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Mistaken for Spies

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The characters arrive in the Adventure Town, just as soon as something nasty happens.

Odds are, they will end up getting accused of doing it and/or being enemy agents and temporarily incarcerated for it. Happens often to time travellers.

More common in the Cold War-era, or in shows that travel back to that time. After 9/11, this trope was largely replaced by Mistaken for Terrorist.

See also The Corpse Stops Here and Mistaken for Badass.



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  • One credit card commercial had a traveler suffering a variety of mishaps due to not carrying the right credit card. The final one has him get concussed by his overhead luggage, and then telling the customs agent (Thanks to his injury and possibly a My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels grade phrasebook) 'I am a spy' when trying to request a doctor. This gets him thrown in jail.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry with some rather justified suspicion being thrown at Sara after her identity is revealed. The big bad is her brother, after all.
  • The 90s anime version of Sailor Moon has Ami Mizuno first being mistaken as an agent of Queen Beryl's before she is revealed to be Sailor Mercury.
  • Happened to Tsukune in Rosario + Vampire when the school thinks he is a spy for humans attempting to destroy the Monster World.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-: When the main characters arrive in the town of Spirit, they are accused of being behind the disappearances of various local children.
  • Sorta happens to Yukiko in The Rows of Cherry Trees, as she's mistaken for the typical "scoop kid" associated to gangs of thieves when she tries to take a closer look to her old home, which her family had to sell due to her father's illness and the associated hospital bills.
  • In Digimon Frontier, the heroes are mistaken to be working with the Digimon that took some female KaratsukiNumemon from their village once they mention that they're Legendary Warriors (as the kidnapper turned out to also be one). Things don't get cleared up until they discover Grumblemon wants nothing to do with them as the kids are dangling from a cliff.
  • The beginning of the Giant Robo manga has Daisaku captured by Big Fire agents in Taiwan after mistaking him for a sleeper agent trying to destroy their factory producing GR-1.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed and Al spend a decent amount of their time at Briggs Mountain getting accused of being Drachma spies by Captain Buccaneer, culminating in them being handcuffed and thrown in a cell while they’re sleeping. The fact that can’t really explain the real reasons they’re there (investigating an Ancient Conspiracy) doesn’t help.

    Asian Animation 
  • The premise of Season 7 episode 40 of Happy Heroes hinges on the Ambassadors of the dog and cat planets thinking that their assistants, Gongsun Dog and Show Cat, are acting as spies for their respective rival planets after a fight between the two comes off more like they're being nice to each other.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Mighty Little Defenders episode 3, Wolky gets a call from General Wolf informing him who the spy for the wolves is going to be... but the call ends abruptly before the General can tell him that Wolffy is the spy, and Wolky remembers a "we" sound from the General right before the call ended and thinks the spy is Weslie; he then goes to him for advice on his traps for the other goats. General Wolf was actually talking about washing apples.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • In The Church and the Crown, Buckingham is convinced that the Doctor is foreign spy, and tortures him in an effort to find out who he is working for and how much he knows.
    • A recurring theme in Son of the Dragon. Maria accuses Erimem of being a spy for the Sultan (and the letter she is writing to Peri in English of being a secret cypher). Radu accuses the Doctor of being a spy for his brother when he returns to Radu's camp. Vlad accuses Erimem of being a Hungarian agent when Radu's troops are closing in and it becomes obvious that Hungary is not coming to his aid.

    Comic Books 
  • In one of the time-travelling strips from Archie Comics, Jughead ended up in the middle of the Civil War and was immediately accused of being a spy for the South until Lincoln himself pardoned him.
  • In The Warlord, this happens to Mariah when she is accidentally stranded back in the USSR after spending years in the Lost World of Skartaris.
  • Tintin: In Destination: Moon, Detectives Thompson and Thomson were mistakenly arrested by Syldavian security officers who thought they were were Greek revolutionaries thanks to their habit of wearing the most stereotypical, often outdated foreign outfits. They seem more upset over being mistaken as Greeks when they wanted Syldavian outfits, before it's explained that they were sent by Interpol to provide protection for the scientists there.

    Comic Strips 
  • Subverted in the Dan Dare story Operation Saturn. The Saturnian rebel leader Tharl accuses Dan and Digby of being spies of the ruling High Lords. It turns out, though, that Tharl never actually believed this and it was just a ruse to make sure he could trust them.

