Ray: Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure our hosts don't want us flashing Old Glory across the city, right?
There may be a time when the hero (or the villain) needs to do something covertly to the point that if they were seen, their identities can be given away due to publicly known or identifiable police (or law enforcement agencies), military or paramilitary uniforms, insignias, logos, name or ID tags. That's certainly going to be troublesome if someone was able to detect them and "inform" the relevant personalities. If that's done, their efforts are doomed to fail no matter what they do.
So what can be done? One way is to temporarily dispose/hide anything that can be identified by the public by hiding their uniforms, insignias, logos and IDs until it's safe to use them again. Sometimes, they also accompany the use of balaclavas and face masks. Others include the use of technology such as hacking or creating false identities in order to hide their actual names and affiliations from the public eye. Dressing as the Enemy is also another way of temporarily hiding your face and identity until the time is right. Another is to simply change clothes before the operation is performed until it's over. Or you can just insist that you're not a cop/soldier/law enforcer/etc. and hopefully the said organization is considered as a No Such Agency.
One of the few negative ideas about it is that it can sometimes lead to a Friend or Foe? scenario. Others bad scenarios include catching your allies unaware of who you are or miscommunication when the persons or groups involved are not identified correctly by friendlies. Sometimes, the undercover cop/agent/soldier/etc. can be forced into a situation where they need to do something horrible to prove that they're really a criminal/terrorist. The worse thing that can happen is that someone you know is a Dirty Cop, a Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop, The Mole, Rogue Soldier or a Rogue Agent who reveals said person's affiliation to the bad guy/s.
Partially Truth in Television since a False Flag Operation always requires a group to hide anything that can easily identify them if an operation is conducted. Anyone doing an legitimate undercover op needs to pull this off successfully so that they can't be easily unmasked and maintain Plausible Deniability as much as possible.
Compare/contrast to Secret Identity, which entails to hiding your identity fully from the public. Compare to The Mole, which is one reason why the people involved would hide their true allegiance alongside The Infiltration, which is another reason why people would go to great length to hide their allegiance as a mole. Secret-Identity Identity can sometimes result in the person/persons trying to do their work during a secret op, but they fear Becoming the Mask one day.
This sometimes goes along with On-Site Procurement to ensure that an operation that requires great secrecy at all costs remains a secret.
Any Rogue Agent or Rogue Soldier will probably want to do this to keep attention away from them if they're acting as the bad guy, which in this place with be a subversion of said trope. Subtrope of Artistic License – Law Enforcement.
- In Darker than Black, this is used by the Public Security Bureau's 4th Foreign Affairs Division whenever they get a case, criminal or terrorist alike, that relates to Contractors. Saito goes undercover as a waiter from a catering company when he infiltrates the hotel owned by the Qing Long Tang triad in order to find out who was responsible for assassinating its prominent members. Averted in the sense that he used his official name instead of an alias. Misaki calls him out on this.
- The 2nd season has the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications establish an anti-Syndicate black ops team known as Section 3, based at the MIAC's Statistics Bureau, 2nd Investigative Division.
- Heavy Object has the Information Alliance military operate a commando unit led by Wyndine Uptown. Uptown orders the commandos to dress up as maids and publicly tell the rest of the world that they're a private military contractor with a maid appeal in order to hide their activities.
- The Indexverse (A Certain Magical Index, A Certain Scientific Railgun and A Certain Scientific Accelerator) has Judgement, a law enforcement agency next to Anti-Skill, which is made up of young people ranging from elementary school to university/college students. They wear the green arm band to signify their status as Judgement officers. But if he/she needs to proceed with an investigation without revealing their status, they have the right to take it off and hide it to avoid being discovered.
- The Ghost in the Shell franchise has Public Security Section 9, a secretive law enforcement unit that "officially" doesn't exist in the Japanese law enforcement system. The government gets to use them in sensitive missions that requires their intervention before a case gets to the public eye or investigate cases involving the government if the relevant agency or ministry doesn't want to cooperate.
