Jonna Mendez, former CIA Chief of Disguise, takes a look at spy scenes from a variety of television shows and movies and breaks down how accurate they really are.
To learn more, check out Jonna and Tony Mendez’s new book “The Moscow Rules” out now:
The International Spy Museum located in Washington, D.C. is a 501c3 nonprofit with a mission to educate the public about the history and impact of espionage and intelligence. The Museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. www.spymuseum.org
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Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV | WIRED
that's sick hi my name is Johnny Mendez you may recognize her from our previous wired video I was chief of disguise at the CIA today I'm breaking down clips from movies and TV about spies and disguise roll clip this is a box of passports in the Bourne Identity this is not the reality there is no box of passports there are no huge bundles of money no guns this sort of denigrates that the expertise required to do alternate identity documents it's painstaking it's meticulous you check another name for me we don't do them just in case john-michael can they're too precious yeah you do them one by one as they're needed they're not waiting for you around the world I don't know about that picture I don't know who I am dine here homeland traveling along this motor say I'm sorry yes carries disguise which basically consisted of dyeing her hair just get it over with okay I thought was absolutely ineffective still carry with dark hair you think I know that she could have cut her hair and restyled it that's not necessary she could have changed her makeup I had a long day she could have put on some glasses to hide that kind of crazy eyed look that she has that you know tell me jumps out at you when you see her character and what do you mean yeah I didn't think that was effective at all why are you doing this to me in a similar scene in alias she dyes her hair in a bathroom before she goes through security you ever tried this him it's too late for me what do you think what she did was absolutely spot-on thank you and she didn't just dye her hair she dyed it outrageously red and then adopted the whole thing that went with it including chewing gum while she's walking through the airport and then she has that that back-and-forth with with the airline agent I though that was a brilliant thanks this is a great example of distracting someone lipstick use I love a sweet talking to them getting them engaged and getting them away from the things you don't want them looking at window we could have used that as a training film I know long-term alias the Americans have you been in my family his disguises were convincing tell me what you saw he was comfortable in them his wigs were excellent he was never trying to look good he was trying to fit these characters that he had built when it came really close to projecting the little gray man that we always would talk about at CIA that was sometimes often that was the goal you wanted to be forgettable we have to safeguard the air security officers getting into disguise is a lot like method acting the look is part of it but if you're gonna wear it for more than a minute you need to inhabit it have you been Martha that's what he does big day at FBI counterintelligence he becomes the guy in the disguise that the bureaucrat the nerd did you get a look inside this time the actor in him combined with the disguise I thought he was brilliant thank you the next clip is quick changed mission impossible three I've talked about quick-change previously for Wired quick-change is the ability to clandestinely change your appearance you have 37 seconds to come out with those changes it was not unusual for us to layer disguises so you'd have the the true person and then he would wear disguise number one and then on top of that would be disguised number two we would never let that piece of a disguise fly away that's evidence there are three covers that are basically off-limits to CIA and that would be a religious figure Media figure and Peace Corps not that we don't like the Peace Corps we love the Peace Corps but it has to stay kind of pure you got to do what's right it cannot be suspected of harboring CIA officers can you imagine priests are so vulnerable they're just out there if they're accused of being a spy they don't have any structure to protect them they're too vulnerable we also don't use the media as a cover same reason it's good for another example of quick change take a look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles now that I got you I think the change into the schoolgirl outfit was actually very well done hearing that demonstrates a great precept that we always operated under and that is that basically the bigger the crowd the more forgiving they are if you want to change your clothes in public you can do lots of things you would never dream of doing no one pays any attention that's the whole point we use that a lot in our training exercises back here right it was always a way to lose surveillance you have surveillance and you have to get away from them to do whatever you need to do practicing surveillance isn't following her face they never are they're following her profile profile was a blonde wearing dark rimmed glasses in a pencil skirt and she just removed all of those pieces it was well done and so to look at another shopping quick-change let's look at baby driver [Applause] [Applause] as you can see this time the alarms go off the intent was good the execution was okay but again you have to ask yourself would we really recommend that because the odds of him getting caught and arrested for shoplifting are just too great if you have everything with you at the beginning and you start revealing it you start removing things and you have a bag where you can store