Making Spies Disappear
October 25, 2018 3:33 PM   Subscribe

For years, Jonna Mendez was undercover as a part of the CIA's Office of Technical Service. She later became the Chief of Disguise for the CIA. Here's a YouTube video of her talking about how spies use disguise.

Relatedly, you may have seen a movie about something her husband did.
posted by rmd1023 (43 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spies also sometimes use magic
posted by rmd1023 at 3:34 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I got rather uncomfortable reading the CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, on account of most of it was compiled for MKUltra, and thus largely focuses on surreptitiously dosing people with drugs.
posted by ckape at 3:54 PM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Noooo
posted by clavdivs at 4:09 PM on October 25, 2018




"A Covert Affair: When CIA Agents Fall In Love."
posted by clavdivs at 4:14 PM on October 25, 2018


Miss Direction
posted by fairmettle at 4:48 PM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


But if that guy who changed his look walking down the street, in most of Europe, he'd be caught on video?

I certainly couldn't pass as a non-American, but could be like a undercover cop, lolno, or a PI pretty easily. No one thinks I'm worth noticing.
posted by Windopaene at 5:01 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I liked that bit where she covered how our kinesics gives Americans away. I'd never noticed that we have a tendency to stand hipshot and Europeans don't.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:03 PM on October 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


los pantalones del muerte: Me either. That's what made me decide to post the video.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Why have I never noticed Americans switching forks to a new hand before? That’s the weirdest thing I’ve heard this week. And I often eat with Americans. Am I really that unobservant? I guess so.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:12 PM on October 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


I had no idea about the fork and knife thing, I'm American but always use the fork in the left and keep it there. I'm right handed so it just makes sense to use my most dextrous hand for the knife, the fork isn't doing complex movements. I'll use a fork in the right if it's the only utensil I'm using at the moment but switching out with a knife while eating seems weird to me.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:22 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Why have I never noticed Americans switching forks to a new hand before?

I know it's supposed to be really common, but I stopped doing it as a teenager when someone pointed out the difference because it was one of those "of course!" moments where I noticed something I'd taken for granted as normal was really freakin' inefficient. Since then, I've noticed that most, if not all my friends also used the European method, so I'm not so sure about its universality any longer. What I don't do though is eat with the fork flipped over and curving away from me. That's always struck me as the really European thing.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


But if that guy who changed his look walking down the street, in most of Europe, he'd be caught on video?

That would help to figure out how he got away from the people tailing him, well after the fact, but he'd still have gotten away from the people tailing him.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:27 PM on October 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


That video was fascinating and way too short! I'm left curious and wanting lots more details.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:46 PM on October 25, 2018


OMG. As a young lad of ... IDK, 8-12 years old, I wrote to the Secret Service of the US.

Alas, I didn't know they weren't the CIA.

I asked for "A spy kit" (or I feel like "Disguise Kit" was the term I used).

I received a large plain manila envelope from "The United States Secret Service". This was it. This was my "A Christmas Story" moment (a movie I had not seen until 2009).

I opened the package. And inside, I saw...

A red-brown booklet, thick beautiful pages, that went rambling on about how "they protect the president".

FUCK THAT SHIT! I wanted SPY stuff. I wanted to HID. I wanted a fake mustache, nose and glasses! I wanted a hat and a jacket.

Perhaps. Perhaps... HERE were the seeds of my discontent with "The Man". They scorned me, and I never looked back.

30 years later? (IDK, man it's all decades at this point fuck). Here, I see, the inquiry resolved. Thank you Metafilter, and even though I didn't ask in Ask... You still pulled through, you and the universe to answer my query in the early eighties.
posted by symbioid at 5:52 PM on October 25, 2018 [18 favorites]


It's amazing to watch how an organization with so much blood on its hands spin itself into a cool and quirky place with cool and quirky people.

Like yeah, this is an interesting story, but god, this is a masterclass in whitewashing.
posted by Ouverture at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2018 [21 favorites]


Why have I never noticed Americans switching forks to a new hand before?