- Section 9 is not the only plainclothes unit to not be easily recognized. In Stand Alone Complex, the Narcotics Suppression Squad operates as a plainclothes unit, which allows the Big Bad in the first season to use their assets to take out S9. When that fails, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces' Umibozu is called in to use its commandos in order to flush out S9 and take them all alive or kill them since they are known as a black ops unit in the JMSDF.
- One of the new elite officers in Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is Kazuki Fuse, and he scores well enough in exercises that his superiors choose him to go undercover to locate the renegade band called the Wolf Brigade. Fuse agrees, and begins making contact through the sister of a known anarchist sympathizer, Kei Amemiya. Imagine their surprise when the police honchos discover that Fuse has been part of the Wolf Brigade all along, assigned to infiltrate the police corps.
- In Jormungand, this is lampshaded entirely by Renato Socci aka R after his discharge from the Bersaglieri until the time he was told to infiltrate HCLI.
- ANBU in Naruto are special black ops-esque teams that every big ninja village has. They are instructed not to carry any identifying mark of their villages, including their signature headbands with the village logo carved on them.
- Night Raid 1931 has the Sakurai Kikan, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence unit sent to Shanghai after World War I to operate there. Since they operate in civilian clothes, speak other languages aside from Japanese and Shanghai was considered to be a multinational city since other foreign nationalities were present at the time, it was easy for the SK to work there.
- This is the main operational method of COSMOS (Children of Soldier Machine Organic System) and the Machiner's Platoon as part of the American military in Spriggan. Since they operate as black ops-type military units and are issued with a variety of small arms and equipment, they can plausibly deny their involvement in an operation in case it goes bad.
- In Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield, Roman tribune Noxius Vapus tasks a Roman Legionary named Caius Pusillanimus to conduct a secret investigation on what Asterix and Obelix are doing while in Gergovia. He poses as someone from Anicum by having messy hair and a fake moustache. But during this undercover mission, he gets drunk and not only finds out nothing of value, but gives away information that helps Asterix in his own investigation of what the Romans are doing.
- The Mountain and the Wolf: After group of Dothraki are condemned to death for cowardice (they were supposedly too busy fighting a monster to kill wights during the Long Night), the Wolf asks to use them as a Penal Legion of sorts, marking their shoulders with a flame-like tattoo (as the Wolf had brought a Tzeentch-aligned Chaos Spawn against the wights, and the Chaos Gods reward bravery, he marked them with the symbol of Tzeentch for their victory). After the Wolf's treachery is revealed, he uses those same Dothraki to infiltrate the Seven Kingdoms warcamp, but because one of them is killed and the tattoo discovered, he can't use the same ruse again as the loyalist Dothraki know where to look to spot the traitors.
- In Clear and Present Danger, the members of the black ops team inserted into the Colombian jungle must leave their dog tags in the helicopter before they jump out and start their mission.
- Force 10 from Navarone. During World War II, Force Ten meets up with some Yugoslavian partisans friendly to the Allies, who take Force Ten to their village. Once there the partisans reveal that they are actually Nazi-allied Chetniks by revealing their Chetnik badges.
- The Mission: Impossible Film Series has the Impossible Mission Force accomplish their mission by using Latex Perfection gear, hacking, fake IDs and On-Site Procurement of weapons and gear in another place in part of covering their tracks. This is sometimes deconstructed when IMF agents going undercover are sometimes forced to do things that are against their morals in order to ensure their fake names/backstories are consistent.
- Shiri has the 8th Special Forces unit going rogue from the Korean People's Army. As such, they blend in by being identical to South Koreans and pretending to be South Korean SWAT officers and soldiers in order to fufill their terror plot. Which is Truth in Television as part of North Korean special forces doctrine.
- Max Manus. When carrying out a mission to destroy ships in a Norwegian harbor, the Norwegian commandos wear British uniforms and leave a taunting message in English so the Germans won't retaliate against the local inhabitants. The Germans however realise that the raid had to be aided by local dock workers, so several are selected to be shot.
