Jonna Mendez is a former chief of disguise in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service, and co-author of The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War.
What We Discuss with Jonna Mendez:
- What was it like to work as a heavily surveilled CIA operative in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War?
- Why did the United States have to rebuild its embassy in Moscow from the ground up in the early ’90s?
- How aspiring artists like Jonna and her late husband Antonio (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) got involved in working for the CIA.
- How the CIA recruits brilliant scientific minds to develop cutting-edge solutions when it can only offer a fraction of compensation offered by the private sector.
- The evolution of how disguise has come to be used in the intelligence community since the ’70s, and the role Jonna has taken in its progress.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
On this episode, we’re joined by Jonna Mendez, a former chief of disguise at the CIA’s Office of Technical Service — or, for those of us who have seen James Bond, she was basically Q, but for the CIA during the Cold War.
If you’re fascinated by this period of time, the spy vs. spy espionage that went on between the US and USSR, the cutting-edge technology that came out of it, and how the use of disguises evolved, you’ll want to catch this episode with Jonna and read the book she wrote with her late husband Tony (played by Ben Affleck in the film Argo), The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War.
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
The Art of Manliness Podcast is a podcast that aims to help men become better men; host Brett McKay explores how to live a life of both contemplation and action while having some fun along the way. Do yourself a favor and check out The Art of Manliness Podcast here!
THANKS, JONNA MENDEZ!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War by Antonio J. Mendez and Jonna Mendez
- Jonna Mendez’s Website
- The Cold War, JFK Library
- The Capture and Execution of Colonel Penkovsky, 1963, CIA
- Charles Ryu | Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist, TJHS 84
- Protesters in Belarus Sentenced to Arrests, Fines, AP
- Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova | How to Read and Riot, TJHS 118
- Bill Browder | Hunted by Putin, TJHS 3
- How Stalin Became Stalinist, The New Yorker
- Lessons of the Soviet Jewish Exodus, Jewish Review of Books
- Richard Helms As Director of Central Intelligence by Robert M. Hathaway and Russell Jack Smith, CIA
- Oleg D. Kalugin, International Spy Museum
- Jack Barsky | Deep Undercover with a KGB Spy in America, TJHS 285
- History of the Communist Party USA, Wikipedia
- The Old Building of the US Embassy in Moscow, Wikipedia
- Bug-Free US Embassy Building in Moscow Opens for Business, The Baltimore Sun
- Embassy of the Russian Federation in the USA
- The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons, Foreign Policy
- No Ordinary Counterfeit, The New York Times
- How CIA Spies Move Freely Through Europe on Fake Passports, The Telegraph
- Crossing Borders — How Terrorists Use Fake Passports, Visas, and Other Identity Documents, Frontline
- Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology, Wikipedia
- George Bush Center for Intelligence, Langley, VA
- CIA Trailblazers, CIA
- Some Observations on Battery Charge Control by George J. Methlie
- Observatory — Electrical Power, Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
- Former CIA Operative Explains How Spies Use Disguises, Wired
- Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV, Wired
- Magic Castle, Hollywood, CA
- Mask Lifted on Work of Ex-CIA Disguise Master, The Chicago Tribune
- Rex Harrison, Wikipedia
- John Chambers Planet of the Apes Tribute, Scott Essman
- Hacker Lexicon: What Is a Dead Drop?, Wired
- What Made This Man Betray His Country? How a Troubled past Turned a Soviet Military Engineer into One of the CIA’s Most Valuable Spies., The Atlantic
- The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
- Stansfield Turner, CIA Director Who Confronted Communism Under Carter, Dies at 94, The New York Times
- The James Angleton Phenomenon, CIA
- TRIGON: Spies Passing in the Night, CIA
- Top 10 Chuck E Cheese Animatronic Malfunctions, Chuck E. Cheese History, TPMvids
- Al’s Magic Shop, Magicpedia, Genii magazine
- CIA Defector Edward Lee Howard Said to Have Died in Moscow, The Washington Post
- Edward Snowden at Twitter
- Gina Haspel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, The White House
- Fedora (KGB Agent), Wikipedia
- Robert Philip Hanssen Espionage Case, FBI
- The Assessment of Graphology, CIA
- Handwriting Analysis as an Assessment Aid, CIA
Transcript for Jonna Mendez - The Moscow Rules (Episode 344)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. We want you to become a better thinker. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you'll be right at home here with us.