    Fan Works 
  • Yellowfang was killed in Bluefur's Choice when she crossed into ThunderClan territory. Despite being emaciated and old, Thistlestar still worried she was a ShadowClan spy.
  • Cadance of Cloudsdale: Cadance angrily tells off Cadet Shining Armor after bumping into him while leaving the Sparkle residence, thinking him sent by Celestia to monitor her (after she assured Cadance she would never do such a thing). Celestia says it best:
    Celestia: The young guardstallion you startled outside the Shine residence was Twilight Velvet's son, on his way home after an unexpected reassignment. He is not a spy of mine. He was outside the house because it is his house."
  • Flipside: Due to Nightmare Moon — who mistook him for a herald — forcing Spike to announce her return and overthrow of Celestia, all of Ponyville (led by Rainbow Dash) becomes convinced that Spike is working for her. After she's defeated and Celestia explains what happened, Spike ends up drowned in apologies. And no one seems willing to let Rainbow Dash forget her accusations.
  • In the MLP / Green Lantern crossover In Brightest Day, after getting the Red Lantern Ring, Rainbow Dash assumes that Twilight is secretly working for Nightmare Moon due to how she was asking around town (and was the only one who knew Nightmare Moon by name before she introduced herself) and immediately tries to kill her.
  • In Memento Vivere, a Final Fantasy X fanfiction, Rikku is mistaken for an assassin when she goes into Heroic Safe Mode in Bevelle.
  • In the Pony POV Series, a bout of paranoia over supposed Hooviet spies and a typo in the personnel files leads to an overeager Royal Guard believing Sunset — one of Cadence's hoofmaidens — is a spy and dangling her over the edge of an airship (her wings were bound, so she was in actual danger). Fortunately, another Guard realized what was going on and broke it up before she was hurt.
  • In Wander over Foster's AU One-Shot, Bloo thinks that Wander is an alien spy sent to Foster's in order take back information to alien invaders. While Wander is an alien, he isn't a spy. He had an accident and became stuck on Earth without a way back to his friend Sylvia.
  • The Team Fortress 2 fan-short Mann Swap features RED Scout and RED Heavy in a "Freaky Friday" Flip, which causes their teammates to mistake the pair for spies, as is only natural for the setting. It takes Engineer to discern that they're just a pair of squabbling idiots in the wrong bodies attempting to hide their mistake.
  • A Very Kara Christmas: In this story set in 1959, Linda Lee's odd accent -which she lost after a couple of weeks-, strange habits and unexplained absences make her roommate Jennifer think Linda may be a Communist plant.