- Tenet. In the opening hostage scene at the Opera House, the protagonist's team wait until the local KORD unit shows up to deal with a terrorist attack. As they are wearing standard black BDUs with gas masks and ballistic helmets, all they have to do is select the appropriate KORD velcro shoulder patch from a bunch of patches they have of the different units that might have turned up, then charge in with the real KORD elements. Unfortunately it turns out their team isn't the only one pulling this trick.
- The Departed sees the Massachusetts State Police send Billy Costigan to prison on trumped up charges so he has a criminal record and street cred to infiltrate Frank Costello's crew.
- In George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, the titular coward is faced with implacable native assassins trying to hunt him down. He reasons that the last place they will look is among native soldiers in the Indian army. So Flashman grows his beard long, exploits his native-fluency in Urdu and Pashtu, and signs up, masquerading as an ordinary native cavalryman. Later, he is able to justify this as he is there on Intelligence duties assessing the likelihood of native mutiny and has realized the only way a white Englishman can accurately understand what is going on, is to get to the natives on their level.
- In Gate, JGSDF soldier Private Hitoshi Furuta masquerades as a chef after an assassination attempt was made at the JGSDF's Alnus base.
- In Magicians of Gor, Tarl and his friend Marcus get jobs as auxiliary guardsmen, which gives them license to freely roam the city armed, while also going around instigating civil unrest as the "Delta Brigade" (named after a failed military campaign in a delta). Occasionally they take off their guardsman armbands, create some mayhem as the Brigade, and then reattach the armbands in order to "investigate" their own crime.
- Joker Game has the D Agency solely to conduct black operations for domestic and foreign operations if needed to protect Japanese interests and conduct counterespionage operations against foreign spies and other hostile organizations. The spies are recruited from the civilian populace and are trained for various types of operations, including deep cover assignment.
- In Bernard Cornwell's The Starbuck Chronicles series about the American Civil War, the titular Major Starbuck exposes corruption in the base depot by posing as a notoriously drunken junior officer who nobody takes seriously. He exposes his real identity and higher rank when he is sure, and has proof that, supplies and rifles meant for the front are being sold for profit on the black market.
- The last season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has Mack and the team masquerade as Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers assisting the NYPD after the Chronicoms show up in the 1930s since SHIELD was not "officially" created until they left New York.
- Blindspot has Orion, a black ops Navy SEAL team that's responsible for attacks done all over the world and their attacks are blamed on other individuals and organizations.
- Blue Bloods: When Jamie Reagan is doing undercover work in the Sanfino family in season 2, his handlers take careful steps to make sure he can't be identified, like taking down all official police department pictures of him and replacing them with placeholder ones. This complicates things in one episode where Jamie rescues a baby from a burning building. To protect the sting Jamie is involved in, Sgt. Renzulli has to take public credit for the rescue, although Frank gives Jamie the medal he deserves privately later.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine has Adrien Pimento, who's been deep undercover in the criminal underworld for so long that his fellow officers fear that he may settled into the criminal lifestyle, while having PTSD issues over doing horrible acts to ensure his cover is protected.
- The plot of Crisis (2017) is that the Public Security Mobile Investigation Unit Special Investigation Team is a covert plainclothes unit, being used to go undercover and head sensitive operations when required by the National Police Agency.
- Dark Blue has a secretive LAPD unit that has its officers go undercover as criminals and other types of undesirables that the risk is great, especially if the problem has the officer settling on their new identity. Said unit is not officially recognized as a unit in the force, so there's the problem of having a budget publicly set aside for them. Being in the unit can also make you use the same methods the bad guys use to put them away and can wreck your family and social life outside the force.
- In the episode "Wesenrein" in Grimm, the team moves to save Monroe from being killed by a cult known as the Wesenrein. Since they are going in without official police backup, Nick, Hank and Sean toss their police badges in the unmarked SUV in order to hide any details that can give their identity away as police officers. Averted with Wu, who simply didn't bother to conceal his uniform or minimize it so that the cultists can't identify him as a police officer.