[00:00:40] Today on the show, Jonna Mendez, she's a former chief of disguise at the CIA's Office of Technical Service. I, honestly, had no idea that we still use disguise. I guess it makes sense but, look, apparently, it's even more popular than ever, so we wanted to have her on the show. For those of us that have seen James Bond, she was basically Q, but for the CIA. But Jonna wasn't just in the lab, she was also in the field working with operatives, and she was stationed in Moscow during the height of the Cold War in the '70s and '80s.
[00:01:09] She's one of the pioneers or innovators of espionage and disguise, including concepts like disguise on the run, which is more or less what it sounds like changing while walking, using special clothes and devices in just a few seconds. Not just like taking off a jacket, but turning into somebody completely different within seconds, walking through a building, for example. The concept of identity transfer, turning one person into another or cloning people, so to speak. All of this is and was done to avoid, confuse or shake surveillance because in the game of espionage if the asset has surveillance, the operation has gone bad, and you'll hear that during the show today.
[00:01:46] They also had to use disguise to make surveillance lose the agent for a bit so they could do their thing and then come back on surveillance radar deliberately. These disguises were so good that later in her career, a PBS film crew filming her and recreating an exercise actually didn't even recognize her. So they weren't filming, even though they were looking for her the entire time, and she told them that she was going to be in disguise. So that's how good these are. These are not just like the fake nose, fake mustache, and glasses that you're thinking of right now. So come join us for some very high tech and some very low tech innovation in the field of espionage and disguise, as well as plenty of war stories from the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
[00:02:27] If you want to know how I managed to book all these great people, well, I've got a network that's crazy huge and I'm teaching you how to do the same thing because it's very important for your business. If you don't have a business, it's important for your career or just your regular personal social life. Come join me. It's a free course, jordanharbinger.com/course. And I'm teaching you how to do that. By the way, talk about an espionage skill set. This is something that I've been teaching to intelligence agencies all over the world, so I'm giving you this civilian version. It's free, and there's no upsell, jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter, so come join us, you'll be in great company.
[00:03:03] Now, here's Jonna Mendez.
[00:03:08] You spent much of your career in the Soviet Union, and I would love to know what that's like. For example, you're under surveillance all the time. That's kind of a given in the Soviet Union, just being there as a foreigner, you're automatically under suspicion as a spy or they just consider you the same as a spy. There is no foreign business over there, I assume. Right?
Jonna Mendez: [00:03:28] There is a foreign business. The thing that drew their attention was the American Embassy in particular. We weren't the only ones that had surveillance, but we had, I think we were in a special category. I think we got their top teams and their undivided attention on occasion. They were very often not sure who might be the intelligence officers. And so they would start out anybody that was assigned there would get just really strenuous surveillance, 24 hours a day. And then they'd lighten up on some people who started looking more ordinary. They might give special attention to this group of people who they thought looked suspicious.
[00:04:07] So our job was always to be in that first group to look ordinary. That was the beginning of a relationship that would color your assignment in Moscow. If they really felt that you were part of the evil empire, they were just unrelenting. It was a smothering kind of surveillance, and that's why we invented Moscow rules. We didn't have Paris Rules or Tokyo Rules. This is the only city in the world where the opposition was just so leaning on us so hard that we trained, we deployed. Everything we did there was unique because of that embrace that we were in surveillance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:47] The embrace, it almost sounds like a nice little KGB hug that you had going there.
Jonna Mendez: [00:04:52] It could kill you
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:54] Literally.
Jonna Mendez: [00:04:54] It could kill your foreign agent for sure. And that's what they were after. I mean, they were following us just every minute, or they were watching us or they were listening to us in our apartments, or they were sitting next to us in the American Embassy in the shape of a foreign national who's working with us to help and really helped do the paperwork, help make the shipments come, make everything work. They were everywhere around us, but they weren't really after us. They were after the Russians that were working with us, they were after the people in their country that we're committing treason, that we're betraying their country and working for us. And if they could get to those people, they would execute them and they did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:34] That's so much pressure. And I definitely want to discuss that later in the show because there are some very specific examples of people that just sound like they either had a tolerance for stress that was well beyond -- just not even in the same solar system as the level of stress that the rest of us have. Or they were wired completely differently. And I wonder what you think about that. But this is 1976 Moscow and what through like '85 like what time period are we talking about here?
Jonna Mendez: [00:06:00] Runs up to about '89 and in the book, I think the first case we talk about was really our first big case there. That was in '63 that was at the beginning when we were unable to, basically, manage an espionage case in Moscow. That one only lasted 18 months and they found him and they arrested him and they executed him. It was Oleg Penkovsky.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:22] That's so terrifying. Looking back at '89, not that long ago. I mean it is, but it isn't. I was born in 1988. I'm not even 40 right now, so. To have a country that's like this in 1989 so totalitarian is crazy. I've been to North Korea a few times, and I would imagine it's kind of similar. I just can't imagine anything more controlled than North Korea, but maybe it's possible. I'm not sure.
