Former CIA Chief Of Disguise Explains How Spy Agency Trains Agents To Blend In

by | Dec 11, 2018 | Headline News | 13 comments

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    This article was originally published by Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge

    Photo: Red Sparrow

    The CIA has a long and checkered history of sending highly trained agents into very foreign environments to conduct everything from espionage to assassinations.

    In order to pull off these clandestine and high-risk assignments, CIA agents must have a watertight cover story and a disguise that could fool your average Russian FSB officer as he flips through a carefully forged passport – eyeballing a highly trained agent dressed, perhaps, as a migrant worker or a retired ballerina out for a swim.

    To that end, WIRED magazine’s Angela Watercutter penned an exclusive interview with the CIA’s Former Chief of Disguise, Jonna Mendez – who spent her career training agents to blend in, disappear and even “quick change” their appearance if they need to shake a tail. Mendez’s husband, Tony Mendez, was the subject of a 2007 story in WIRED which was the basis for the movie Argo.

    Jonna Mendez

    “One of our officers, probably working out of the American embassy, would have surveillance 24 hours a day; they’d have teams of people following them,” said Mendez, adding “But they had work to do; they had to communicate with people, clandestinely. The extremes we would go to to disguise those people was the most interesting, and the most challenging, part of the job.”

    Mendez says that the secret to a good disguise is hiding a person’s tell-tale features.

    If they have straight hair, make it curly. If they’re young, give them a few streaks of gray. It also helps to change the way they walk or talk by putting a brace on their leg or an “artificial palate” in their mouth. Americans have a certain way of standing—weight on one foot or the other—and if they’re trying to pass themselves off as European, it helps if they stand squarely on both feet. Good disguises, Mendez says, are almost always “additive;” you can make someone taller, heavier, or older, but “we can’t go the other direction.” –WIRED

    And when it comes to “quick changes,” Mendez says that an agent can change their appearance as they move through busy sidewalks – adding sunglasses or a hat, or changing their shirt. If done correctly, it will look like the spy has simply vanished.

    “You want to be the person that gets on the elevator, and then gets off, and nobody really remembers that you were even there,” she said. “That is a design goal at the disguise labs at CIA.”

    Watch more below, and check out Mendez’s Reddit AMA here:


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      1. When traveling incognito never blow your cover like this guy.

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      2. Snakes in the grass what they are.

        • you never ben to snake bit?

      3. I prefer the large fern method of disguise. I was thinking of branching out.

      4. I didn’t notice the very pretty girl in the sexy swimsuit at all. Nope, not one bit. She completely escaped the scrutiny of my discerning eyes. What a great disguise! Totally incognito! I looked again and again and again. All I saw was an old bag lady with a shopping cart. It must have been that slinky black swimsuit with the straps placed tantalizingly ‘just so’ that fooled me and diverted my attention. Did I mention that there was a girl in a swimsuit in the picture at the top of the page?

        • Oh yeah, and another thing … the way that the swimsuit barely covered her girl parts, she blended in perfectly with the crowd of peasant women with babushkas. I really had to use my imagination. What they were all doing at a swimming pool, I’ll never know.

          • Aww, come on guys! Didn’t anyone else see the girl in the swimsuit? Like, ‘Where’s Waldo’ for gosh sakes.

            • You know, sometimes when you come on this website, there is a picture at the top of the page of someone who looks a lot like Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. It’s the SAME GIRL I tell you! She’s a master of disguise.

      5. Mr Nat here’s the link to the trailer
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      6. Thanks. Some of the comments there were pretty good.

      7. Someone, letting all their ugly parts hang out and doing a belly flop, would probably get far less attention than a furtive person with wooden social skills.

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