Wu: "Just so you know, I left my badge at home."
- This time, it's fully played in "Cry Havoc" when Wu had the foresight to leave his PPB badge at his house to avoid being called out as a police officer against the Verrat.
- In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Demons", Stabler goes undercover as a paroled sex offender in order to track another parolee whom he suspects of having already reoffended. Part of his undercover work involves letting his fellow detectives hassle him so that he can report to them without the parolee getting suspicious.
- The first season of The Man in the High Castle has Joe Blake working undercover as an anti-GNR fighter on orders from the SS.
- The third season as Joe operate in the JPS, working undercover on behalf of the SD to take out GNR and Nazi Germany defectors including Tagomi, using the cover of a GNR trade attaché to avoid Kempeitai attention.
- Both the JPS and the GNR had their security forces operate in plainclothes in the Neutral Zone since they're not allowed to operate there by treaty in an official capacity.note
- The third season as Joe operate in the JPS, working undercover on behalf of the SD to take out GNR and Nazi Germany defectors including Tagomi, using the cover of a GNR trade attaché to avoid Kempeitai attention.
- A subplot in the 4th season of NCIS involves Tony going undercover to flush out arms dealer Rene Benoit as part of an operation sanctioned by Director Jenny Shepard to find evidence on whether Benoit had a hand in killing her father.
- Throughout NCIS: Los Angeles, this is how agents and support personnel of the Office of Special Project operate. They are a NCIS-sanctioned deep cover anti-criminal/terrorist unit. In some instances, law enforcement does undercover work, which doesn't go smooth always due to (mostly) corrupt cops involved.
- The trope is deconstructed in the 10th season when the OSP team is forced to do a black op assignment since the politicians in Washington DC are furious about what happened in Mexico that Deputy Director Ochoa made a deal to get the OSP off their radar.
- A subplot of 19-2 involves officers of the 19-2 precinct going all out to hunt down a suspect responsible for beating up one of their own in a trap. Since they cannot hunt down and apprehend the suspect because the investigation and arrest of said suspect is conducted by another department, they decide to wait until they are off-duty and are not needed in the precinct by changing out of the uniforms and wearing civilian clothes so that the suspect won't be able to call them out as police officers.
- In an episode of NYPD Blue when Medavoy and others go undercover for a prostitution sting, after Medavoy brings his prostitute back to his motel room the prostitute asks if he's a cop. Rather than say yes or no, Medavoy deflects the question; and then moments later when she has definitely proposed exchanging sex for money he arrests her.
- Throughout the fourth season of Person of Interest, John Reese falls to this when he needs to help Finch and others conduct operations against Samaritan agents and/or to save civilians in trouble by hiding his NYPD badge from plain sight when he has to, wear a balaclava and use his own sidearm instead of the department-issued sidearm. It also helps that Reese has a false identity made by The Machine to hide him from Samaritan. Fusco falls into this also when he wears a balaclava and hides his badge to help Team Machine.
- HR officers operate like this by wearing civilian clothes with balaclavas and use non-department weapons and gear if the situation calls for it.
- In SEAL Team, especially the episode "Hold What you Got", the Mexican Marines working with the SEALs are in charge of an op to bag a cartel leader in Mexico. Because of the serious sensitivity of the operation and not to mention of the possibility that the cartel may have sympathizers in the military, police and intelligence services assigned to work with them, Jason and the rest of Bravo Team have to visually masquerade as Mexican Marines and use their gear in order to blend in since their American camos/patches can easily give them away. They later disguise themselves as sicarios from another cartel in order to intimidate the Doza Cartel.
- In "Frogs on a Track", Bravo Team infiltrates a civilian train in Burkina Faso disguised as ordinary civilians as they can't risk allowing fighting SGS fighters with civilians being collateral damage.
- Sleeper Cell is entirely one show about a Muslim-American FBI agent Darwyn al-Sayeed who masquerades as a potential jihadist recruit in order to take down LA-based jihadi cells, made up of foreign and American Muslims, having converts in this ranks.
