‘Austin Powers’ to ‘Argo’: Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down Spy Scenes

February 15, 2022Lauren Coontz

How do Hollywood depictions of spycraft compare to reality? The CIA’s former chief of disguise breaks down some popular movies and shows. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Jonna Mendez spent more than 25 years with the CIA through some of the most intense years of the Cold War. Since she retired in 1993, Mendez and her husband, Tony Mendez (portrayed by Ben Affleck in Argo), have written several books about their service. 

During her career, Jonna Mendez climbed the ranks of the CIA to become the agency’s chief of disguise, overseeing the process of creating cover identities, training agents to live in their cover stories, and managing the laboratories that produce high-quality masks and prosthetics that Hollywood can only envy. Mendez herself once fooled President George H.W. Bush by wearing a CIA-designed mask outfitted with prosthetics. 

In a video interview with Wired magazine, the retired intelligence officer and author of ​​The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War breaks down scenes from popular movies and TV shows. From the absurdity of Jason Bourne’s “box of passports” to the Pink Panther’s prosthetic noses and Austin Powers’ bizarre cover names, Mendez shows just how expertly — or sloppily — Hollywood portrays spies in their element.

Ultimately, Mendez covers 31 films — comedies, dramas, and thrillers — showcasing her depth of knowledge and years of experience. She humbly flexes as she describes how, in Argo, Ben Affleck portrays her husband — also a retired CIA agent — and how her friend Jason Matthews wrote Red Sparrow, a novel based partially on the Swallows, the real-life Soviet spy seductresses.

Read Next: Operation Rubicon: How the CIA Listened in on Adversaries and Allies for Decades

Lauren Coontz
Lauren Coontz

Lauren Coontz is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. Beaches are preferred, but Lauren calls the Rocky Mountains of Utah home. You can usually find her in an art museum, at an archaeology site, or checking out local nightlife like drag shows and cocktail bars (gin is key). A student of history, Lauren is an Army veteran who worked all over the world and loves to travel to see the old stuff the history books only give a sentence to. She likes medium roast coffee and sometimes, like a sinner, adds sweet cream to it.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved