A Former CIA Chief Explains How Spies Actually Use Disguises

Tom Cruise may actually have ruined disguises for spies. In a video produced by WIRED, Jonna Mendez, former Chief of Disguise for the CIA and currently serving on the advisory board for the International Spy Museum, sits down to discuss what it was like to provide spies with disguises. For Mendez, it was all about protecting your assets’ lives. Mendez’s greatest concern was the accidental revealing of who a person was—the chance encounter of a neighbor stepping into a restaurant where the spy was meeting with someone and blowing their cover. Mendez used “like disguises”—simple things like a wig, facial hair, or maybe some glasses—as well as advanced disguises that completely hid who you were.

The work that Mendez went through to create disguises went to great measures to hide her subjects. Everything from dental appliances to training on how you walk, how you hold your knife and fork, or even your cigarette. It’s also a matter of identifying what makes you you, and brushing them away. Mendez also trained on “quick changes”—which has the goal of making people think that you hadn’t escaped, but they had lost you.

Spy disguises aren’t a matter of tearing away a latex mask. Instead, it was much more art and science, and Jonna Mendez was a master.

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