some things and maybe even a bag to put that bag in that works but we don't recommend stealing blending in with the crowd Casino Royale is on the move is on the move and he's heading straight for me stop touching me here [Applause] in this opening scene the man in the crowd was called out from having his hand up he's holding on to his earpiece and he was so caught up in that motion that he forgot and it was a it was a giveaway it started the whole scene we found the way around that by inventing something that didn't exist it was a harness that we was body mourning a receiver that would be in our ear that we never had to touch and an induction loop that went around our neck right so we could receive and it would transmit to the earpiece it was a no hands kind of system perfectly officer choosing disguise Pink Panther I think he would like this one very much I'm particularly part of the enlarged pores right here about looking good oh this scene it was all about looking good are you having those four noses so the officer didn't get to choose which nose he was going to wear we would have made him a custom nose he didn't get to choose the teeth we would have made the team yeah some teeth on the house goatee if it was there do you think you do you think you do a lot of that would have been custom made some of it could be off-the-shelf what we were interested in is giving him a total look that he didn't have to like but he had to wear it we had to feel that he would wear it look what you have done nobody left our labs looking better your genius then after our labs looking different yeah boy the next clip is a worker uniform 24 makes sense to me this entire country will know what we look like in the next few hours people do that with military uniforms there a lot of uniforms that are just universally recognized there are hundreds of video cameras in there oh those are repairmen they're fine anyone asks we're working on the air conditioner get into one of those groups and you disappear and your identity becomes the identity of the group and that's a good thing Ivan agreed it we don't have stores of maintenance uniforms or military uniforms we've got nothing we can arrange anything all right let's get the sofa cover story Argo Ben Affleck is playing my husband Tony Mendez in the movie Argo my name is Tony Mendez the story of an exfiltration one of many ex filtrations that my husband undertook over the years more than 30 years ago we undertook a secret mission to save six Americans trapped in Iran this was a very successful exfiltration I'm gonna get y'all in this particular clip the sixth house guests as we call them we're using the the cover of a Hollywood location scouting team production is a that was a subject they thought they could easily talk about they could talk about Hollywood movie people do and be believable this would be first so as a cover story it was carefully selected don't have any alternatives they came up with a Hollywood location scouting party they're a Canadian film crew on a location scout for a science fiction movie rather than disguise them we more restyled them these cover identities were created specifically for each one of when they were choosing the cover for these six houseguests posing Howard what's his occupation officially it was unique because it was a group of people not just one person they had to find a cover that all six of them could believably speak about leave that you're these people so much that your dream like them looking at Argo gives us an opportunity to look at a real cover story and see how it was executed and see how it was carried off and to see that it performed its function masks Mission Impossible this is pure CGI of course this is what we called an overhead mask we could change your gender we could change your ethnicity we could turn you into almost anything course so we couldn't guarantee that that mask would animate very sorry to hear you say that we were stuck with the measurements that we were presented with what's that masks are always additive you can't put a small nose over a larger nose you have to make sure that your donor and your recipient are well matched probably right we had some aluminum molds that came out of Hollywood they came in large medium and small the size large was an old Hollywood actor named Rex Harrison so he was taking part in a lot of interesting operations without his knowledge I think Jesus let's move on to the second Mission Impossible was mission impossible it's really good you could make a mask with someone underneath it with their with their mouth taped closed but I can't think for the life of me of a purpose for doing that you don't know what you're missing you can still breathe through the nose but it's always a relief to know that you can also breathe through the mouth and so by taping the mouth you you really start restricting their other air intake Freddie's gonna oh joy how did they make these masks let's look at Mission Impossible 3 what if I said we had it so you know when you go to the dentist and you have a dental impression taken that's what we did to your whole face being very careful to keep your your nose open so that you could breathe while this was happening stop talking the mask that we just saw is a mixture of Lights CGI again and there they're flipping back and forth from the real actor to the actor wearing the mask and it's it's invisible to tell where the real actor comes back in and is is animated it's a trick wonderfully done thanks so we'll go to spy hidden identities you'll be given a new identity your name is penny Morgan you're a divorced housewife from Iowa you've sold more Mary Kay products than anyone else in your state it's a pretty funny take on being issued a new a new identity certainly not the identity that she wanted what do I have ten cats is that even illegal she didn't get to choose and