I mostly trained myself out of it as a kid, once I learned that Americans were eating inefficiently. But honestly, as a vegetarian, I can’t remember the last time I used a knife to eat. Like, meat, sure. But most everything I’ve eaten since going veggie almost two decades ago is hand, fork, or spoon only. If you haven’t noticed Americans switching silverware hands when eating, it might be because modern American fare is a lot of sandwiches and salads.
posted by greermahoney at 6:01 PM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why have I never noticed Americans switching forks to a new hand before?


I was raised in a strict fork-switching home, and it wasn’t until I was in a French class in 10th grade that I learned that Europeans tended to keep it in their left hand. That was, I think, the first of many insights into how flawed the concept of “American Exceptionalism” truly is.

Since then, I’ve been a keep-the-inverted-fork-in-the-left-hand kind of guy, and only transition the fork if it’s really required to get better purchase on something shifty, like peas.

I know I could usually spot US American students from a few blocks away after I’d lived overseas a while. Long-sleeve, plaid button shirts, khaki trousers, and white tennis shoes (or brown leather cap-toes) seemed to be the go-to uniform of a whole caste of US males in their late teens and early 20s. Especially the Baptist missionaries that came over in groups during the summers.

By the time I’d lived abroad for a few years, pretty much all of my wardrobe had been transitioned to French and British clothing. I’ve often been told by French people that they thought I was British because, in their opinion, I was relatively thin, reserved, and dressed in a respectably middle-class European fashion.

Meanwhile, “hipshot” is new to me. Isn’t it just another term for contrapposto? Surely it’s not predominately a US American thing...is it? I’ll have to give that more thought.
posted by darkstar at 6:04 PM on October 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


The "don't dress and act like an American when you go to Paris because you'll be targeted by thieves" assertion was a bizarre segue into the subject of telling behaviors.

That said, fork-switching is a lot more common in the US compared to many other parts of the world (especially European countries). But contrapposto is definitely not a peculiarly American thing.
posted by theory at 6:40 PM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


The thing about changing your walk is interesting. Often in a crowd, if I'm searching for my parents, I can see them before I can really see their faces because I can pick out the motion of them walking. My Dad's walk has gotten more shuffling in the last few years as he's aged out being able to really walk properly and that distinctiveness is starting to fade as he relies more on his cane.

In my mother's case, I can also hear her coming as long as it isn't too loud. She has a very distinctive click in her knee that I am somehow highly tuned into. Not sure how you'd disguise that.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:56 PM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


"What I don't do though is eat with the fork flipped over and curving away from me. That's always struck me as the really European thing."

But... but.... then you can't use it as a guide rail to cut along with your knife. And you have to lift your hand higher or risk poking the roof of your mouth.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]



It's amazing to watch how an organization with so much blood on its hands spin itself into a cool and quirky place with cool and quirky people.


Why are those exclusive things?
posted by Dr. Twist at 7:15 PM on October 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


Often in a crowd, if I'm searching for my parents, I can see them before I can really see their faces because I can pick out the motion of them walking.

I'm mildly face-blind and find it much easier to recognize people by their gaits than by their faces.
posted by Lexica at 7:23 PM on October 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


This DEF CON talk has some interesting stuff various spook goings on with regard to following people around.
posted by onya at 8:25 PM on October 25, 2018


Irish passports, tennis rackets, shopping bags and a straw hat.

There was a point where Irish language colleges in Dublin were absolutely crawling with Mossad. They learned Irish to communicate covertly assuming, correctly, that they could speak openly n it and 99.99999% of the world's population wouldn't know what the fuck they were on about. If you ask a teacher of a certain age about it they will still regale you with how fast they learned the language and how hard they worked, not like lazy fecking Irish kids
posted by fshgrl at 8:38 PM on October 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


it always leaves me curious about the extent of knowledge flow between the intelligence folks and ppl working in acting and SFX.
posted by cendawanita at 8:51 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


But... but.... then you can't use it as a guide rail to cut along with your knife. And you have to lift your hand higher or risk poking the roof of your mouth.