- Spooks uses this trope as a recurring device when MI5 agents need to conduct undercover operations to gather the needed evidence to put away the bad guys. However, things don't always go according to plan. And in some instances, the agency is sometimes forced to retire their best officers. Like Zoe.
- In the episode "Hunted" in S.W.A.T. (2017), Hondo and Deacon went in to check on a fellow LAPD officer who was infiltrating a biker gang known as the Mercs. When Hawkins mentions that the Mercs were targeting the Jackals, Hondo mentioned that he didn't say which gang the LAPD was investigating. Both SWAT officers realized that Hawkins fell in line with the Mercs for real.
- In the second season of True Detective, Ani, Velcoro and Woodrugh operate in this ways months after the shootout in downtown Vinci by secret orders of State Attorney Katherine Davis after she found some implications one of her fellow attorneys may be in on the take with the local criminal underworld. This meant that they needed to operate without any official backing from the Attorney General's office by being "Special Investigators", which meant that they cannot be named in anyway. It helps that Ani joined in after she got suspended from detective duties in the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, Velcoro was now doing private security duties with Frank and Woodrugh was moved from highway patrol to insurance fraud in the California Highway Patrol due to the scandal with actress Lacey Lindel, which allows him to move around freely without being hounded by the media easily. It also helps that they operate in civilian clothes, which avoid any problems in easily being identified as police officers.
- In Whiskey Cavalier, American intelligence agencies have assembled a team consisting of Will, Frankie, Jai, Susan and Edgar to take on undercover ops throughout Europe.
- Federal agent Vinnie Terranova from Wiseguy willingly gets sent to prison for eighteen months to establish his cover as a street thug. This move results in his recruitment into Sonny Steelgrave's organization, where he rises to become The Dragon to Sonny. However, his cred as a mafia thug causes his father to disown Sonny, and breaks his mother's heart.
- Without a Trace: In "Fallout - Part 1," Samantha is in a bookstore supervising a ransom drop that goes bad. When the kidnapper takes the store hostage, she has to quickly ditch her badge and gun so that he doesn't find out she's FBI. Unfortunately, the other patrons see her do it, and one of them goes for her gun while she's away from it, leading to her getting shot.
- This is how Camp X-trained agents operate in occupied Europe throughout X Company. They have to use fake IDs and names in order to avoid the risk of being caught by the Wehrmacht or by their collaborators.
- In Delta Green, since the eponymous organization is trying to mantain secrecy, their agents aren't employed by Delta Green but by the FBI, CIA, DEA, CDC and other agencies, they have "day jobs" on their parent agencies and are designated into Delta Green operations when necessary. Sometimes if the operations calls for it, the higher-ups can get them the cover of a relevant agency for the operations.
- Stormbringer supplement Stormbringer Companion, adventure "Hall of Risk". One of the possible starts is "On Orders from the Queen", in which Queen Yishana of Jharkor asks for volunteers from her military to investigate the title Hall in the nation of Shazaar. She tells them that the job is "unofficial" and orders them to remove all Jharkor insignia and colors from their armor and shields and deny being from Jharkor if anyone in Shazaar asks them.
- Happens on a semi-regular basis in BattleTech. One of the most famous instances was during the 4th Succession War, when the ComGuard, Comstar's top secret military branch note , staged an attack on the New Avalon Institute of Science in an attempt to destroy the military research that was being conducted there while disguised as a mercenary unit.
- Warhammer 40,000: Subverted with the Deathwatch, an elite organization of Space Marines dedicated to small-scale operations against the Imperium's many alien foes whose members come from many Chapters. Every Deathwatch Marine repaints his armor black, but maintains their original Chapter identification on one of their pauldrons.
- Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War:
- The playble Wardog Squadron becomes this after mission 19, when they are officially shot down and immediately reformed in secret as "The Ghosts of Razgriz", whose existence the Osean Government covers up and officially denies for an entire decade.