the vice president of the Ames Garden Club I couldn't even be president the bits and pieces the the identity cards the things they were issuing to her is what we would call pocket litter no there's the Tim chance those would be the things that any of us would carry around and in our bill folder in our purse that's a new there's a similarity here with the Pink Panther Clinton she didn't like the identity that was being proposed but then she didn't really get to choose was Pepe LePew not available cultural customs inglourious basterds shampoos greg lays it that ominous look tells you that something bad has just happened I'm say let's go ahead British soldier counted wrong on his hands glaze it in Europe when you're counting you start with your thumb one two three doing it this way show to him that he was not even European certainly wasn't German it was a dead giveaway we know from travelling around the world that every country has its own customs and zero foolishness and it's incumbent on us to learn those customs to know those customs and to not violate any of their their procedures this is the infra hot know-how just don't feel sometimes when you've been found out there is no escaping once you've committed one of those errors you you have outed yourself so to speak and you kind of have to go with the consequences whatever those consequences are well if this is it oh boy I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the Kings gadget room Kingsman I've had a lot of fun with this one of our finest examples of chemical engineering poison the poison in the pen there's a real history to that Shaw thought we put a lot of things in pens they were not equipped and they were not used as weapons in some instances they would conceal a camera but we had a couple of scenarios with agents they said I will work for you but I would like poison actually insist on having an L pill which is a lethal helped me feel because I don't want to give them the opportunity to do what they would like to do to me electrocute the two cases that I know of we put L pills into fountain pens remotely activate and in one case our agent was captured and he was gonna be interrogated and he said before I do that give me my pen I will write my confession and they handed him his pen and he bit down on it on the tip they said he was dead before he hit the floor you know so there's a there's a history to the poison in pens nobody would've these thing couple of the other things in there are less historically correct but wildly entertaining that's he's sick the scientists disguise the saint I'm here to do an interview with that dr. Russell I'm an exposure as a fraud he's wearing a disguise that would send most people away from him and his demeanor is so very pretty imposing and so really frightening in a way she's working a lot out of me that draws attention and you never want to draw attention so I would rate that disguise as a failure glasses as a disguise Superman Lois Lane say hello to Clark Kent poor George Thunder hey anyone who's ever watched Superman wonders Lois can't you see Clark is the newspaper reporter and Superman is the superhero dude me physically they're exactly the same kind of natural Superman's glasses our first impression ridiculous Oh doesn't make sense poor Lois yeah poor Clark breaking in be kind rewind [Applause] is that ladder again what do you think I don't know it was funny the first time I saw it but to a professional I it looks sloppy it looks poorly planned when you plan to an operation you always had Plan B what if it goes wrong go get some ice cream in my office we had people that specialized in going into places that they should not be in I can't be here we're doing and doing things there that they should not do perhaps we think Italy me almost ever speak to you our operations were typically just meticulously planned we never planned to be hiding behind the chain-link fence nevertheless I know some of our people that not that they were caught but that they got stuck where they had to stay in place maybe for a day or two where they could leave some funny stories talking about alias names Austin Powers allow myself to introduce myself my name is Richie Cunningham and this is my wife Oprah awesome powers makes you laugh yeah baby alias names at CIA are closely controlled they are managed they are assigned to you my name is number two you end up with a name for your entire working career come again your true name is never on paper overseas Ruby baby Oprah would probably not be one of those names is my wife Oprah any name that really drew attention would not be one of those names Cunningham was it that she could happen could be but we always had a middle initial danger is my middle name you always had three names I mean you could abbreviate the middle initial but you always had three names Austin danger power my name for a life my first name was faith very shagadelic and so whenever I see anything that has to do with faith like keep the faith baby I'm like okay Oh behave furniture camouflage Sherlock Holmes who delivered this parcel the usual chat New York Curia we never tried to disguise ourselves in the furniture at the CIA but there is a story about James Comey at the White House he was trying to blend into the curtains behind him his suit and the curtains were the same blue wearing a blue suit was trying to blend in with the blue curtain he was trying to hide that way unsuccessfully another furniture camouflage in this next movie called spy hard we used furniture concealments for a number of things technology comes mostly to mind if you had spy gear in your house and you're in a foreign country and it's a controlled society you don't want your receivers and transmitters sitting around so we would build them into selected pieces of furniture trying to remember if we ever had something like that for a person