    Films — Animated 
  • The plot of Cars 2 involves British intelligence agents mistaking Mater for an American ally.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Happens to Phoebus and Quasimodo when they try to sneak into the Court of Miracles to warn the Parisian Gypsy community of Frollo's imminent attack. Considering that both men were very heavily associated with Frollo, it's no wonder they were accused of espionage. Oh, and the entire accusation is a musical number.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Big Lebowski, The Dude is mistaken for a private detective by Delfino, another private detective who is searching for Bunny Lebowski.
  • Frantic. The wife of the protagonist is kidnapped when she's mistaken for the next link in a courier chain after picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport.
  • The Italian comedy movie Go for It with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. The two main characters, in early part of the movie, to get free ticktes at airport pose as Steinberg and Mason who had just been called for on the speaker. They get their tickets, not knowing their original purchasers are two CIA top agents (killed from the villains). So, after meet the CIA boss, they are forced to track down a mysterious secret organization hiding in Miami Beach.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine: Because the group has 21st technology such as iPods and cell phones that Blaine and his gang confuse with spy equipment and the fact that Lou was carrying Chernobly, Blaine assumes that all of them are Soviet spies.
  • Happens in Laughter in Paradise, although not in the usual way. Captain Russell is attempting to explain to his fiancee and her father that he needs to postpone the wedding, without telling them it is because he is planning to be arrested and sent to jail for 28 days (It Makes Sense in Context). However, his evasive explanations cause them to think that he is undertaking a secret mission on behalf of the government. Deciding to roll with it, he gives answers that are technically accurate (such as saying the government will be paying his expenses while he is away), but imply that he is a secret agent.
  • Wallace Ritchie from The Man Who Knew Too Little is mistaken for a secret agent by just about everyone. He doesn't mind, because he thinks it's all a play, with him cast in the role of a secret agent.
  • Minor variant in Moscow on the Hudson. Robin Williams' character, a Soviet defector, is being followed by a man in an overcoat down a street. Robin Williams confronts him and demands to know why he's being followed and if he's from the FBI, CIA, or KGB. The man calmly replies he's G-A-Y to which Williams' realizes what he means and laughs.
  • In the Mexican movie Ni de aquí, ni de allá (Neither from Here, nor There) starring la India Mariá, Maria is brought from her rural Mexican village to Los Angels to work as a live in maid for some millionaires, she gets separated from them at LAX, and due to the Language Barrier, accidentally wanders into a men's room, where she witneses a KGB agent assassinate a defector, and through series of missunderstandings the FBI comes to believe that she and the agent are in cahoots. Hilarity Ensues.
  • North By Northwest kicks off when a businessman from New York City is mistaken by the villains for a spy. That the man he's been mistaken for doesn't actually exist and the fact that the villains adamantly refuse to believe his denials, don't help matters, leading to him being dragged into a massive espionage plot.
  • Subverted in the James Garner film The Pink Jungle. He goes through the whole film insisting that he's not a spy, just a fashion photographer. At the end everyone is finally convinced he's just a photographer, and then in the final scene, it's revealed he's really a spy.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Russian Chekov is captured on the aircraft carrier Enterprise and assumed to be a spy. Younger Trekkies had to learn about the world before they realized just how mistaken a decision sending Chekov to scope out "nuclear wessels" was. Hilariously, one of Chekov's interrogators actually seems to have some doubts, in part because just how ridiculous Chekov seems — true, he showed up in the reactor room of an aircraft carrier and is obviously Russian... but then again, he is obviously Russian and makes several bizarre claims. Would Soviet intelligence really be that incompetent?
  • The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, a French comedy where the title character, an innocuous concert violinist, is marked as a spy by infighting government high-ups - he's blithely unaware of being a pawn in their scheming through the film. Played pretty straight-faced; the American remake, The Man with One Red Shoe, was considerably broader.
  • François in the Timeline movie.
    • While this is the reason given for killing him, it's possible that this was just an excuse, given that the English Lord who has him killed is an evil Jerkass.
  • In X-Men: First Class, when Charles demonstrates his telepathy to the CIA by revealing what they're thinking at that moment, they accuse him of espionage, since they can't believe he could have found out any other way. Luckily, Raven is present to demonstrate her shapeshifting abilities.