I think you misunderstand me, which is no surprise as I didn't paint a very clear picture.  I flip the fork back up when eating out of habit rather than leaving it upside down after cutting, that's all.  As to a risk of stabbing yourself, uh, that's never happened in over thirty years, so I'm not sure what you mean—I mean the tines are only a millimeter or two higher than before, so it's not like the mechanics really change, it's just a habit.  And my hand's the same height whether I point the fork points up or down, so I'm not sure of that.  The fork's flipped in this scenario, not my hand.

Regardless, you're right in that if you try to point the fork up while cutting, it'd be awfully awkward, not to mention how difficult it'd be to spear your target into place.  But maybe my quirk of fork use might be useful still to find the American spy at a dinner table who might not switch hands to cut.  I will certainly need to remember that if my life ever depends on blending in at a black tie affair.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 10:08 PM on October 25, 2018


just want to add, the thing about the fork handling that i've noticed is that, it's slightly less awkward when you consider it's a practice in addition to cutting your meal several pieces in advance. i definitely noticed this as a generally more custom: you guys cut your protein in several bite-sized pieces, then flip the fork and eat. european-style custom is more cut as you go, so it makes sense to keep the fork at all times. i've got a friend who's also muslim, but her mother combined both traditions raising her children since it's taboo to eat with your left.
posted by cendawanita at 10:17 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


so would a european eat a salad (no knife needed) with the fork in left or right hand?
posted by scose at 11:11 PM on October 25, 2018


i only eat a glasgow salad, with my hands. like god intended.
posted by cendawanita at 1:11 AM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


At least in France, salads aren't pre-cut-up i.e. murdered and drained like in the States; we eat full lettuce leaves as [deity] intended, with all their juices fresh and at the ready. On semi-formal and formal occasions, a knife is indeed used in concert with one's fork. At family meals, one's hands may be used to roll up the yummy puffy crunchy lettuce leaves drizzled with freshly-made vinaigrette to scronch them delectably whole.

Likewise one eats frog legs with one's hands, but one carefully removes snails from their shells with a special snail fork.

The "don't dress and act like an American when you go to Paris because you'll be targeted by thieves" assertion was a bizarre segue into the subject of telling behaviors.

It's not bizarre, it's reality. I live in Paris, am American by birth and 20 years in Oregon, but after 20 years in France, I pass for a Frenchwoman even with my decidedly not-French hairstyle and not-French height (5'11"/1m80). I am never approached by street vendors, not even the ones who sell water bottles. The only people I ever see approached by the risky types known to run petty theft rings are Americans and Germans. It's not just their appearance, it's also their speech and manner – they walk around practically advertising to the world that they're Americans and Germans. I have never had anything taken off me, not even the few times I accidentally left my backpack open, on my back, in rush hour. People even gently warned me it was open.

Re: the contrapposto thing, it's a question of degree really. In Europe it's less pronounced, people make an effort not to take up too much space and it bleeds over even into comfortable contexts. If you have the chance to cross Americans who aren't making an effort, you'll see that the contrapposto is exaggerated in comparison. Another thing I often see from Americans is that, in the States, impassioned speaking translates to a wide vocal range, whereas in Europe, impassioned speaking is still measured; the "passion" is put across more in the silences between sentences. As a result, impassioned Americans sound unhinged to Europeans (no really, they do). An impassioned response from a European then sounds to the American like the European doesn't even give a shit. The American insists, and there is where you get French people blowing a gasket and telling Americans to piss off: thus the French have the reputation of being rude. Overtly telling someone to piss off is seen as admirably frank here, when told to someone who has behaved in an unhinged manner.

I don't expect Americans will take that kindly by the way, but as another French everyday saying goes: the point of life is not to be taken kindly, but to live well. Anyhow, if we all saw things the exact same way, it would be a boring world.
posted by fraula at 2:24 AM on October 26, 2018 [14 favorites]


Where I live Americans are known as "camones" because they are always saying "Come on!".

