to operate the Calculor (a human-powered computer) but some escape via an Underground Railroad. Eventually, the secret police are able to shut down this escape line, only to discover that it's a sting operation by another agency to round up the remaining mathematicians. The Highliber gives his underlings a roasting for their Right Hand Versus Left Hand antics.
  • Good Omens: As seen in the page quote, an agent of MI9 tries to recruit someone to join, only for them to turn out to already be a fellow agent.
  • Let's Go to Golgotha by Garry Kilworth is about time travel tourism where one of the most popular trips is Christians travelling back in time to witness the Crucifixion. The tourists are disguised as Jewish citizens. In the end, the protagonist suddenly realizes that the crowd watching Jesus being nailed to the cross is composed entirely of tourists from the future, and that no actual Jewish Jerusalemites of 33 A.D. are present at all.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton is about a police officer who infiltrates a group of anarchists only to discover that all of the anarchists are also policemen. The President of the anarchists turns out to be the officer who recruited all of them. He may or may not also be God.
  • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the main characters know that the Lunar Authority is going to plant spies in their group, but they also know they can find out who they are thanks to Mike. Professor de la Paz suggests that, rather than having them killed and thus risk the Authority realizing the rebels have spies, just form them all into their own cells, so they can only spy on other spies.
  • In Mother Night, one Soviet spy is called a failure for "building an espionage apparatus entirely out of CIA infiltrators". But the joke's on the CIA: he never cared about spycraft, and just used the KGB's money to fund his art, which is entirely apolitical.
  • By the end of the Claire Malloy mystery novel Mummy Dearest, it's turned out that practically everyone Claire's met on her trip to Egypt is either a spy, an informant for spies, or a member of the smuggling ring that the spies have been hunting for. And every one of the spies works for a different Egyptian, British, American or international investigative agency.
  • In Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, Poirot has to determine which of the twelve train passengers performed a revenge killing in the night. The answer is that they all did it.
  • Friedrich Dürrenmatt's comedy/tragedy/drama The Physicists takes place in an asylum for Mad Scientists. As it turns out, however, none of the three eponymous physicists is actually insane: one of them is Obfuscating Insanity to prevent worldly authorities from exploiting his scientific breakthrough, and the other two are undercover agents from the CIA and GRU planted there to convince him to cooperate with their respective governments. And then it turns out that the female head of department of the asylum is the only one who really is insane.
  • In Reds!: A Revolutionary Timeline, following the successful revolution, the newly emergent UASR turns its attention on securing the home front. One of the main obstacles in the early days, is the True Democrat party, very much the biggest standing organisation of Evil Reactionaries. As such the government initiates a large-scale infiltration of the organization with undercover agents and recruitment of informants amongst its members. As a result, this trope happens quite a lot, even to the point of farce. In one particularly infamous example, it turned out that the True Democrats' local chapter in Monroe, Louisiana was made up entirely of undercover agents and paid informants from StateSec, the Louisiana Red Guards, and the local parish militia.
  • In the Repairman Jack series, the Dormentalist higher echelons consist entirely of people who are desperately hiding the fact that they're "Nulls", meaning that they've failed to develop the psychic powers promised to devout Dormentalists. Naturally, the leader of the cult introduced the concept of "Nulls" specifically because he knew they never would gain such powers, as the faith's core creed is a load of garbage.
  • In the Time Wars novel The Pimpernel Plot there's a scene where, apart from The Scarlet Pimpernel and his nemesis, everybody in the room turns out to be an undercover time traveler, with about half of them working for the villain and the other half there as backup for the heroes. (Possibly a bonus in-joke for readers familiar with the source novel: in the original version of the scene, apart from the Pimpernel and his nemesis, the room is empty.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a really funny season opener of the short-lived show The Agency, there was a bust of suspected terrorists, and it turned out they were all undercover cops from different agencies.
  • 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, a hacktivist organization similar to Anonymous. 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.
    • In the following season, Agents Morse and Mackenzie are spies for a splinter faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. that is seeking to supplant Coulson as Director. Agent Hartley was one for the same group as well, but she died before The Reveal.