  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Myne, who is in a Reincarnate in Another World situation, eventually gains an acquaintance who figures out that her behavior lines up more with an educated person enduring a Culture Clash than that of a Child Prodigy. Since the scope of that person's mind in limited to their own world, the first thing that comes to their mind is that Myne may be some sort of spy from another location.
  • Creator Isaac Asimov's Pebble in the Sky: In chapter 10, "Interpretation Of Events", Secretary Balkis is explaining to the High Minister of the Society of Ancients why Schwartz and Dr. Bel Arvardan must be spies from the Galactic Empire. Overlaps with Time-Travelers Are Spies in Schwartz's case.
  • In a The Baby-Sitters Club book, the Pike children are convinced that their new next-door neighbors are spies because they have foreign accents and proceed to spend much of the book basically harassing the couple—ringing their doorbell and running away, recording their voices, etc.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Evan is jailed in Istanbul on suspicion of being a CIA agent because he belongs to a large number of fringe organizations, at least two of which are perceived as hostile to Turkish interests.
  • In Brave Story, Wataru reaches the first Adventure Town just in time to be framed and imprisoned for a murder/theft. Fortunately(?), another attack that appears to be perpetrated by the same individual(s) happens while he's in jail, so the local law enforcement realizes he can't be the culprit and lets him go.
  • In Dead West, Gervas Klarenfeld and the Porcelain Doctor get mistaken for spies by an overzealous sheriff. Since they were newcomers from the Old World, and everybody in town mistook Gervas for an aristocrat, they were suspicious, and to top it off, they used five different languages in the same conversation (started off in German and English, switched to French as they were speaking with two French aristocrats, the two doctors used Latin for discussing the Porcelain Doctor's medical condition, with ancient Greek for some details). It was also implied that the sheriff acted on his suspicions since he wanted to take the Porcelain Doctor for a night.
  • Nick Velvet: Because Nick is a professional thief who frequently disappears at short notice for variable lengths of time, his girlfriend Gloria comes to the incorrect conclusion that he is a secret agent. Because it provides a convenient cover, and ensures that she won't discuss his absences with anyone, Nick allows to labour under this misapprehension for years.
  • In Silver on the Tree, Barney has the misfortune of being caught in Owain Glyndwr's camp while being English. Luckily for him, Merriman is on hand for a rescue.
  • In The Wheel of Time when Rand first arrives to Cairhien everybody assumes him to be a young aristocrat travelling incognito with a secret mission from one of the kingdom's Houses. This suits him and he doesn't try to persuade them otherwise. Being a Ta'Veren (sort of Weirdness Magnet) helps. His actions provoke rush actions of Houses eventually leading to the murder of the king and a civil war.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who had this happen so often, some of the audio dramas started doing a Lampshade Hanging on it.
    • This is a plot point in "The Caves of Androzani". His unexplained presence on Androzani Minor leads Corrupt Corporate Executive Morgus to assume the Doctor is a spy for the President, leading to several fatal errors on his part.
    • In "Cold War", the Doctor and Clara land on a Soviet submarine in 1983. Clara calmly tells the Soviets that of course she's not a spy as she can't speak Russian. The Doctor finally explains to her how the TARDIS is a Universal Translator so as far as the sailors are concerned, Clara just claimed she can't speak Russian in perfect Russian.
  • A couple of episodes of The Equalizer involve an innocent party who's inadvertently passed a MacGuffin by a spy ring, so have to call the Equalizer when strangers are suddenly trying to kidnap or kill them. It helps that Robert McCall is a former spy himself, so he knows how to deal with the situation.
  • In Goodnight Sweetheart, Gary is pretending to be a British spy. In one episode, however, the fact British Intelligence don't have him on file leads them to briefly suspect he's a German spy.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Hogan's Heroes. Carter is trying to get himself arrested as part of the plan. He walks into a bar and purposely introduces himself as an American. Everyone he talks to thinks he's a Gestapo agent.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus - a guest at a holiday boarding house asks fellow lodger Mister 'Hilter' how long he's staying - Hilter starts shrieking accusations of the man being a spy. Of course he was a little on edge; he hadn't slept since 1945.
  • An episode of Murder, She Wrote set in Washington, DC had the local detective convinced that Jessica was one of these, taking everything she said as some kind of secret code. Her repeated denials only served to convince him that he was right.
    Ames: Mrs. Fletcher, just between the two of us, which one are you with?
    Jessica: I beg your pardon?
    Ames: Well, I first suspected after our talk in the garage, but that bit about Muslims and Hindus? Dead giveaway. So which is it? FBI, CIA, NSC?
    Jessica: Lieutenant Ames, I don't know who or what you think I am, but I assure you, I'm simply a mystery writer from Cabot Cove, Maine.
    Ames: Cabot Cove. Nice touch. Sounds almost real.
    Jessica: That's because it is real. Now, see here, Lieutenant. For the last time, I am not some sort of secret government agent. I'm simply Jessica Fletcher from Cabot Cove, Maine. Look. Here is my, my Social Security card, my library card, my voter's registration card. Now, do you believe me?
    Jessica's Friend: Hey, Jess. You'd better hurry if you want to meet with that agent before he goes to Moscow.note 
    Ames: Mos... Best phony I.D. I've ever seen.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In "1969", a freak Stargate accident sends SG-1 to a missile silo in the titular year. Naturally, strangers materializing in a high-security area would likely be Mistaken for Spies; Daniel's responding in Russian to a question asking (in Russian) whether they were Russian spies didn't help matters much.
    • The same thing happens at least twice more in later seasons on alien planets. Again, it's a case of strangers materializing in a high-security area, although the circumstances are a bit different. In "1969", a freak accident sent them to a missile silo in the past: the location of the stargate in the present day, but it wasn't there yet. In similar episodes later, they traveled to worlds where the Stargate had been found and was recognized as being important, but the locals hadn't figured out how to use it yet. Sometimes, some locals believe the team's story of being aliens who came through the religious artifact or museum piece or whatever they think the Stargate is, but other times, the locals jump to the conclusion that the team is attempting to steal or deface the Stargate or spy on something else of value in the same facility.
    • The team is mistaken for a group of terrorists in the episode Bad Guys, forcing them to pretend to actually be terrorists while they stall to get the gate back online.
  • Star Trek:
    • The original series had a couple examples, both involving time travel:
      • "Tomorrow is Yesterday" involves Kirk being assumed to be a spy after the Enterprise accidentally time-travels back to the 1960s — he's breaking into a U.S. Air Force base to retrieve anachronistic footage of his ship.
      • In "Assignment: Earth", the Enterprise is deliberately sent back in time to Earth in 1968. Kirk and Spock are arrested as spies when they're caught inside McKinley Rocket Base.
    • This is the focus of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead". During an investigation following an explosion in Engineering, a Klingon exchange officer is caught smuggling top-secret information off the Enterprise by encoding it into his blood. Ensign Simon Tarses, a half-Vulcan member of Picard's crew, is questioned regarding his contact with the Klingon. The questioning quickly turns into a full-blown interrogation when Tarses is revealed to have been half-Romulan all along, not half-Vulcan - despite no evidence whatsoever that he actually had any part in the Klingon's treachery. Picard has to stand up against the stereotyping and obvious breach of Tarses' rights.
    • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Communicator", Malcolm accidentally leaves his communicator behind on a pre-warp planet that's on the brink of war. He and Archer go back to retrieve it, and are assumed to be spies from the other side of the war.