Jonna Mendez: [00:06:46] North Korea is almost in a category of its own. I haven't been to North Korea, so I can't really comment, but I've read a number of books about it, about how it operates, about how they controlled their citizenry. I mean, we've all seen little peaks at what happens if you step out of line, including if you're an American student over there who pulls a poster off the wall and comes home basically brain dead. So they know how to keep the lid on and how to keep their people marching in line.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:15] What's interesting about this, and I think a lot of people will be like, "Oh, America is not free either." And I always get those emails after I do shows like this. But I think what people don't understand is the reason that they were able to keep such a tight grouping of you or a tight embrace on you is because back then, they had no semblance of freedom. They could lockdown anything they wanted. People had no rights, so they could just absolutely flood the city with state resources and monitor everything and everyone. And that type of thing is just not possible in a free society. Would you agree with that?
Jonna Mendez: [00:07:47] You know, people who speak that way probably haven't traveled very widely. You almost need to go take a look at the other possibilities. Places that you could have been, but you weren't. Places that you could be living today, but you're not --you're living in the United States --to really appreciate the freedom that we have. You know, I never want to talk about politics when I'm talking about this book, but it ebbs and it flows. There are people who would like to tighten up security. There are people who are much more relaxed about security, but even when security is tight back here, it doesn't even begin to approach what some of these foreign countries put their citizens through.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:24] I watch documentaries all the time, and I saw one recently on Belarus, and there's a group of students that do these plays that are kind of like, "Hey, we should have more freedom and look, they're locking down our Internet." And they get busted and beat up by cops and thrown in jail, and they go missing. It's really crazy to have a country like that in Eastern Europe in 2020.
Jonna Mendez: [00:08:43] You know, there was a rock band in Russia. What were they called? Pussy Riot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:47] Yeah. She was on the show actually.
Jonna Mendez: [00:08:49] Really? I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. I'd like very much to hear one of them talk about it, but it was a great opportunity for the government to make a statement and to remind their citizens that this is not allowed. This is what will happen.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:01] They threw her in prison for years and they had her making uniforms and they were beating her up and salting her. She's as tough as nails. You'd have to be in that position. She's just one of the toughest people that I know and her international notoriety as an artist is for a good reason. What's strange is, you know, you think, "Oh, who's going to commit treason against their own country? They must hate Russia, or they must hate the United States." She actually loves Russia and hates Vladimir Putin, so she's very specific about that. I said, "Why do you still live in Russia?" And she said, "I would die without it. I would suffocate without it. I'm Russian. It's Vladimir Putin and his cronies we have to get rid of." So she's not afraid of anyone, obviously.
Jonna Mendez: [00:09:41] You know, a lot of Russians have that same visceral attachment to their country. They love their motherland. It's hard to separate them from it. We've exfiltrated some people. We've had defectors come out from Russia. They come to this country. They see all these choices. In a drug store, you have to choose from like 40 kinds of toothpaste. They have trouble coping with that. And a lot of them get very, very morose and depressed and they discover that they would like to go back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:12] That's Russia now, of course, capitalists and more or less, I mean, yes, there's a lot of crony stuff going on there and that's a whole, that's a whole different show. We talked about some of that with Bill Browder before, but having that kind of environment -- I mean communism, like old-school Stalinism or Leninism, I guess it would be called or I don't know. I'm not up on that. It's either Leninism or Stalinism. North Korea is certainly Stalinist having that kind of society with no choice and no free commerce to miss that as kind of like an alien notion to those of us who grew up in the United States or the Western world at all.
Jonna Mendez: [00:10:44] That's right. You know, the mark that Stalin left on that society carries on today. If you sit down with a Russian couple and you say, "Tell me about your family history in your country. What part of Russia were they from? How did that go?" You almost always hear the stories about the purges. You'll hear stories about arrests and murders where there were widows, there were orphans. There were just these tragedies on a scale that we can't imagine. Stalin was just, he was just so brutal, isn't even a big enough word for what he did, and he left a mark that continues today. There are people in Russia who can't proceed further in their careers because say their grandfather worked with the Bolsheviks or the white Russians. There's a mark in their personnel files somewhere that says they can't be trusted. They can't be promoted beyond a certain level. That's one of the things that drives that citizenry into our arms. They hate that part of Russia. They hate that piece of Russia. And that is a catalyst for them to work with us.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:53] I have a friend who I grew up with and went to college with and lived with him. His father has, I think, two PhDs, and he worked for DuPont and had a pretty darn good career, a guy with two chemistry PhDs. I said, "Why did you leave Russia?" And they said, "Well, I wasn't allowed to have a job because I'm Jewish." And I said, "You have two PhDs. What a waste of human capital?" And he said, "Well, now, you know why they're doing how they're doing compared to countries that don't deal with that kind of thing."
