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Overt Operative

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Malory: Secret agents don't tell every harlot from here to Hanoi that they are secret agents!
Archer: ...Then why be one?

"The name is Bond. James Bond."

Is that so, Mr Bond? You don't think that since your job is a secret agent that perhaps you shouldn't tell everyone your real name!?

Maybe that's why every supervillain you encounter already knows who you are, knows your name, your "secret" code number, what you look like, and how you like your martinis.

Hollywood secret agents seem to have a habit of being remarkably unsecretive, whether it's by using their real names, lack of disguises, waving their weapons and performing stunts in public while dressed in a tuxedo, or merely looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Compare Highly Visible Ninja and Paper-Thin Disguise. See also The Men in Black, who are also meant to be some kind of covert operatives, but are just as conspicuous.

As a matter of fact, this is often Truth in Television- Real Life spies will deny or cover-up the fact that they are spies, but otherwise they will try to keep their cover-story as near to the truth as possible (as permitted by the circumstances). This is for the very simple reason that it's far easier to get caught out in a lie if you are lying all the time, whereas you are more likely to be trusted (and thus do your job better) if a suspicious opponent digs into your backstory and finds that it's everything you said it was. Naturally, this also helps to avert You Just Told Me and related slip-ups that might get you caught out.

An obsolete version of this is the supposedly-inconspicuous trenchcoat, fedora and shades, which most modern audiences would describe straight away as "a spy outfit".


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Golgo 13 is known in civilian life as Duke Togo. When using an alias, he goes by... Duke Togo. Or some variation thereof. The general consensus is that, after decades of killing people for money, Duke's untouchable and he knows it.
  • Member of the Black Organization in Detective Conan are supposed to be so secretive almost noone knows the organization exists, yet they always wear black suits and/or Conspicuous Trenchcoats and one of its members drives a damn Porsche everywhere. Said Porsche is not a 911, which is cool but fairly common and well-recognized. It is an antique and rare Porsche 356, which is something so unique that no one can possibly miss, even if they are completely car-dumb.

    Comic Books 
  • Groo the Wanderer: Groo once was given a job as a spy, thus proving that there are, at times, people even dumber than Groo. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Groo is ept at some things. Being "covert" is not one of those things.
  • Jet Dream: Jet Dream and her Stunt-Girl Counterspies are Hollywood Stunt-Girls by day, and private counter-intelligence agents... also by day. Their identities and jobs seem to be, at best, open secrets (if not just plain "open.")
  • Partially lampshaded by John Stone in an issue of Planetary: "Can't be the best secret agent on Earth if everybody knows about you."
  • The Shingouz in Valérian are by definition Overt Operatives, as they are an entire race of spies and information merchants. Somehow they still manage to be the best ones in the field, presumably due to their strict work ethics (in spite of claiming to not comprehend the concept of morality), extreme diligence, and insurance that everybody owes them favors all over cosmos. They even use this status to their advantage, sometimes. In one short story they con their way into the heart of an incredibly complex government bureaucracy simply by insinuating that they want to sell information concerning a supposed conspiracy that gets increasingly bigger and more convoluted the deeper they go — just to prove a point.
  • Nick Fury tends to stand out with his eyepatch, conspicuous Spy Catsuit and slowed aging.

    Fan Works 
  • TRON: Endgame Scenario: Mercury is well-known as Administrator Ma3a's champion on Encom's Game Grid, considered a star athlete. What's much less well-known is that she serves as Ma3a's top operative and enforcer.

  • James Bond, despite the description, largely averts this. He frequently uses aliases, and officially James Bond is just an employee of Universal Exports (actually a front for British Intelligence). Usually the villain finds out despite all this; often he's up against enemies who are either themselves spies or connected to some foreign government or intelligence agency, and he is identified that way, or the villain turns out to be a supposed ally or client of MI-6. Most people do not know who James Bond is.
    • Double Subversion in On Her Majesty's Secret Service where Bond adopts the persona of 'Sir Hilary Bray', genealogist, complete with silly accent, glasses and kilt, who is actually a real figure who agreed to let Bond use his identity, so they don't even have to worry about flaws in the background check. Blofeld still knows it's him though, particularly when he's caught sneaking into the bedroom of one of the female guests for some Double-0-Rated action (though he actually catches him out by tricking him with an esoteric mistake on family records that only a real genealogist would know to correct).
    • In Goldfinger, 007 poses as a dealer in illicit gold, only to end up strapped to a laser-table with Goldfinger greeting him as "007". 007 naturally denies it, responding with his cover name which is - James Bond! Guess it wasn't as well known at the time. Goldfinger knew who he was because he was working the Reds and one of Bonds "opposite numbers" identified him while he was unconscious.
    • Casino Royale (2006) hangs a lampshade on this while trying to justify it. After spending a scene going over the details of his cover identity (while flirting with Vesper), Bond simply checks in to their hotel as "James Bond." His reasoning: since his target probably knows who he really is anyway, and Bond knows that they know, he justifies it as psychological warfare. Vesper thinks he's just being reckless.
    Le Chiffre: Welcome, Mr. Beach. Or is that Bond? I'm a little confused.
    James Bond: Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?
    • Given the number of different James Bonds who have a appeared in the film series, Fanon suggests that in the film universe at least the name 'James Bond' is itself a cover-name given to a number of different operatives. However, this would be even less secure than using real names - as soon as one "James Bond" was discovered to be a spy, anyone else using the name would be compromised.
      • Actually used in Casino Royale (1967), where MI-6 formally gives the codename "James Bond 007" to every single one of their agents— including the women—in order to confuse people.
    • Bond usually uses aliases, except when he says he is from Universal Exports, which seems to be a cover name for MI-6 in general (so he's technically telling the truth). Ironically, there are times he uses real name/ fake job description, and he is given away by other means- in Tomorrow Never Dies, the villains realise he is a government agent from his suspiciously perfect employment record at the bank. His name is irrelevant.
    • How about the Union Jack parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me? Way to maintain deniability, unless you're going for the double bluff: "Well, obviously a real British agent wouldn't advertise his allegiance like that!"
    • There is a bit of Fridge Brilliance with regards to how Bond plays with this trope- whether he uses his real name or an alias is often dependent on how connected he thinks the Big Bad is; if they are suspected of working or someone involved with the Soviet Union, SPECTRE or some other well-connected enemy he tends to use a fake name, and otherwise he often uses his real one; both Goldfinger and Max Zorin were involved with the Reds, but he only used an alias with Zorin because he already knew that he was. This is a bit Depending on the Writer and he sometimes has other reasons for using an alias, but its still quite intelligent.
    • In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond needs to be covertly dropped via parachute to investigate a sunken British warship near China. The problem? The ship had been deliberately sent off course by the villains, and was sunk in Vietnamese territorial waters. Which shouldn't be a problem, as long as none of Bond's equipment identifies himself as being affiliated with the British or American governments. Which it naturally all does, since all of his equipment for this mission was issued out of US military stockpiles and is all marked as such.
    • In Licence to Kill, Bond is able to infiltrate Sanchez's operation as himself, having just been kicked out of MI-6. Sanchez already has ex-CIA members working for him, so ex-agent wouldn't be unusual and there's nothing there to make Sanchez be suspicious of Bond's background.
  • Austin Powers: Powers spoofed this in the title of the first film, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. This "secret agent" is at the heart of the Swinging London scene, and everyone knows he's a spy. He seems to operate as more law-enforcement than espionage anyway.
  • Played straight in Russian comedy Weather Is Good on Deribasovskaya. A KGB agent is secretly sent to America in order to help them fight Russian Mafia - and then is publicly outed to everyone when visiting a restaurant (seemingly by know-it-all Mafia or because of someone's stupid mistake), with his cover story blown for good. He later admits to his American partner, that in fact he outed himself, since it's his preferred way of working - being the bait.
  • True Lies: Harry Tasker. Arguably acceptable in his case, because being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger he does tend to stand out in a crowd. Except his own wife of 15 years hadn't even suspected about his double life.
  • In the original french movie La Totale, the lead actor Thierry Lhermitte looks a lot more like the everyman and nobody would reasonably suspect this so-called computer salesman from being a top agent in a counter-espionage agency.
  • Not an operative, but in Sister Act, Deloris van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer, is an essential witness in a mob case. In order to protect her life until the trial, she must hide in a convent. Her appearance when she first walks in prompts the Mother Superior to exclaim, "That is not a person you can hide! That is a conspicuous person, designed to stick out."
  • Agent Sands in Once Upon a Time in Mexico makes no secret of the fact that he works for the CIA. Lampshaded at one point, where he wears a t-shirt on which is printed the words "C.I.A.: Cleavage Inspection Agency".
  • Inglourious Basterds: For a world-renowned actress and double agent, Bridget von Hammersmark is a pretty lousy spy, able to make decent small talk but falling apart quickly the moment someone starts pulling on a thread in her act. It eventually gets her killed.
