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

February 16, 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.

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