Jonna Mendez: [00:12:16] Exactly. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:17] So going back to the Moscow Rules, I think it was at a CIA official that you'd quoted in the book that said, "It would be easier to run an agent on Mars."
Jonna Mendez: [00:12:26] That was Dick Helms, one of our legendary chiefs of CIA. That was his comment, and it was right on the mark.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:34] There's something like 50,000 KGB agents in Moscow to counter the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies. Just thinking about that. I read that and I wrote that down, and as I was going over my notes this morning, I thought, "I think the town I grew up in, which was not that small, had 40,000 people in it." Now, it was next to other towns, so it seemed larger for that reason. But 50,000 people, you'd need multiple high schools. That's the size of the University of Michigan campus, including all staff and faculty and all the students from all the different university campuses in the area. That's still more people.
Jonna Mendez: [00:13:09] You know, that number came from Oleg Kalugin and only was a KGB officer. He didn't defect. Oleg lives in the United States now. He transplanted himself. He became disenchanted with KGB and he went into politics in Russia. He was in the parliament for a while. And then he decided that he'd start a new life over here. They had already taught him as a spy in the KGB. Perfect English. I mean, Oleg came and just fit right in. He's a board member at the International Spy Museum now. He's a Russian representative there, and he was the one that gave me the number. I hadn't seen that number until I interviewed him.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:44] I interviewed Jack Barsky also on this show. Have you heard of him at all?
Jonna Mendez: [00:13:48] Yes, sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:49] That kind of story, to know that, that's the happening is absolutely crazy. Because when I look at the people who'd, let's say defect, which is the wrong word, but the people that go when they move over to Russia, it's like Steven Seagal where we're just kind of like, "All right, see you later. Nobody's going to miss you." You know, it's not some high-level parliamentarian who decides to go start living in Washington DC or Manhattan because they're sick of it. It's somebody who's kind of generally not a super beloved type of person and has maybe a rough or strange past and actually prefers authoritarians over normal societies. And that, I think, speaks a lot. I'm not anti-Russia by any means. I think the place is fascinating and I think people are brilliant. The culture's amazing. The food's amazing. I pretty much like everything about that, other than some of these major sort of little tags on the reputation of the way that they treat people. It's hard to say that as an American given our track record, but it is different. And I wonder what you think about that because it's definitely not really in the same league when it comes to health society functions, in my opinion.
Jonna Mendez: [00:14:52] Well, you know, in the '30s and the '40s there were a lot of Americans who were interested in that experiment going on in Russia. They kind of bought into that idea of this capitalist state where you worked as hard as you needed to and you would get everything that you needed to carry on. It was interesting that a lot of people went that way for ideological reasons.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:14] Do you mean communist day, right?
Jonna Mendez: [00:15:15] Yeah, I'm sorry.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:16] Yeah.
Jonna Mendez: [00:15:17] And then that tapered off entirely and the ideological flow shifted and the people that would come to us, we're looking for our society, our freedoms, our openness, our ability to live a life unencumbered by the restrictions that you find in Moscow.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:33] Now, the embassy in the Soviet Union, they discovered, I guess later, had microphones in all the rooms -- surprise, surprise --ceilings. But even in the foundation during construction, I always wondered about this. I thought if we're building an embassy that's obviously going to be used for intelligence and diplomacy in a country that might be hostile to the United States, how on earth can we build that where there's no spy gear placed into the actual fabric of the building? And that obviously happened.
Jonna Mendez: [00:15:59] You know, when I'm talking to a public audience like I was yesterday, and we kind of get to this point, if it comes up, the first thing I say, "Is there anybody here who's worked for State Department?" Usually, there is not, because when I talk about the State Department and not in the best terms. The embassy, we were given originally an old building. It was an apartment building and the United States Embassy was in that building for many, many years. It was a fire hazard. The electricity didn't work, everything was wrong with it, and it was sprinkled with bugs, of course. Then we decided that we needed a new embassy and the Russians decided that they needed a new embassy in DC. It's always reciprocal. Whatever we do to one embassy, we can do it to the other. They move forward together. So they started building their embassy in DC. We started building our new embassy in Russia, but the State Department broke the whole deal.