    • The Basterds themselves use incredibly overt and unsubtle methods, have a distinctive calling card of carving swastikas into their enemies' foreheads which makes their movements easy to track, cannot speak a word of French or German despite operating in German occupied France, and have American accents thick enough to float an aircraft carrier.
  • While the movie is in many other ways a silly action romp, this is one of the few things xXx gets right. After losing several Genre Blind agents to an anarchist cell, the NSA decides to send in a tattooed, extreme-sports fanatic, internet celebrity, anarchist of their own.
  • General Okoye of Black Panther, commander of Wakanda's Dora Milaje, might be a terrifying warrior, but she's a less than ideal infiltrator. During a covert operation in an underground casino, her warrior's posture and stern expression alone make her stick out like a sore thumb, to say nothing of the ill-fitting wig that's part of her disguise. Sure enough, Reality Ensues when a guard catches on to her act, and a cover-blowing fight breaks out in seconds.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Jack Bauer on 24 almost never uses an alias, even when working deep cover with drug cartels or right-wing militias. In his case, however, the terrorists never seem to wise up, even though Bauer is undoubtedly one of the best known people on the government's payroll in the 24 universe (having been mentioned on national TV news at least once.) However, the one time he is seen to use an alias, after faking his death, it ends up not doing him any good at all. Subverted in Season 8, where Jack actually uses an alias and a different first name ("Ernst Meier"), wears glasses as a disguise, and speaks fluent German! It even works! (For a while, anyway.)
  • Get Smart:
    • Max Smart has been outed any number of times before friends, courts (complete with juries and an audience), police, etc., KAOS knows not only his identity but his address, and he still continues his career as a "secret" agent. And that's just in the first half of the first season! That's the magic of parody for you.
    • Doubly subverted by Agent 99, who never reveals her real name, even to Max. (On the other hand, she's consequently also routinely addressed in public as "Agent 99.") Until she marries Max and is sometimes introduced as "Mrs Maxwell Smart" giving away her identity.
  • In the British show Murphy's Law, despite being a career undercover cop, Tommy Murphy almost always uses his real name. This doesn't seem to cause any problems until the third series, when the bad guys get curious about the "Tommy from Belfast" currently testifying in a criminal trial, and even then the matter is quickly dropped.
  • The entirety of the Torchwood organization, which is theoretically secret. They barge into crime scenes and restricted areas using their status as Torchwood agents to explain it. In the first episode someone trying to find them does so by going to a pizza place and asking if one of their agents was a customer, and learned nothing. Then she asked if they'd had any orders from Torchwood. That brought her right to them. In a later episode someone managed to find their base by going to Cardiff and just asking people in the street where Torchwood was. They have an SUV marked "Torchwood" and get yelled at by name by random old ladies in the street by the second series, so the whole secrecy thing is a half-joke by now.
  • SHADO, the alien-fighting organisation in Gerry Anderson's UFO, is supposed to be secret, yet all of its vehicles, vessels and aircraft are clearly marked with the name. Many of its operatives also wear uniforms with SHADO insignia.
  • Scarecrow and Mrs. King: This actually does somewhat better. The Russians know about Scarecrow but know so little about him that they once mistake Amanda for him.
  • In the NCIS episode "Shalom" Ziva takes one look at a corpse and said "He's not Mossad". Really Ziva? What, did daddy give you the dossiers on every agent in Mossad as a gift for your Bat-mitzvah?
  • Joe Friday occasionally went undercover as a criminal on Dragnet, which can be unintentionally hilarious, because everything about Jack Webb screams "cop," even when he uses the alias "Joe Fraser."
  • Covert Affairs is a justified version: Since the CIA actually gives out real names with an assumed cover identity, nobody is really expecting Annie to not give out her real name. Also subverted in one episode-when she helps her sister with some photography, the agency orders the pictures of her taken down.
  • In Alphas Gary's autism makes him not very good at going undercover, often refers to himself as a secret agent, often in front of people who aren't supposed to know, and when another member of the team is giving a cover story has identified it as such.
  • The Wild Wild West: James West fits this trope perfectly, which is hardly a surprise given that he's modeled directly off of James Bond. His partner, Artemus Gordon, is a bit better at the "secret" part of being a secret agent.
  • El Chapulín Colorado: One story featured the world's most famous spy. It was a case of Reality Ensues as, because of the spy's fame, nobody hires him. Once he got word of a formula that made things invisible, he decided to steal it so he could use it to gain an edge his fame wouldn't ruin. By being able to enter places without being seen.
  • Subverted in the Blackadder episode 'General Hospital', where the crew had been put on alert for a spy leaking intel to the Germans. One of the patients at the hospital where they'd gathered was a man with a very thick German accent, calling himself 'Smith'. As it happened, he was one of the British army's own spies, and that he'd just picked up a 'teensy veensy bit of an accent' after working undercover for so long. The real spy turned out to be George, who was inadvertently feeding intel in his letters to his uncle in Germany.
  • Parodied in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "Our Man Bashir" where Julian takes former real spy Garak into a holodeck program where he's a James Bond type super spy.
    Garak: I think I joined the wrong intelligence service.
    • Garak himself normally plays this at the "realistic" level of straight: his current value as an agent mostly derives from everybody being fairly certain he's a spy, whether active or retired with active contacts he passes things on to. While both more blatant and idealistic than Real Life examples, there have been some operatives during some historical periods in a similar position of being useful as just overt enough to be findable by somebody who already wants to sell secrets (or just share their views on local politics) and doesn't want to walk into an embassy. He's juuust covert enough for deniabilty's sake, and it helps that his cover story of being a political exile happens to be true.

  • The whole idea behind Alex Rider is that his status as a teenager means that he should be more covert because bad guys will think he is Just a Kid, however not only does he keep doing things that clearly a kid would not do, such as parachuting into secret enemy bases, but many bad guys in his books seem quite capable of finding all about his connections to MI-6.
  • In strong contrast, the Cherub Series agents are so secret even most members of the British Government can't find out about them, the existence of CHERUB is never revealed, CHERUB agents have very strong covers, and while they have exotic training most of the time they do things that any ordinary teenager would do.
  • In Daniel Silva's series of novels about Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, Allon is actually known to other countries' intelligence agencies as being a participant in the targeted assassinations carried out in revenge for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and is in fact arrested for this in one of the books. Also, while he does have a covert identity as an Italian art restorer, his accent is clearly not that of a native, and this gets lampshaded by having his colleagues remark on his oddness, and one of them jokes that he might be Osama bin Laden.
  • A couple of the Matt Helm novels actively used his status as a government assassin who had been around forever and everyone in the trade knew by reputation in order to have him act as a decoy or to intimidate the local baddies.
    • The Wrecking Crew, the second Matt Helm novel, had him using his real name and background, so everyone would think he was a former assassin who had been out of the business for decades (true) and was pretty much useless now (false). The badguys who assumed this didn't survive to the end of the book.
  • Subverted in the Discworld book Maskerade, with two operatives are extremely overt due to being Corporal Nobbs and Detritus, some of the Watch's best known and least deceptive members - who are there to distract attention from their real agent, who's been there for some time already.
    • Vetinari uses a similar plan in Going Postal when he had someone tailed by an incompetent agent: if you see Vetinari's spy, it's a spy he wants you to see.
    • Double Subverted in Jingo. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs are trying (and failing) to pretend to be Klatchian. However the Klatchians they are talking to assume that Colon and Nobbs must actually be Klatchians from a different part of Klatch pretending to be Ankh-Morporkians, since Ankh-Morpork would not use such obvious Overt Operative tactics.
  • Geronimo Stilton: One of Stilton's old friends, Kornelius Von Kickpaw, is a secret agent who always wears a trenchcoat and dark glasses. His sister, also a secret agent, always wears a distinctive perfume.
  • Compared to his cinematic alter ego, the James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels is portrayed in a relatively realistic manner. Nevertheless, when he's in London, Bond's real name is known, as is his true employer ("Something at the Ministry of Defense.") The precise nature of his job is still unknown, but the fact that he's doing some sort of secretive work is not. This is pretty much Truth in Television (see Valerie Plame, below, for what's actually a rather typical, if unusually widely-known, example, below.)
  • Sir Dominic Flandry uses this trope. By letting his targets identify him as an apparently incompetent and venal Imperial agent, he's able to lull them into a false sense of security.
  • In the book Harry The Fat Bear Spy, Harry loses his fake ID for his cover identity and is forced to present his real ID in order to get into the macaroon factory. He spends the rest of the book wearing a nametag that says "SPY".

  • The unnamed agents in Data East's Secret Service, who go around performing their duties in elegant tuxedos and hundred-dollar dresses, while driving around Washington D.C. in an attention-grabbing bright red Ferrari.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Women Of Wrestling employed a UK spy known as Jane Blond as one of its Wrestling Doesn't Pay gimmicks. Still, WOW having only one pay per view would have probably been a good thing for her espionage career.
  • Kyra's backstory in the Empire Wrestling Federation and Ultimate Pro was that she became a CIA operative at age nineteen, despite having been the star of a traveling act since age 3 who had become a popular competitor in an underground fighting circuit. Her fairly high profile didn't stop her from taking down 198 drug dealers in four years before she had to be let go.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer Fantasy Battles Deathmaster Snitch is known by the name Snitch. Of course being an assassin is a respected profession for a skaven, and as a bipedal rat he can't exactly blend in with other races no matter what he calls himself. It might pose issues with rival clans if skaven weren't in a constant state of paranoia anyway.
  • In Paranoia, many Internal Security agents go undercover as members of another security group; this usually works okay (as long as they're not actually called on to fix a malfunctioning nuclear reactor or whatever), but a few of them are completely incompetent at hiding it; their every word and action practically screams "hi, I'm an Internal Security plant!". They're usually fed false leads and otherwise left alone, lest Internal Security send someone competent in their place. (A few of them act this way on purpose so no one will notice the other Internal Security plant.)