It turns out to be true, too.
posted by chavenet at 2:32 AM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


My Scandinavian brother-in-law tells me it's the white socks that are ALWAYS the give-away on Americans...
posted by kuanes at 5:43 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have never had anything taken off me, not even the few times I accidentally left my backpack open, on my back, in rush hour.

There's a type of puffy jacket that makes the bulk of winter clothing shops here in my part of Asia. I've taken to advise people to at least go to the British department stores here (eg M&S) before their winter trips so they at least don't look too obviously Asian tourist. Back in the UK I can actually tell where new students are from before they settled into the local stuff just from their general style.
posted by cendawanita at 5:51 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Check out the dude on the right side of the crowd shot at 0:14-0:16. What's his story?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:53 AM on October 26, 2018


My Scandinavian brother-in-law tells me it's the white socks that are ALWAYS the give-away on Americans...

What color socks is one supposed to wear with athletic shoes?

I know, it's the athletic shoes that give us away as well...
posted by elsietheeel at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2018


This is interesting, and as a person from the US who has lived in Europe for more than a decade, the American "look" is something I'm really aware of.


The "don't dress and act like an American when you go to Paris because you'll be targeted by thieves" assertion was a bizarre segue into the subject of telling behaviors.

Yeah, I don't like this framing at all, that being an American is dangerous and people are always out to get you, and there are GANGS of THIEVES hanging around all over Paris just waiting to take advantage of you. I mean, yes, pickpockets exist, and yes, they congregate around tourist attractions, but this fearful attitude of "thieves are waiting RIGHT NOW for me to let my guard down so they can STEAL my WALLET because I'm AMERICAN" is something I see all the time in Asks about visiting Europe and from nearly every single acquaintance who has passed through Madrid and who I've taken round the town.

No one is out to get you because you are American, and if you are targeted, it's because you are not aware of your surroundings, you have not bothered to observe the way locals act (e.g., everyone carries their bag in front of them), and you are, in general, hopped up on hubris.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 7:34 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Check out the dude on the right side of the crowd shot at 0:14-0:16. What's his story?

That appears to be Jason Statham, who's annoyed a paparazzi is filming him.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah it's the framing about dangers laying in wait specifically for American travellers that seemed kind of fear-mongering to me. I've lived, worked and travelled overseas and have seen that pickpockets target tourists in general and people of all origins who are perceived as outsiders, mainly when they don't take basic precautions.

I have to say Americans do tend to mark themselves by their general lack of situational awareness though. And baggy clothes. And I totally agree about the vocal range thing.
posted by theory at 12:36 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


the extent of knowledge flow between the intelligence folks and ppl working in acting and SFX

As I recall, that gets a mention or two in her husband's book - they explicitly consulted with some Hollywood SFX prosthetics/makeup people as prep for that meeting with George H. W. Bush.
posted by tautological at 12:57 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


There is a type of American tourist who is really a lovely person back home where everyone is “normal” and they know how to fit in, but who tours the world as if visiting a museum with a school group. “Look at the cute little pastries.” they will exclaim, or “I really love these European’s clothing” as they walk past a person. And it is this idea that the world is being displayed for their benefit, not being lived in by locals, that sets them often visibly apart.
There are, of course, many, many thoughtful and considered Americans, as this thread shows, who view the places they visit as a chance to enjoy being a part of a different place, not just a spectacle.
But those people are not visibly obnoxious, so get drowned out in the popular view of loud Americans.
As an Aussie, I can feel the same cringe whenever I see my compatriots in south east Asia.
posted by bystander at 8:34 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, “hipshot” is new to me. Isn’t it just another term for contrapposto?

There's a giant naked American in Florence. Watch out, he has a slingshot.
posted by condour75 at 5:50 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Irish language colleges in Dublin were absolutely crawling with Mossad

This transitions into what I think is a joke, but my first thought is that with the historic links between Irish Republicans and Palestine, this is or was probably true to an extent.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:47 PM on October 28, 2018


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