  • On Angie Tribeca, Gelis goes undercover with some lifeguards to figure out who among them is part of a drug operation. The cops arrest the head of them only for him to reveal he's also LAPD. One by one, the other lifeguards start pulling out badges from FBI, ATF, Immigration, DEA and a few other agencies down to the IRS.
    Angie: Is not one person on this beach an actual drug-dealing lifeguard?!
  • Subverted in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake and Rosa prevent a drug trade and arrest a bunch of guys who turn out to be undercover cops working for Lt. Melanie Hawkins, who's furious that they ruined an investigation that would have led to high level bank robbers "The Golden Gang". As it turns out Melanie Hawkins is a Dirty Cop and she and her task force are the Golden Gang, being undercover cops was a cover for if they got caught that would allow Melanie to punish anyone who comes close to catching her.
  • The big turn of the pilot of Avenue 5 is revealing that supposedly top captain Ryan Clark is actually just an actor hired to be charming for the guests and barely knows anything about starships. The real captain is "engineer" Joe who ends up dying in the accident that sends the cruise ship off course. Clark relies on his top-notch crew, bursting in to talk about how one of them has to figure out a way back to Earth. Billie (who works for billionaire owner Judd) has to break it to Clark that the entire bridge crew are all actors and models hired to look good while the real crew is hidden away in the lower decks of the ship. As Clark is stunned, Billie dryly asks if it never occurred to him that just maybe he wasn't the only person hired for looks more than actual expertise.
  • CSI: Miami had a version that, as usual, became murderous but didn't start that way. As the investigation on the murder of a cast member of a Jersey Shore Expy goes on, the Miami-Dade Police crew discovers that not a single one of the "party-frat" people on the cast were as debauched as they first looked, going anywhere from geniuses to a priest-in-training that wanted to use his show cred once the run was over to try to attract people to church. The murderer turned out to be an M.I.T. graduate that wanted a social life and popularity that badly.
  • 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 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.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Time of Angels", the Doctor and River search for a Weeping Angel in a cavern that they think is full of ordinary statues. They're wrong — the wingless, weathered-faced statues are ALL withered, near-dead Angels, and they're waking up. They realize this when it finally dawns on them that the statues only have one head each, and the planet they're on used to be inhabited by a two-headed race.
  • 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 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.
  • In one episode of Get Smart, Max pretends to "defect" from CONTROL to become a Double Agent and infiltrate a KAOS cell. However, it's eventually revealed that everyone in the cell is an infiltrator from another agency (FBI, CIA, Naval Intelligence, & Scotland Yard). What's more, the only real KAOS agent (the one who had founded the cell) was already dead.
  • The Dutch comedy show Koefnoen mocked the Reality TV "road abuse"-type shows in the sketch "Blik op de Wegmisbruikers", by showing the crews of two competing shows tailing and attempting to arrest each other.
  • 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.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the team attempt to infiltrate a pedophile "club" of sorts... only to discover that one of them was an FBI agent also setting up a sting. An exasperated Captain Cragen wonders aloud if this inability of the Good Guys to work together is why the Bad Guys keep staying ahead.
  • One episode of Louie was about Louie C.K. taking a part in a film as a cop, and ended with him going to a convenience store while still in costume as it is being robbed. He tries to trick them with his fake gun, but the prop is so cheap it wasn't even meant to be removed from the holster—doing so reveals it doesn't even have an upper half. The robber doesn't shoot him though because, as his partner is just now finding out, his gun is also fake.
  • In the MacGyver (1985) episode "Honest Abe", Mac gets shanghaied by his CIA agent friend Abe to take down a South American dictator and a corrupt Army Major 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.
  • 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.
  • NCIS, too, when Tony and Ziva act as an assassin couple. Fortunately, Gibbs and Fornell quickly agree to work together. As the series progressed, they would continue to have Jurisdiction Friction with pretty much every security-related branch of the government (the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the ATF, the Department of Homeland Security...heck, even the local police aren't always cooperative!).
  • On NCIS: Los Angeles, Sam Hanna infiltrates an MMA gym and is set up to fight an up-and-coming fighter named Jason Wyler—who turns out to be LAPD detective and future main character Marty Deeks.
  • 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...
  • Parodied on The Office, where every single member of a gun standoff turns out to be a double agent.
  • More hilariously, Reno 911! did this with a drug sting. One of the protagonists suspected a store was secretly selling drugs, and tried to get the cashier to admit it without explicitly asking for drugs. The cashier was secretly an undercover cop, and was playing dumb to try to get the protagonist to explicitly ask for drugs.
  • Saturday Night Live had a sketch called "Narc School" about a High School where every single student was really an undercover narcotics agent.
    • Dennis Miller made a Weekend Update joke that a plane hijacking was called off when it was discovered all the passengers were also terrorists.
  • Inverted in Stargate SG-1. In the Season 3 episode "Rules of Engagement", SG-1 stumbles across a group of Apophis devotees training to infiltrate Earth, and have to pretend to be what these trainees actually are, which are soldiers loyal to Apophis. So on one side, you have soldiers of Apophis masquerading as American military, and on the other, you have American military masquerading as soldiers of Apophis masquerading as American military.
  • 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 ship working for me?
  • White Collar: Mozzie met his wife Eva while they were both pulling a sweetheart con on each other.
  • Whodunnit? (UK): At the start of "Too Many Cooks", Commander Blade from MI5, who is investigating the murder of a hotel chef believed to be linked to a planned assination attempt on a visiting foreign dignitary, arrests the head waiter. The head waiter reveals himself to be a CIA agent, and attempts to arrest the assistant chef. The assistant chef then reveals himself as an agent of SDECE (French intelligence).

  • One of the vignettes in The Bonzo Dog 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.
  • Tom Lehrer introduced his song "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be" on the album Tom Lehrer Revisited 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."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Eclipse Phase one of Firewall's favorite methods of dealing with suspected spies is to stick a bunch of them in the same lab or organization, and tell each of them that they suspect one of the others in the group of being a spy. Then sit back and watch the fireworks.
  • Paranoia:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • In 5th edition Ravenloft, this is the theme of the domain of Dementlieu. It is an impoverished city where everybody is pretending to be richer and more important than they actually are.

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls series' recurring in-game book A Game at Dinner, it is implied that nearly all of Prince Helseth's advisors are actually spies for some other group. Naturally, Helseth gets one of the spies to out and accidentally poison himself in a fashion so gruesome that another spy in attendance, the writer of the document the book is based on, resigns on the spot.
  • Fallout 4 has the Bunker Hill merchants. All four of them are informants for The Institute, and seem to have no clue the other three are doing the same thing.
  • Irisu Syndrome! gradually reveals that only one guy in the group just wants to be friends with the other members. Everyone else, on some level, is using it to get close to someone they're crushing on. They establish more genuine friendships as time goes on.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the confederacy of terrorists Raiden fights against has six key leaders: Solidus, Fortune, Ocelot, Olga, Vamp and Fatman. Of these characters, two are secretly operating on behalf of the Patriots (Olga and Fatman), one is secretly operating on behalf of Naomi Hunter (Vamp), and two aren't working for any outside parties (Fortune and Solidus). However, Fortune was plotting to betray Solidus, who himself had anticipated her betrayal and was plotting to betray the whole group. That's before getting into Revolver Ocelot's giant Gamble Pileup where he's working for Solidus, the Patriots, President James Johnson, Colonel Sergei Gurlukovich, Olga Gurlukovich, Fortune, and Richard Ames at various points throughout the entire game and most of them simultaneously, thus meaning he is always playing at least three different players against each other in a single moment. And then in a roundabout way near the end of the game, Ocelot ends up being betrayed by his own hand, which was formerly Liquid Snake's and results in Ocelot being possessed by part of Ocelot's bigger plan against the Patriots. In short, Ocelot is an entire flock of wolves by himself.
  • Given the player's ability to brainwash orcs and insert them as spies, this trope can be purposefully evoked in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-earth: Shadow of War for fun and profit.
    • In general, the orcs on both sides will act as normal to each other and engage in the same Enemy Chatter. The captains do go and enact battles against other captains, but orcs do that all the time anyway. They won't reveal their true allegiance unless Talion is openly engaged in the fight.