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear
    • Used as a joke at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater when Ocelot laughs about how no-one has figured out Adam's identity. It's Ocelot, and his real first name is Adamska. Probably.
    • Solid Snake himself is normally somewhat overt (although he relies on just not being seen, not false information) and even does a nice subversion in Sons of Liberty. Disguised as a Navy SEAL, he succeeds in infiltrating the Big Shell with the SEAL team. We in the audience instantly know it's him when he takes his balaclava off, and we expect Raiden to call shenanigans...but it turns out Raiden somehow doesn't actually know what Solid Snake looks like, so it works.
  • Sonic Adventure 2. The game features a cut-scene in which Shadow puts two and two together and realises that a famous government spy he's apparently familiar with (or has read about somewhere), Rouge the Bat, is the same character as the anthropomorphic female chiropteran who chased them, chose to help their world domination plan and referred to herself as Rouge.
  • Kay Faraday of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth is not as good at keeping her identity as the Yatagarasu as secret as her predecessor by which we mean predecessors. This may stem from having a pin of a three-legged crow on her scarf and telling absolutely everyone that she is the Yatagarasu. Including Interpol agents. Then again, she never actually steals anything.
  • A perfectly viable approach in Alpha Protocol. The game doesn't penalize you for being a heavily-armored, assault-rifle wielding, grenade-flinging juggernaut who massacres his way through the entire game - beyond your handlers calling you out for being overt and violent.
    • Mike Thorton is only too eager to tell his name to everyone he encounters. (It's implied a couple of times that it may not be his real name, but it's still the name under which he is wanted by the American government for most of the game.)
    • This is similar to the Metal Gear Solid approach above. You can play the suave secret agent who works from the shadows and charms information out of people, but if you'd rather be the tough-as-nails soldier that does whatever it takes to get the job done... more power to you, as long as you get the job done.
    • Also, Steven Heck. Almost every operation he's involved with results in a Cruel and Unusual Death, such as suffocating a Vatican official with wafers. He's still one of the most mysterious characters of the game though. He might not even be working for any agency in particular, and some characters suspect he's just a lunatic who thinks he is a spy.
  • Gigolo Assassin. You play a hapless sex worker turned super secret agent. The problem? You're, uh, kind of really stupid and you're only wearing bikini briefs down below.
  • Team Fortress 2: See the image? Spy is obviously a spy, he dresses like one, and it's the name of his class. In fact, the only thing we DON'T know about him is his real name.
    • Subverted in that the Spy is clearly identifiable only when he is not on a mission, so to speak. Behind enemy lines, the Spy is (supposed to be) just as covert as you'd expect him to be - spies are very overt in displaying their existence, but that does not damage their cover when actually spying.
    • Although in the comics we see he wears the mask and tuxedo even when off-duty.
  • The intro to the remake of Syndicate mentions that the corporations employ covert agents like yourself. With the liberal amounts of firepower you can access and must use, covert you most certainly are not. Miles and his fellow agents even have the Eurocorp logo emblazoned on the shoulders and chests of their nifty black trenchcoats/body armor.
  • Franklin Drake in Star Trek Online is a variant. The issue isn't that he is a open about being a spy, because most of his appearances have him work with you on intelligence-related matters, or even that he is a spy for the Federation, but rather about which organization he works for — Section 31 is supposed to be so super-secret that even the Federation government doesn't really know that it exists, yet Drake openly identifies them as his employers (rather than, say, claim to work for Starfleet Intelligence) and provides the intel and resources to back up that claim. Might be explained for a Starfleet captain (he could be angling to recruit them, like with Bashir), but for Romulan Republic commanders....
  • Zigzagged with XCOM: the organization itself is secret, and operatives wear no badges that relate to their agency. However, the Skyranger prominently displays the XCOM seal (which nonetheless does not name the agency), and the existence of the organization quickly becomes obvious to the people of the world when troops with radically advanced technology start dropping in to various battlefields. Various news reports imply that XCOM exists, but the group is never publically acknowledged.
  • By the time of Persona 4: Arena happens, the remaining members of S.E.E.S from Persona 3 form the Shadow Operatives, an unofficial police-sanctioned organization made up of them and other authoritative members. While the group itself does well under the radar, the people in it have no concept of a low profile: Aigis, a Robot Girl, is one of its prominent members (and does a supernatural feat in broad daylight during her story mode), and Mitsuru and Akihiko are wearing a fur coat over a Spy Catsuit and is half naked save for a ridiculous-looking cape, respectively. Naturally, the other characters take pot-shots at their appearances, and Mitsuru in particular gets defensive about her outfit. To top it all off, they travel around in an eight-door limousine with high-tech equipment inside.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition gives us The Iron Bull who introduces himself as an agent sent to infiltrate the Inquisition. Justified because he thinks a group called "the Inquisition" would have figured it out eventually, so he just wants to get it out there now to prevent any potential conflicts. He offers to give info from his handlers in exchange. During party banter, Varric will point out that a hard-partying mercenary is the last thing he expects as a spy and that he should do more actual spying and manipulating. Bull retorts that doing that is exactly what people expect from spies while fighting, drinking and sending the occasional notes to his superiors is much easier, to which Varric isn't sure whether or not that's good or bad spywork.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, despite being a secret agent it seems that almost all Imperial and Sith know who Cipher Nine is. You can even occasionally pull rank and talk about your position as an intelligence officer. Depending on the mission you're sometimes supposed to do this, since Imperial Intelligence doubles as the Secret Police.
  • Parodied (and perhaps inverted) in Fallen London, where your character can immediately identify spies based on how inconspicuous they are.
    "This fellow is of medium height and build. A forgettable face. Nondescript clothes. Even his moustache is uninteresting. He must be a spy."
  • In Binary Domain the main character is part of a covert operation infiltrating an isolationist Japan. By the end of the first mission, the team is engaging in full-blown firefights with the robotic defense force. These only get more ridiculous as time goes on, such as having a running battle with a Humongous Mecha the size of three semis down the middle of a freeway. Despite this, the characters still periodically say they need to avoid detection.
    • The operation is meant to be covert, so of course their armor leaves their faces fully exposed and they also use each other's names. And since they're invading Japan after it has expelled all foreign nationals, only one of their members is Asian and none of them have even a fake ID.
  • Thimbleweed Park has a group of conspiracy nuts. They draw a lot of attention, but one wouldn't normally know they're part of a secret group. That is, until you get to Chet Lockdown, the younger brother of the group's boss. His job is to wear a full body pizza costume and hand out pizza coupons with the secret code to their meeting place on them. However, as Ransome and Delores point out if they talk to him, the town has no pizza parlor. So he's incredibly obvious looking.