- The 229th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Grabacr", Arch-Enemy of the Wardogs and The Heavy of the game, doesn't officially exist within the Osean military, either. For most of the game, they are known only as the "8492nd Squadron", which the brass insists doesn't even exist and whose war crimes are repeatedly blamed on the Wardogs. This is because Grabacr is a covert aggressor squadron comprised of ace pilots recruited from the disbanded and banned Belkan Air Force. Osean command was so concerned about the public outcry if them hiring Belkans to train their own air force became known, they had failed to notice Grabacr being corrupted by The Remnant of the Belkan military-industrial complex seeking revenge for their defeat 15 years ago.
- In the stage "Clockwork" in Call of Duty: Ghosts, the Ghosts infiltrate a Federation military base in Argentina by taking down isolated Federation troops and taking their uniforms.
- The Division games (The Division and The Division 2) has agents of the Strategic Homeland Division operate under civilian clothes to conceal their identity. But they do work on behalf of the federal government and show proof of their allegiance by using the Division emblems seen (usually) in their armbands.
- The first Police Quest game has Narcotics officer Sonny Bonds going undercover in Lytton to get incriminating evidence to bust a drug dealer named Jessie Bains aka the Death Angel. This gets subverted when Bains draws a pistol on Bonds and says that someone mentions that he's outed since his face was all over the papers even when Bonds had blond hair to conceal his identity.
- In the Resident Evil series, the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance's Special Operations Agents are allowed to wear different clothes/acquire their own weapons/gear since the Special Operations Unit are the main face of the BSAA in an anti-BOW operation. SOAs dispatched in an op are usually meant to conduct covert operations, including recon and going undercover, to investigate any suspects involved in the BOW trade.
- The Sakura Wars franchise has various Assault Forces operating in Japan, France and the USA operate under the cover of musical theaters in order to conceal their affiliations to the respective military forces of their host nations. The main and support staff operate as either theater stars, management or support personnel.
- In the Splinter Cell series, the entire point of Third Echelon was to operate under deep cover and without official support from Washington aside from the usual logistics and field supplies from its allies without asking about the organization. 3E was to take the lead in the war against its enemies in the field of information warfare. Its successor, Fourth Echelon, operates under the same principle.
- In Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, CIA agent Norman Soth was deployed in Indonesia (under false names) during the Cold War to assist in training Kopassus and other Indonesian special forces unit to take down guerrilla forces operating throughout the archipelago as part of OPERATION: REDBEARD until Washington withdrew support. After being injured by a land mine and angered by Washington burning him and other agents in the country, Norman threw his support behind Darah Dan Doa.
- Throughout the Higurashi: When They Cry franchise, the Yamainu is tasked by Tokyo to keep an eye on Hinamizawa. They operate as a gardening company as one of their front companies to prevent the rest of the world from being aware that they're a black ops unit tasked to investigate Rika's background. They're also given carte blanche to do what needs to be done. This include being a Cop Killer or disguising as Japanese Self-Defense Forces personnel to assassinate anyone if Emergency Manual 34 needs to be enforced.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, after Azula, Mai and Ty Lee, defeat the Kyoshi warriors, the trio take advantage of their heavy face makeup and face paint to impersonate them. Azula, being a ruthless and cunning Fire Nation princess, uses the disguise to get close to infiltrate the Earth Kingdom in an effort to conquer it from the inside by getting close to the Earth King.
- A feature with all police/intelligence agencies when they need to send in officers/agents undercover. This is done by creating false names and backgrounds and use their informants to "vouch" for them while they conduct their assignment to infiltrate the criminal underworld.
- In the military, special forces only do not wear insignias from their units (Sometimes, but it depends on the unit and/or their commanding officer/s), but they are also trained to handle other small arms and wear clothing other than what their military issues to them so that the hostile nation/organization does not trace anything back to them if the operation goes bad.
- There's an urban legend that suggests that someone suspected of being an undercover officer should be asked of their true status. This allegation is proven false since undercover officers do not have to do this while performing their work.