    • In the first game, the top-tier targets are the Warchiefs, who surround themselves with bodyguards. Brainwashing existing ones or adding a bunch of sleeper agents is a very practical way to make the fight easier. It also allows the player to skip a "lure the warchief out" mission and have the mole do it. Furthermore, after such a betrayal, the mole will take the warchief's spot, the rest of the orcs being none the wiser (as Klingon Promotion is a perfectly normal occurrence in Mordor).
    • Occasionally, due to perhaps a glitch, a non-branded orc would find himself in an entourage of a branded warchief. When Talion summons the gang, the Sauron-loyalist will actually act just like a branded orc, being nonaggressive to the player. In essence it'd be an actual "sheep" finding himself in a Flock of Wolves and having to play along.
    • In the second game, the warchief-betrayal mechanic is fully in place in all the same ways, but there is now a layer above that; the fortress sieges, staffed by five Warchiefs in each region and ruled by an Overlord. During a normal process of the siege, they would show up at set points, entourage in tow, to give the player a fight… But of course it is possible to fill all warchief positions with spies, leaving only a mass of regular grunt orcs to oppose the siege and turning every checkpoint into reinforcements for Talion. Sadly, none of them sans one appointed personal bodyguard will venture into the central keep for the Overlord showdown.
  • In Octopath Traveler II about half of the population of Clockbank, including children, are assorted thieves, assassins, spies, and conspirators. If you gather information about these people, the Flavor Text for each one of them will claim that "his/her secret is safe for now", and most of them seem blissfully unaware about each other's shady activities.
  • Pokémon Black and White has an event in where a traveler in Lostlorn forest tells you about a strange woman living in a trailer there. The woman turns out to be a Zoroark disguised as a human. The corresponding event in Pokémon Black and White 2 reveals that the traveler was also a Zoroark in disguise.
  • [PROTOTYPE] devolves into a three-way flock-of-infiltrators war between the Blacklight infected, Blackwatch, and the player character Alex Mercer. Blacklight can infect regular civilians and turn them into manchurian agents who then infest apartment buildings and turn them into infected hives, Blackwatch has a lot of intel-carrying agents hiding amongst the still-living populace for you to hunt down, and Mercer can masquerade as any human he has eaten.
  • [PROTOTYPE 2], with a new protagonist and Mercer more intelligently leading the infection side, it goes further as you find out quite a few high-ranking Blackwatch scientists have been turned into intelligent infected just like yourself. Of course, you find them when you infiltrate the high-security labs they are in charge of. How bad is it? Of all the plot-relevant Blackwatch characters, only two aren’t infected and you end up body-jacking one of them yourself. No wonder the military is so incompetent.
  • Psychonauts: In the infamous "The Milkman Conspiracy" level, the player must collect objects being used by the G-Men posing as trenchcoat-clad plumbers, road crew workers, gardeners, housewives, grieving widows, and assassins, among other, increasingly unlikely roles, and use them as a Paper-Thin Disguise. Amusingly, the G-men, despite gathering in groups, are all unaware of the fact that the other G-men are fakes; using Clairvoyancenote  on them, they view all the other G-men as being totally normal people, too. Naturally, there's not a single normal person in the entire stage.
  • RuneScape: It is revealed in "Azzanadra's Quest" that the Temple Knights, a secretive organization of Saradominist knights that deals with jobs too dirty for the more honorable White Knights, is made up almost entirely of Zarosians. It turns out that the Temple Knights originally were a Zarosian organization that defected to Saradomin after Zaros disappeared but secretly remained loyal to Zaros all along. The leader of the Temple Knights has always been a shapeshifting demon who has gotten quite bored with waiting thousands of years for his boss to contact him.
  • Team Fortress 2: In the Player Versus Environment game mode, "Mann vs. Machine", waves of Spy Robots will spawn in randomly, often during Tank waves. On higher difficulties, so many spies may appear at once that they outnumber actual players. This is actually to their benefit, because the Spy Robots are pretty bad at convincingly disguising themselves as players, but overwhelming the players with sheer numbers can easily cripple the human team at a vital moment by swarming them with backstabs.