  • In Girl Genius Ardsley Wooster, after a long but ultimately ineffective (that is, the target knew all along) cover op as Gilgamesh Wulfenbach's manservant, has skipped into this territory with his dirigible-hopping announcement of himself to a foreign power as "Ardsley Wooster, British Intelligence." It was tactically viable, though, and it's not like his cover wasn't blown already.
  • Subverted in this Subnormality strip: Most of the strip features an interaction between a Tuxedo and Martini character and a cocktail waitress, but the last panel reveals that the narration was coming from a random background character the entire time.
  • Agent Ben and Agent Jerry in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! are extremely obvious The Men in Black anyway, but they also have a big black car and a big black van, each clearly labeled "F.B.I. Undercover" in large, friendly letters.
  • The Omega Key: Adam really should have kept his big yap shut. But then, he wasn't expecting that anyone would take him seriously, or that the hot chick he was hitting on was the antagonist.

     Web Original 
  • Kara in Covert Front is clearly not concerned with stealth. Her default costume is a greatcoat which is very conspicuous, especially on a woman, and when sneaking around she repeatedly executes complex acrobatics that would draw the attention of anyone present. There is some justification for the outfit, as it conceals her features somewhat and most of her work consists of breaking into places where any person would be deemed suspicious.
  • Sir Thomas Henry Browne in The Dead Skunk becomes known throughout Paris as a British spy — so much so that Sorbonne students prank him with fake secrets.
  • Played for Laughs in an Onion homage to Get Smart and similar depictions: "Man Suspected Of Being Bumbling Spy".
  • Parodied in Brutalmoose's SPY Fox review with "Undercover Cop Joe." He even goes around wearing a name tag labeled as such.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: Sterling Archer of ISIS tells everybody he meets that he's a secret agent. As early as the third episode it's revealed that Archer is responsible for the deaths of no less than three fellow agents via blowing their cover frivolously in an attempt to get laid.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Season 3 premiere, Pinkie Pie dons a skintight catsuit and night vision goggles to gather information. In the middle of the day.
    Crystal Pony: A spy! <runs away>
    Pinkie Pie: A spy? How did they know?
    • Subverted a scene later where she disguises herself in a perfect replica suit of Fluttershy and maintains her cover by keeping her mouth shut as Flutters would. (Which is quite a feat for Pinkie.)
    • The spy outfits also show up in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S2 E20 "It's About Time", where Pinkie Spike and Twilight break into the royal library. The guards easily spot them but don't care since Twilight has free access anyway.
  • Kim Possible. Oddly, villains never think of going after her family, and even if they do it's usually for reasons unrelated to Kim's job (for instance, Dr. Drakken tried to avenge himself on the people who laughed at him in college, and was surprised to learn that one of them was Kim's father).
  • On El Tigre, every hero's true identity is common knowledge, with the exception of one-time hero La Tigressa (Frida).
  • WOOHP of Totally Spies! is either very lucky or more skilled than they let on, considering their visible headquarters, MIB-style dress code for internal work and their three most well-known agents are teenage girls in brightly-colored catsuits without anything to obscure their face or codenames. Then again, considering their tendency to work all over the world where people wouldn't know them, it only really bit them in the butt when they started gaining recurring foes.