[00:16:53] And State Department for all the wonderful things that they do, security is not nearly as high on their list as it is at the CIA. So for starters, they gave the Russians the highest piece of ground in Washington DC and that's where they built their new embassy, which has allowed them to intercept all kinds of microwave signals. I mean, from that kind of point of view, it's an ideal location. They gave us the lowest point in Moscow. It's almost down in a dip, a little bit of a swamp. So we started out on the wrong foot. State Department decided that there was no reason that the pieces of our building couldn't be pre-assembled by Russian citizens. The precast concrete, the rebar, the big pieces that go into making a high rise building. It was all put together in Moscow, whereas the Soviets in Washington DC insisted on bringing all their own workers and no American touch anything, not a brick when they built the Soviet Embassy. So we ended up with a building that was, guess what? Riddled with bugs. And I can't speak to their embassy, but I assume that it wasn't nearly the same situation. When they were building our new embassy, they were putting the bugs into the precast concrete. They were pouring the concrete around the bugs so that you could not debug this building. The only thing you could do is tear it down, which we basically ended up doing. We had to undo that building and then bring in American construction workers, start again, and build it back up and hope that it was more secure. I'm sure it was more secure, but that was such a fiasco, such a long drawn out episode, and it was kind of embarrassing that it was even allowed to happen to begin with
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:38] Yeah, that seems like amateur hour. If I'm thinking about this when I'm, I don't know, 15 and watching a spy movie, you'd think somebody who's in charge of building the Soviet Embassy from the perspective that the United States might've done a brainstorm session with his teenage kids or something like that, just to make sure that he had all the bases covered. Geez.
Jonna Mendez: [00:18:55] There was a point with that building as it was nearing completion. And it was becoming clear that we were going to have to tear it down, where one of the Soviet officials brought to the United States Embassy personnel a blueprint to show where all the bugs were, knowing that we couldn't remove them, knowing that we had to remove the building and we were going to do that. He gave us the blueprints just to -- I don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:16] Shove it in your face, pretty much.
Jonna Mendez: [00:19:17] I think so. I think so. It was really pretty weird.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:20] That's just unbelievable. The stories you have in the book, the Moscow Rules, microphones being sewn into people's clothing and then put back in their closet before they notice. So you leave for the day, KGB comes in, opens up your closet, takes one of your suits out, sews bugs into it, puts it back in the closet, and you get home that night and you, hopefully, don't notice. Obviously, people did notice, which is how we know this is even happening I assume.
Jonna Mendez: [00:19:43] You know, there's a European tradition all over Europe, but used to be where you'd leave your shoes. If you were in an apartment building or a hotel, leave your shoes outside the door and the shoe elf would come at night and shine your shoes. That was just always tradition. And then our people started noticing that there were microphones in their shoes too, so they certainly didn't put their shoes outside anymore. I mean every opportunity to do a bug they took.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:06] Unbelievable.
Jonna Mendez: [00:20:07] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:08] Wow. Well, you were brought on because of your talent for art, which by the way, is kind of funny nowadays, because you never hear that anymore from any company ever. I feel like, but maybe that's not the case. Maybe CIA still does that. I feel like a lot of people who study art, I mean, isn't it the cliche that they can't get jobs later. And here you are working in Moscow for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Jonna Mendez: [00:20:28] You know, they hired my husband Tony Mendez. He responded to an ad in Denver and the Denver post and the ad said, "Wanted an artist to work overseas for the US Navy." And Tony was an artist. He was a working artist. He had his own galleries, but he was also working with Martin Marietta. He was drawing wiring harnesses for the Titan missile program. It's not art, but it's a way for an artist to make some money while he's doing his art in the evening. And Tony was intrigued because he couldn't imagine why they would want an artist in the Navy so he responded. And of course, it wasn't the Navy, it was the CIA. And what they wanted was an artist with the kind of exquisite hand-eye coordination that Tony had, but not to make art, but to make copies, to make copies of all kinds of documents. This is where I'm always careful with how I word this, but I think travel documents. Tony could make a perfect replica of a travel document or a visa stamp or anything. The only thing that he couldn't make, because it's not allowed, he couldn't make money. If you make the other person's money, it's an act of war. It turns out CIA did not do that but we made just about everything else. And that was his beginning. That was his entry into and to CIA as an artist. I came in as someone interested in art with some photo skills. Not really highly developed photo skills, but certainly adequate for an entry-level and off we went from there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:53] It sounds like kind of a low key job, making fake or copies of documents. I guess I'll use your careful wording here. I can read between the lines. But the test that you said would you cross an international border using the document you just created because --
Jonna Mendez: [00:22:09] That's the test.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:10] This can make kids, orphans and wives, widows -- that is a lot of pressure.