  • The Thing (2002): In multiple levels, Blake has to rescue other humans to advance to the next areas (like a mechanic needed to fix an automated door or a medic needed to heal another person), only for every other member in his team to turn out to be a Thing all along.
  • Get caught cheating in Titanfall, and you will only be able to connect to servers reserved for cheaters.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the gacha/VN hybrid Moe! Ninja Girls, hyperactive high school girl Akari sets out to establish a "Ninja-Seeking Club" after one of her class' two new transfer students, Johnny, comes to school swearing he'd seen a ninja. She ends up browbeating a bunch of other students (including the main character, the other new transfer student) into joining the club Haruhi Suzumiya-style, oblivious to the fact that the ninja Johnny saw had been attempting to assassinate him- because he's a rogue ninja himself. And then, after being unable to kill the main character, the assassin also joins the club. And then the cute underclassman Akari forcibly recruits also turns out to be a trainee ninja (with the pink rabbit that sits on her head being her ninja familiar). Also, the school principal also has ties to several ninja clans, which is why there are so many ninjas enrolled in this school. And it turns that both the sultry upperclassman member and Akari's best friend are kunoichi employed by the school. And of course, Akari and Johnny remain completely unaware of this. And then after Akari eventually finds out, it turns out that, unbeknownst to her, her parents were ninjas from the same village as the protagonist, explaining her own natural athleticism. So it's just Johnny then.
  • This is a common plot in the Zero Escape series. In each game, nine people are kidnapped and forced to play a Deadly Game by someone called "Zero", but of the 29 participants throughout the series, 21 of them are moles or otherwise hiding major information.
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, seven of the players were involved in some way with a past Nonary Game held nine years prior, and an eighth is the mother of two participants in that game. On top of that, the only two non-players who show up during the plot were responsible for planning that game.
    • In Virtue's Last Reward, four of the players actively worked to create the game, and another four can at least make an educated guess as to Zero's identity.
    • Those kidnapped in Zero Time Dilemma are test subjects for a government experiment, and yet most of them are there illegitimately. Akane, Sigma, and Phi are only there to conduct corporate espionage, Junpei threatened someone to get himself on the list, and the person supposedly known as "Q" is an artificial intelligence who was created specifically for the experiment. Oh, and Mira is a serial killer whom Zero doesn't hold to the same rules as everyone else.
    • The only characters who are legitimately innocent in all of this are Junpei (999 only), Lotus, Phi (VLR only), Carlos, Diana, Eric, and Sean, the last of whom is only innocent because he's an amnesiac. Of those eight, six of them are tied into their respective game's backstory in some way, the exceptions being Carlos and Eric.


    Web Original 
  • The premise of this CollegeHumor 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.
  • Similarly, this Cracked sketch is that every member of a high school class is an undercover adult.
  • On the Dream SMP, Schlatt's cabinet in Manburg turned out to be this. Among the four people in the cabinet (excluding Schlatt), Tubbo was a Pogtopian spy, and Fundy was an even more secretive Pogtopian spy. As for the other two people in the cabinet, George's presence in the cabinet was barely even relevant to the plot due to his tendency to not show up for the plot, and Quackity was a Friendly Enemy whose allegiance to Schlatt fluctuated depending on the daynote  but eventually stood up for himself and left to join Pogtopia anyway. By the Manburg-Pogtopia War, out of Schlatt's four main cabinet members, three of them were fighting on Pogtopia's behalf, and George didn't even show up to the final battle.
  • LoadingReadyRun:
    • A Crapshot has a room full of undercover cops revealing they've all been pursuing the same criminal organisation for different crimes.
      Cop: Is anyone here a real criminal?
      Previously unseen cop: I'm not.
    • Badly Broken does this with people who pretend to watch Breaking Bad to avoid feeling left out. As they commiserate with the guy who ended up hosting the finale because so many people were in the same boat and skipped it, they see Better Call Saul announced and decide they'd better catch up.
      Graham: Then Jerry dropped out because he suddenly converted to a religion that doesn't let you watch Breaking Bad.