    Real Life 
  • One interesting factor of the whole Valerie Plame scandal is that she was apparently a covert agent yet was an ambassador's wife well-known by a number of important people. Although in her case much of her covert activity had taken place before she'd been married and the CIA was in the process of moving her to "official cover" (that is, she'd be officially working for the US government but not officially the CIA) when she'd been outed.
    • Rather, unofficial cover means your link to the US government is deniable, whereas official cover puts you in the diplomatic corps (or somewhere else in the government, but usually the diplomatic corps), entitling you to diplomatic immunity if you're caught. In neither case is one allowed to admit they work for the CIA, and in either case it's a crime for anyone in the know to out the officer as a CIA employee, because not only does it place the officer's lives in jeopardy, but also the lives of any agents they've ever been in contact with. In both official and unofficial cover, a CIA officer normally uses their real name and identity with only the fact that they work for the CIA being concealed. A completely fabricated cover identity is usually not necessary because (unlike in spy movies) a CIA officer does not personally infiltrate target organizations, instead recruiting locals (particularly those who are already members of the target organization) to either defect to the United States or become double-agents. Revealing someone as a CIA officer therefore endangers all of the double-agents they've recruited.
  • Villainous real-life example: Oddly, Carlos the Jackal led a lifestyle similar to that of Bond and was a fairly inept terrorist, and only escaped capture for so long because his Soviet and Arab employers feared what would happen if they stopped protecting him.
  • Princess Stephanie Julianne von Hohenlohe. A Jewish member of a German noble family, she acted as a Nazi spy and messenger to sympathizers in the UK and United States despite being very well-known as a close friend of the Nazi hierarchy.
  • Ian Fleming based James Bond at least partially on a Yugoslav playboy named Dusko Popov who was an agent for the Nazis and then turned to become a double-agent for the British and lived a very high-profile lifestyle, particularly in casino gambling.
    • This high-profile lifestyle was not a hindrance to his career, since his 'spying' basically consisted of handing himself over to MI-5 as soon as he arrived in Britain, then spending the rest of the war sending the Abwehr fake information from fictitious agents as part of the XX system.
    • Should be noted that the Abwehr at this time was run almost entirely by members of the anti-Nazi resistance, and Popov was just one of many spies encouraged to undermine their own efforts. He was probably recruited precisely for his own anti-Nazi credentials.
    • Eddie Chapman, codenamed Agent Zigzag, was a very similar case: A criminal before the war, he was recruited by the Nazis and ran straight to MI-5 to tell them all about it. As with Popov, he was James Bond before there was a James Bond, indulging his love of casinos, booze and women on a government tab; he also fed the Nazis numerous false reports that their V1 weapons were falling short of London, causing the targeting to be adjusted so they stopped hitting it and started overshooting.
  • The entertainer Noël Coward pleaded to become an agent for British intelligence. The British government finally relented, signed him on and found he actually was pretty good at it since his status as a celebrity entertainer got him into many shindigs where loose lips were plentiful.
    • There have been lots of celebrities who did some spying, with real identities and hidden agendas. This makes it plausible if it's like Noel Coward presenting himself as Noel Coward, the entertainer, who is secretly a spy. Cover in modern intelligence has been described as more like lying about one's job than lying about one's identity.
  • Wolfgang Lotz was a real-life Israeli spy who hung out in Egypt posing as a former Wehrmacht officer running a stud farm for the Cairo elite. His original name was Wolfgang Lotz and he grew up in Germany. Mossad destroyed the documents in Germany that showed that he was Jewish and left the rest in place.
    • One reason Lotz got caught was that he was introduced to a genuine ex-Wehrmacht officer at an Egyptian event; they were supposed to have served in the same unit in the Afrika Korps at about the same time and Lotz failed to double-talk himself out of that fix.
  • The Military Liaison Missions were established as a temporary measure to maintain relationships between the occupying powers during the demilitarization of post-World War II Germany, and were kept going throughout the Cold War because both sides found them useful for gathering ground intelligence. The teams (which had quasi-diplomatic status and were authorised to travel anywhere in their clearly-marked, olive drab Opel sedans except in pre-designated special areas) consisted of military intelligence personnel in uniform.
    • At least one uniformed US officer was shot to death by a Soviet sentry in the 1980s while carrying out this type of snooping a bit too keenly; the sentry received a commendation for diligence.
      • Fair play towards a former enemy does admit that while it may have been trigger happy, they might have had a point, depending on the situation. And it was likely a hard decision for a sentry to have to make.
    • French and British operatives were also killed in the missions.
    • "Military liason" goes back well before the Cold War as a term for "In-house spy". Most major embassyies maintain one or two of these. In this case any disguise is for the sake of good manners rather than tactics: he is a handler rather than an agent. It does not matter if people know who he is so long as they do not know whom he meets with. This habit is so common that the only embassies that do not have an equivalent official stationed would be those from governments that consider the host-nation completely uninteresting (something like, e.g. the embassy of Germany in Helsinki) or lack the resources to conduct intelligence work there (something like, e.g., the embassy of Tuvalu in... more or less anywhere).
  • SIS handlers used the position of Passport Control Officer in British embassies, though by the late 1930's it had become a Paper-Thin Disguise. This was compounded by the fact that during the late 1930's, there were large numbers of people wanting to emigrate from Europe and therefore their fake job took so much of their time that there was none left over for espionage.
  • Overt operatives are also occasionally employed as a distraction. While everybody's chasing the Highly Visible Ninja, for example, the inconspicuous ones go to work.
  • The US's "Secret Service" consists in large part of tall men who wear matching suits and visible hearing aids, standing near the President and looking about as inconspicuous as a tuba player sitting in on a string quartet. These people are dangerously skilled and dedicated bodyguards-but there's more to the Secret Service than that. While you're looking at guys in suits, there are plenty of agents you'd never recognize who're looking at you.
    • On one occasion, hapless Vice President Dan Quayle tried to strike up a pleasant conversation-and-election-pitch with a young lady at the venue he was visiting-only to find out that the young lady was a plainclothes Secret Service agent there to protect him. (Naturally, for security reasons, he wouldn't have been told who those agents were.)
      • Chances are this happens with some regularity, for that very reason. Quayle's (somewhat overstated) reputation as a bit of a dope means that it draws more attention when it happened to him.
    • The overtness also serves a psychological purpose — it lets everyone know that (a) this person's protected and (b) if you want to get to said person, you're gonna have to get through all the big tough guys in suits first.
  • Similarly to the above, if you see a high-ranking corporate executive with two bodyguards in suits and sunglasses and an attractive secretary, chances are better than even that the "secretary" is also part of the protection detail, and quite likely an order of magnitude more dangerous than the two gorillas.
  • Attaches, whether military, police, press, commercial, or whatever, exist first to handle anything that their nation of origin might want to work out with their host nation; arranging extraditions, "rules of the road" between warships when they meet at sea, handling matters related to press accreditation for their press in your country and your press in their country, etc. Second, they exist to report everything they see and hear in the course of their job of keeping informed enough to do the first part.
  • As Viktor Suvorov explains, it's kind of the rule for any spy working under diplomatic cover. There are any number of genuine diplomats, but their daily routine is very different, so the police spots any spy at once. It's just that a real spy's day consists of meeting two hundred people, therefore it's very hard to track the two or three times a month that one of them slips him a roll of film - or, more likely, leaves it behind some rock where the spy just so happens to pass.

Alternative Title(s): Overt Agent, FYII Am A Spy