Jonna Mendez: [00:22:15] Yeah. Yeah. It really was. And the artists who are doing this work. We're always very proud of the work that they did. And they want to make it as good as they can make it. And it became an issue cause they wanted everything kind of perfect. And these travel documents that might have stamps inside of them, they're never perfect. I mean, the document is perfect. Stamps are not perfect. The story that we always used to tell there was -- we were copying travel documents and the document we were copying had rusted staples in it. So our artists who made the duplicate shined his staples up, got that rust out of there. And I mean, he had this really just pristine document and he gave it to his supervisor to say, "This is as good as it can get? What do you think?" And the supervisor said, "You know, the rust, it's part of the authenticity of the document without the rust at the border of that country, that person's going to be pulled into secondary for some questioning." It's something as simple as that. So I mean, it was really painstaking. And you'd issue those documents and you just --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:17] Tighten up.
Jonna Mendez: [00:23:18] Yeah, you'd just be watching the cable traffic. You'd be watching the news to make sure that you didn't see that somebody had been detained for that kind of a reason. It was tough work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:28] I can imagine even, a lot of people will go, "Oh, they wouldn't notice some of the small details," but it doesn't matter. Because if you're looking at travel documents all day, and every single one of them has rusty staples because the staples last about a month, or you know, six months and you get one with shiny new staples -- or the staples go in rusty because they'd been sitting in a warehouse for five years in a communist country -- it looks really suspicious when that comes through, and you may notice that. And we've studied a lot of brain science and cognitive science here on the show, a lot of people wouldn't necessarily notice the staples. They would just go, "There's something weird about this passport, and I don't know what it is, but it's my job to follow my gut when it comes to this sort of thing. So why don't you step in this room here?" It doesn't even matter if they notice the staples. If it doesn't just fit the pattern completely 100 percent, it can trip somebody's subconscious alarm bells.
Jonna Mendez: [00:24:19] Well, you know, when we were talking about documents, there's an offensive and a defensive side to that because we were in the business of making false documents. We became the experts in detecting counterfeits and forgeries. Back then, this was 25, 30 years ago. Back then, terrorists were traveling the world on their version of counterfeit travel documents, and they were full of mistakes that we saw. We'd see generations, you can almost tell, "Oh, they've got a new guy making them now because he's changed things. Now he's doing this and he's making that mistake." So in my offices, we published something, a little book, and we gave it out to all of our friendly allies for their immigration people. And it was like if you're looking at a fake -- pick a country -- a fake Italian passport, well, when the terrorists are making fake Italian passports, they consistently make this mistake. So the immigration officer, when he had an Italian passport, he would go to the Italian page and see if that mistake was in the document he was looking at. The last time I looked, they had arrested over 200 terrorists based on that book.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:31] Oh, that's so interesting.
Jonna Mendez: [00:25:32] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you have to use the knowledge coming and going.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:36] It's like how they, I think I studied this as a kid. There are all these little things in the dollar bill, right? There's a frog on the leaf in the background.
Jonna Mendez: [00:25:43] Yeah. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:44] That's fascinating. That's fascinating. I would imagine the mistakes are not necessarily visual things though, right? It could be like this string that's in the paper on the cover is slightly tan and this is not.
Jonna Mendez: [00:25:54] It could be anything. It could be anything. If you're replicating something, it's hard for you to find all of the security features in that document that you're copying. You can find maybe 95 percent of them, but it's that 5 percent that you don't find, that's what we put in our book. And then what would happen is, the terrorists would find out that we were stopping those passports. And so they do a new run and they make another mistake, and so we'd update our book. So we were always chasing behind them, trying to call out all the errors.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:27] You're kind of like Q from James Bond, but it's the CIA. Did you create gadgets as well as items or was that just kind of different departments?
Jonna Mendez: [00:26:36] Absolutely, we were Q. We provided the same services to the CIA. We were modeled after military models and after that British model, the CIA was, it's sort of brought along by our allies in the UK. And so a lot of the things we did were things they had tried, you know, that worked. So in my office, this is my larger office called the Office of Technical Service. And that's what this book, Moscow Rules about, really is the broader office, not just disguise, not just documents, but the people that did bugs, the people that built them, and the people that turned into third story guys that would go in and install those bugs. It's about the people that did all the research, R&D on batteries for their entire careers. They're trying to make those batteries smaller and smaller and stronger and stronger so that we can pack more batteries into a bug. So it lasts longer because once you put a bug in place, say it's a woodblock underneath the conference table in somebody's seventh-floor conference room, you will never get back in to change the batteries. When the batteries die, you're done. That's it. Your operation is over. So the length of time that those batteries would last was just hugely important.