James even when we had some things that we built to exfiltrate people out of the country exfiltration containers could be in various configurations at the International Spy Museum we have an exhibit from checkpoint charlie where a lot of people exfiltrated themselves out of the East a lot of them were in car concealments they would be special spaces built into cars for the purpose of exfiltrating that person across the border undercover accents 22 Jump Street everyone stay in the body or sleepy he'd like to Mexico Wolverine is here and my partner here you want to see that product when he talking yeah first of all you would speak the language you wouldn't try and use an accent no talking about we actually pay some people to study the languages to become fluent in the languages and swipe swipe but it's a made-up thing they seem totally unprepared and you sense that maybe they're gonna get arrested or worse disguising voice the dark night I wanted yogurt you wanted me your Batman has a very specific disguise beyond his voice the voice wasn't really even necessary we're in hockey man we tried to change voices we wouldn't use voice modulation technology but we would try to physically change the palette the palette of your mouth thank to our dismay it did not change your voice it would just make you list forever you could consciously try and change your voice that's like consciously limping after a while you just forget and your regular voice comes back we had no success with that this symbol of open I can never be cover story Fletch names Liddy gordon Liddy Lord take a look at the seventh Fetzer valve oh yeah I think it's been sticking probably humidity maybe I should take a look at it Gordo back here well Fletch has made the mistake of not studying his cover story but well enough before he before he took it on the road right yeah we would always pick a cover story that our people could talk about intelligent lean it's so simple maybe you need a refresher course we would never pick a professional area where they were clueless and where they would come off like Fletch did Gordon yeah I know where it is I'm just getting a bird's-eye view here spy seduction alias stories about seduction in the Espionage business our Allegiance this house in your house some of them are based on truth was a famous seductress that worked for American intelligence during the Cold War who did some amazing things went into a couple of embassies and took some ciphers out of some safe most of the stories though have to do with the Russians and the Germans swear to God the Russians even had a name for it they called him swallows although a friend of mine Jason Matthews wrote a book recently called red Sparrow and he called them sparrows who become the Germans had men who were trained the same way and they called them Romeo's so the use of sex to collect intelligence is not unheard of and it's probably going on today speaking of red Sparrow here's a clip from a seduction scene why would the CIA officer fired his gun according to his story which he says is based on truth they had a school where they trained young women in seduction the only deal in psychological manipulation to quite a degree take off your clothes you can imagine that this was a school that produced graduates you must learn to love on come on and Jennifer Lawrence is supposed to represent one of those successful graduates goodbye Dominika I think it presented to a lot of American audiences the idea that that was you know that's a piece of the intelligence machine in Moscow nobody belongs to the state it takes it to another level now you might want to ask me if the CIA has a school I suppose we'll find out and I would tell you we don't we mustn't be so judgmental this is a typically a Russian technique the state asks something in return clown disguise James Bond's hey is anyone else in there if I human carnival I can't actually say whether a CIA officer has ever changed into a clown suit there was a lot to be said for fitting into your environment into your surroundings correct we're in a clown so you look like one of them instead of an outlier I'm a surgeon so in that regard it makes a point so god fake telling Who I am during the Second World War there was an agent named Virginia Hall who disguised herself as a shepherdess with a flock of sheep to conceal her prosthetic leg and she was lethal general this man's either drunk or crazy this kind of cat suit is a popular trope let's take a look at the Avengers 1998 they use climbing gear but not really black cat suits you must be true I think the reason is because women look so good in them or at least Hollywood women did them most of our men and probably a majority of our women would not have been caught dead in a black cat suit dark athletic clothes are fine technically but not a black cat suit I feel acting drunk with Veronica Mars how long must a girl play drunk and wailing before someone tries to get her to take off her clothes I would not act drunk undercover and I don't think most officers would because it would defeat your purpose I know officers who have gotten drunk undercover but they didn't go in meaning to do that because a lot of the work used to be at those black-tie Affairs where there was a lot of Scotch a lot of liquor running around I think I'd sooner drink mark McGrath's bathwater than drink anything here and we're told at the CIA that there are things that you can drink and eat before you go that will coat your stomach and they'll help they think I'm drunk or worse if you need to appear like you're drinking do that without actually having a you can just tell the bartender I want 7up check out your ways to go about it where you don't get drunk conclusion the writers and directors do everything they can to get it really right half the fun for me is watching closely to see what they get wrong and that's a wrap