  • The senior leadership of the New Pacific Order in NationStates was, for most of its history, composed entirely of people who were sent to infiltrate it early on in its history and thought switching sides would be more fun than reporting back home to their original factions.
  • The girl in this story from Not Always Learning insults her classmates in French, to prove to her teacher that she's the only one in the class not using an online translator for her homework.
  • This article from The Onion parodies the rumor that the Ku Klux Klan consists mostly of investigative reporters. 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 SCP Foundation story "Everyone Knows," where it turns out that The Masquerade no longer matters because every single person in the entire world is involved with at least one organization dealing with the paranormal. Except for literally one person. The story kicks off with four drinking buddies realizing they all work for the Foundation, then find out their wives do, then about 70% of the population of the town they live in, and eventually it's revealed that roughly 3.5 billion people work for the SCP Foundation alone.
  • On occasion, SeaNanners has been known to up the number of Traitors in Trouble in Terrorist Town (normally set to be one traitor per four players) so that everyone is a Traitor, bar one unlucky Innocent. More often than not (by design or just RNG), the sole innocent is Chilled Chaos.
  • In So This Is Basically...'s episode for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Jello calls out how everyone you meet, good and bad, is a "sneak-ret snake cultist", aka members of Ouroboros. Machias Regnitz says the secret society isn't so secret if everyone they meet is in it, only to realize he's the only one who's NOT a member.
    Machias: Wait, am I the only person here who isn't secretly evil? Did you guys make a second Discord server without me?!
  • In Welcome to Night Vale, it's revealed that everyone in the entirety of Night Vale itself is a sleeper agent for the Vague Yet Menacing Government Agency. When they all get activated at the same time, they quickly decide to never mention it again.
  • "The Sting Operation" video from Cyanide and Happiness. The mob boss Fatty Bones Malone finds out everyone in his inner circle to be a cop on a sting operation. And Fatty Bones himself is revealed to be another cop in the sting operation. The real Fatty Bones is the chief organizing the sting operation, which flushes out all the rats from his organizastion.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, 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.
    • Similarly, the class once held an election for class president. It's revealed at the end that everyone cheated except for Funny Foreigner Bolbi Stroganovsky, who wins by default.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In the episode "The Lady", Richard tries to dress as an elderly woman to make friends with another group of old women because he can't make any male friends. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that all (but one) of the women in the group are men who also share Richard's troubles with making friends.
  • 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!"
  • 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 hosts a forum of other religious figures, who at the end are revealed to be fakes — except for the Ayatollah, who just wants to improve his image in the states.
  • 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.
  • On Invader Zim, Zim and GIR are once captured by even stupider aliens who thought they were an actual human and dog. These aliens' disguises are even more pathetic, such as human masks that they hold to their faces with sticks.
  • A common gag in Looney Tunes versions of Little Red Riding Hood; the wolf character dresses up as grandma to take her place in bed and wait for Red, only to find the bed already full of other wolves!
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug episode "The Evillustrator", a costumed superhero is tasked with protecting a girl who, unbeknownst to him, is also a costumed superhero.
  • 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 his side of the family actually does have Native American ancestry (Lisa had only thought to ask Marge for her family ancestry).
    • A Running Gag is that whenever we see the mob playing poker, they have impossibly good hands. One episode shows a shot of their hands where all but one of the cards is an ace, many of which aren't even aces of standard card suits.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • 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, Mr. Krabs once molts his shell right before his reunion with his old navy buddies. Embarassed by his appearance, he asks Spongebob to impersonate him for the reunion. Of course it all gets found out and Krabs makes his confession. Then the others all reveal that they, too, had something to hide (and Mr. Krabs points out that their embarrassing secrets are permanent, while his shell will grow back soon).
  • In one episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Boimler is trying to get a "Bridge Buddy" and pretends to be from Hawaii to get in good with Ransom and some of his friends who are from Hawaii. When Boimler admits the truth, it turns out that they've all been pretending to be from Hawaii to suck up to their superiors. Unfortunately for Boimler, the others are genuinely all from moons, leaving them with something in common and him out in the cold. His argument that Modesto is a moon of San Francisco is said to be offensive, from all of the people claiming to be from Hawaii.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • Famously, during the McCarthy era in the USA, the FBI had many of its members infiltrate the Communist Party USA, or convince Communists to turn informer. It was estimated that, at its peak, approximately two-thirds of the party were operatives on the FBI payroll.