[00:27:50] We worked in clandestine photography. That was an area that I worked in extensively using very, very unique cameras, very unique. They were film cameras back then. Working with low light level video, which is kind of where that technology came from. We needed it before the American consumer needed it. We needed to be able to do video in low light level. We could also do 35-millimeter photography in the dark without any light whatsoever. We invented things that nobody else really needed, but we need it. We were chemists, we were physicists, electrical, mechanical engineers, and then a lot of very, very narrow technical specialties that formed about half of our office. And the other half were operations officers like me, like my husband Tony, like a lot of other people out there, and we went and deployed the equipment. Half of this built it. The other half of us deployed it or train people in how it worked.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:28:51] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:54] This episode is sponsored in part by Motley Fool. A lot of people have been asking me where they can learn about investing in the stock market. I am no expert in this, and I don't give financial advice ever. I do listen to the Motley Fool podcast and they've got this Stock Advisor, so each month, Tom and David over at Motley Fool, they pick a new stock recommendation, which comes with a full analysis and a risk profile. So you know why they picked it. It's not just like, "Hey man, hot tip, go ahead and buy this." They picked Netflix, which is up 20,000 percent or something since they picked it. So you know, they've got some decent buys in there. Stock Advisors won all kinds of awards from Wall Street survivor and all these other places, all these other websites where apparently, they rate Stock Advisors, but Tom's picks are up over 100 percent David's picks her up over 400 percent so these guys seem to know what they're doing here. They've got Q and A member sessions with the CEO and other investment analysis and regular emails from the CIO keeping everybody up to date. So if you want to learn how to navigate the stock market, these guys are a trustable place to go and check that out. Jason.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:29:54] They can go check out the Motley Fool Stock Advisor by going to fool.com/jordan. That's F-O-O-L.com/jordan and try it out for just $99, that's $1.90 a week, $99 for one year of unlimited access, and if you're not satisfied, you can just cancel within 30 days. That's fool.com/jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:14] This episode is also sponsored by HostGator. Look, I know we're all tired of being cooped up inside as we wait for this pandemic to pass. But if you've listened to our episodes with former CDC Director, Julie Gerberding and the Global Virome Projects, Dr. Dennis Carroll, you know there's no solid timetable on when that's going to happen yet. Rather than wasting all the extra time you've probably found yourself with by watching every season of every iteration of Law & Order ever tapes. Why not just start that personal or professional website you've been threatening to unleash upon the world? Just bring an idea, and HostGator can take care of the technical side of things for a rate that's affordable for any budget. With every plan you get, unlimited email addresses, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited disk space, free SSL certificates, advertising, credit, WordPress blog tools. HostGator even guarantees 99 percent uptime with 24/7, 365 support and a 45-day money-back guarantee if you aren't 100 percent happy. So visit hostgator.com/jordan for up to 62 percent off. That's hostgator.com/jordan.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:31:13] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to the show.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:48] It's funny to think about tiny cameras being kind of the height of technology in the age of satellites, right? We have a man who has walked on the moon. We have satellites orbiting the earth for communication and espionage, but it's like, "Hey, can you make a camera that can take pictures in the dark?" You don't think about that because you think of that almost as old technology, but it really isn't.
Jonna Mendez: [00:32:07] It's very handy if you can do that. If you can be non-alerting while you're collecting the intelligence. So you back up for a minute and you look at what our main mission was. It was to collect intelligence for our policymakers in Washington on the plans and intentions of our enemies. That's distilling it down, just about as clear as you can get it. We wanted to know what are they going to do next. So today, somewhere at Langley, they put together a program for all CIA around the world, and one of the priority items in our next year program will be: What is Kim Jong-un, what's he doing and what's he going to do? And another piece of it will be: What's Putin doing? What's he going to do? And it gets specific. What about their nuclear program? Where is it? Where is it going and what country by country? It's a program call and then CIA spreads it out and says, "Who has access to this information? Who in the world knows the answers to these questions?" "Okay, let's go recruit them. Let's go get them on our side. Let's go find them and meet them and see if we can't get some of them to work for us." That's kind of how that whole thing plays out.
