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kottke.org posts about Jonna Mendez

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

The Former Chief of Disguise of the CIA Explains How Spies Use Disguises

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

In this video, Jonna Mendez, the former Chief of Disguise of the CIA, explains how disgu — Wait, wait, wait…Chief of Disguise!! That is an actual job title!?! WHAT! Ok, back to the post… — explains how disguises are used in the CIA.

With women, you have a broader range of what you can do. You also have one extra step: you can turn a woman into a man. I would mention that it’s almost impossible to turn a man into a woman. What we do is always additive — we can make you taller, we can make you heavier, we can make you older — we can’t go the other direction. You want to be the person that gets on the elevator and then gets off and nobody even remembers that you were really there. That is a design goal at the disguise labs at CIA.

Interesting throughout. As a fan of the disguises on The Americans and as someone who got to wear some bitchin’ makeup for a short extra appearance on Halt and Catch Fire, I really enjoyed this video, but now I’m wondering what my “dead giveaway” mannerisms are. Friends, any thoughts?