  • In The Men from the Ministry during a trip to New York two poorly-worded notes One and Two left to their hotel and office back at London leave FBI and the British Government into thinking the two are spies planning on defecting to USSR.

    Video Games 
  • Can happen to anyone in Team Fortress 2, especially if you're among Pyros, who are tinfoil-hat wearing insane with paranoia. At least in Team Fortress 2, you can't hurt your own allies, so it's prudent to attack everyone in sight with your weapon of choice.
    • The "Meet the Spy" video features this trope with the BLU Spy being mistaken for the RED Spy. The RED Spy is actually disguised as the BLU Scout. In this case, however, the characters can hurt their allies...
    BLU Spy: He could be you! He could be me! He could even b—[BANG!]
    BLU Soldier: [having just fired his shotgun] What? It was obvious! He's the RED Spy! Watch, he'll turn red any second now. [beat] Aaaaaany second now... See? Red! No wait, that's blood.
  • Done to Tear and Luke in Tales of the Abyss, after a hyperresonence mishap teleports them both deep into a hostile country.
  • This happens to your party in Final Fantasy V in Karnak. When you visit any of the shops, you find the prices for the equipment are unusually low. However, as soon as you try to purchase anything, your entire party is taken and thrown in jail in a cell next to one containing Cid, the inventor of the crystal amplifier. It turns out that one of the guards saw your party emerge from the meteor and thought them to be in league with the monsters.
  • Literally the beginning of Valkyria Chronicles has Welkin return to his hometown of Bruhl and gets arrested by Alicia after he sketches the wildlife and she assumes he was collecting intel for the Imperials. This gets cleared up when his adoptive sister Isara shows up.

  • In Order of Tales, Koark goes to Tenshells to visit Extranji, and finds the man mortally wounded. Upon leaving the house, Koark is accused of killing him and arrested.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Happened to a delegation sent to the Khwarezmid Empire, asking for justice after one of the Shah's governors confiscated a trade caravan's goods; the governor claimed the merchants were spies. He had no more evidence they were spies than anyone else in that day had that merchants were spies. The Shah accused the delegation of being spies, killed most of them most grotesquely, and of the two he sent back as a warning, he shaved exactly half their faces and deliberately injured their buttocks. So Shah violated diplomatic immunity -definitely understood in the day as something to be respected, less you tick off the gods- and infuriated Genghis Khan, not the nicest person on the average day. The irony is the Shah did all that as a show of strength, to try and intimidate this upstart ruler whose savagery he'd heard so much about; the Shah's troops outnumbered the Mongols, after all.note 
  • A trio of American hikers that were detained in Iran because the government thought that they were spies. The penalty for spying is death and the one woman they released was tried in absentia when she doesn't return, and naturally Iran was under a lot of international pressure to not do anything stupid (like killing three more than likely innocent people because of mindless paranoia). They were sentenced to something like three years in prison. Not enough to provoke the US into invading, but enough to seriously piss people off.
  • One of the theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart is that she and her navigator Fred Noonan were captured by the Japanese and mistaken for spies (it was shortly before World War II, after all). Another theory has the same happen, but with them actually being spies.
  • Due to the actions of the CIA, polio workers are normally accused of being spies in the Middle East (using fake vaccinations to get DNA to track wanted terrorists), leading them to be targeted by militants who accuse them of either spying for America or trying to sterilize Muslim children.
  • The town of Hartlepool, UK, is famous (probably apocryphally) for hanging a monkey they believed to be a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars. The story goes that a French ship was wrecked off-shore, and when its monkey mascot was the only survivor to come ashore the locals (having never seen either a monkey or a Frenchman before) questioned him, then hanged him when he refused to answer. There's a darker version of the story - it wasn't a real monkey they hanged, but a powder monkey, i.e. a young boy employed on warships to prime the cannon with gunpowder.
  • When the developers of ARMA III were doing research on prospective locations for it, this happened to them.


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