  • The Communist Party of Great Britain during the Cold War consisted of around a 35-35-30 split of Security Service agents, KGB agents, and genuine members... many of whom would either end up leaving the party or joining one of the other two groups.
  • The Something Awful presence on the conservative "alternative to Facebook", The Tea Party Community. 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.
  • Likewise the ratio of trolls to sincere members on Conservapedia, whose founder/lead editor Andrew Schlafly has gotten more and more paranoid about "liberal" (which he uses to mean anything short of the far-right fringe) influence on his pet wiki...with the result that he consistently bans people who genuinely agree with most of his views as soon as they inevitably have a minor disagreement, and keeps the trolls who never disagree with him, ever (because they're only there to egg him on to new heights of ridiculousness and/or blasphemy). There is even a not so uncommon Epileptic Trees theory that Andy himself is a troll.
  • The German neo-Nazi political party Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany) is heavily infiltrated by the domestic intelligence agency Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Protectors of the Constitution). In 2001, the federal government and legislature considered banning the NPD. But its supreme court ruled that with so many BfV moles in the party, and the BfV unwilling to reveal their identities, it was impossible to tell what is the NPD's true behavior and what might be the work of an Agent Provocateur. Not to mention that all these moles would be exempt from prosecution, thus revealing their identities anyway. In fact, it seems that many of these planted moles are using their immunity and the BfV paycheck to actually help the party survive and thus guarantee their own job security (if the NPD were abolished, the Verfassungsschutz would likely not need as large a staff). In one case, a high member of the NPD openly stated that without being paid by the Verfassungsschutz, he wouldn't have been able to build up the party's branch in his state.
  • Reportedly Anne Bonny, a pirate famous for disguising herself as a man, once became attracted to another pirate on her crew. She revealed her secret to the pirate and tried to flirt with him at which point she was shocked to discover that said pirate was Mary Read, another pirate famous for being a woman disguised as a man. This was rather awkward. Although it's alternatively claimed that Bonny knew all along that Read was a woman, and only Bonny's lover (and captain) Calico Jack Rackham was fooled.
  • An undercover cop arrests a man for selling drugs... who turns out to be another undercover cop from a different agency.
  • The Stasi, secret police of East Germany, had such an extensive network of spies— ~91,000 regular employees and ~174,000 informants— that most people in the country were either spied on, spying on someone or both. According to one writer, there could have been up to one Stasi watcher per 7 citizens when taking occasional collaborators into account. Most likely this was deliberate, because nothing ensures compliance like the (justified) belief that someone is always watching you.
  • As with much humor, the Onion's article about KKK infiltrators above is based on the truth. At one point, the KKK (gradually discovered to be a dwindling and impoverished group with little real power or influence) had so many infiltrators that a common joke in spy agencies (and later in the general public) went: "How do you know who the infiltrators at a Klan meeting are? They're the ones who always pay their dues."
  • "A group of undercover Detroit police posing as drug dealers tried to arrest another group of undercover police posing as drug buyers in a mishap that resulted in a brawl between more than two dozen armed officers."
  • In 2011, Amina Arraf al Omari, a lesbian Syrian woman and operator of the blog A Gay Girl In Damascus was revealed to be a hoax persona created and maintained by American Tom MacMaster. While pretending to be Amina, MacMaster wrote for the lesbian-focused news site Lez Get Real and flirted with its founder, Paula Brooks. When the hoax was exposed, "Brooks" revealed herself to be straight male retiree Bill Graber. Graber described the incident as "a major sock-puppet hoax crashing into a major sock-puppet hoax".
  • According to this article, "The irony of the federal government’s desire to obtain informants within the Aryan Nations is that different branches of federal law enforcement and intelligence gathering occupied five of the six key positions in the organization. This means that the Aryan Nations were effectively a government-run shop, with agents spying on each other to ensure the integrity of an investigation – into an organization almost entirely run by the federal government."