[00:33:21] Our job at OTS in this Q office was to provide our case officers with whatever they needed to further their recruitment efforts, or if they had an operation that was going live to help keep it clandestine. And a really big part of it, for me, was also the protect those foreigners that are working for us. Keep him alive. They will provide as much intelligence as they can. And then if we need to exfiltrate them if something goes wrong if there's trouble, we always had agreed upfront when we recruited them that we will come in, we will get you. We can come and get you and your family and we will get you out. That was the deal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:03] A lot of people might not realize that a lot of slash most intelligence or at least human intelligence was gathered by people who lived in the country that were Russians for example. I think a lot of folks have a spy movie kind of idea of what the CIA does in their thinking. You're an agent, you're trained and you're running around, flown in from Virginia, and now you're in Moscow running around taking photos of documents. But it's the people that those people recruit that work in the place where the documents are stored, maybe for example, that are taking the photos. And then handing them off. And I think a lot of folks actually don't realize that. So that's to clarify for the audience. That's what, I think, is important here because those people are taking a huge risk. If someone has flown in from Virginia and has diplomatic immunity and they have diplomatic cover, they get arrested, they get booted out of the country persona non grata usually. So they can't come back. But if somebody who's Russian or Soviet citizen gets caught, they get shot by a firing squad, I think if they're lucky.
Jonna Mendez: [00:34:57] They do. They do. They get executed and their families go through hell. I mean, their families are then marked for the rest of their lives, can't get good jobs, can't get much of anything because they were part of the family of the traitor. It's a serious business.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:13] The engineers at CIA in the '70s sound kind of like tech startup engineers of today. So eccentric, a little bit maybe sometimes awkward, brilliant, very focused.
Jonna Mendez: [00:35:22] Kind of nerdish. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:23] Yeah. I wasn't going to say it, but go ahead.
Jonna Mendez: [00:35:27] They were lovely. I'm not sure how we hired some of them because back then, and maybe this is true today, we, because we were a government agency could never offer, say, the engineers the same salary that they would get from some big corporate office. We could not compete with those salaries. And I used to go on some of the recruiting efforts. So what we'd have to do is find just the right people and we'd say, "Look, we can't actually tell you what you'll be doing, but she'll be working in your field. You'll be on the cutting edge of your field. You will be inventing new technology. You'll be helping us solve some of these requirements. It's work worth doing. Why not do something that matters? Why not do something that makes a difference?" And so some of them would come to us. I tend to think that some of the most interesting ones came to us because our technical officers went on to win awards and invent technology that didn't even exist yet. I mean, they were in the bubble memory long before the private industry was.
[00:36:30] We were looking into areas that the small batteries, for instance, that eventually spilled out into the commercial market. They're in hearing aids and our watches and our phones and all of that stuff today. We were pushing technology to solve our problems and I think, some of the people that were helping us do that were just amazing. I mentioned one in the book, his name was George and he was our battery expert. And I used to laugh because I would say, you know, short of being a urologist, I can't think of a more boring profession than to be a battery expert. But. I mean, he made a huge difference in commercial technology, made a difference as CIA, and then went on years later to some fame and glory, he kept his career when he was part of the team that saved the Hubble telescope. And that telescope was having a power source problem and George was part of the team that figured out how to fix it. So we just kind of stand over on the side whenever we hear one of our guys has done yet one more wonderful thing, and we applaud. We had amazing talent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:35] I know one of the things that you worked on primarily was disguise. I thought that was kind of funny because when I think of disguise, I think early 1900s are like black and white, silent film, Charlie Chaplin mustache, you know, I don't really think 1973 which is according to the book, kind of when disguise really started to be taken seriously. You got help from Hollywood. Why is it important then? Or why did it start to really take off then?
Jonna Mendez: [00:37:59] You know, a lot of what we did in disguise that was above and beyond wigs and mustaches was for Moscow because it was such a tough place to work. In some parts of the world, you don't need that much in the way of disguise . In some parts of the world, you might wear a wig and a mustache when you're meeting or maybe you're having a drink with your agent, your foreign agent, or maybe you're out in the park and you're just walking, talking, but you don't want to be seen with that agent. But the thing you're worried about, more than security in that country, is that maybe your next door neighbor from, pick a place, where from New York city, from Manhattan. Maybe the next door neighbor in the apartment down the hall from you is also in Paris, and he's going to walk by and see you and come over and want to talk and you can't talk. You can't be Bill that night even though your real name is Bill, because the person you're with, he thinks your name is Jean. And that happens so often. It sounds odd, but it did. That was a reason to wear a disguise, so we would give, those were called traditional disguise, and everybody had a traditional disguise just in case they needed it.
[00:39:04] When terrorism started happening, we started getting walk-ins at our embassies around the world. Terrorists are coming in. They wanted to see what the inside of the embassy looks like, so they'd show up. They show up at the Marine Guard at post one and they'd say, "I want to talk to an intelligence official." And if they really wanted to, they'd say, "I have some information that they would want." So the Marine Guard would have to call us. Somebody would have to go down and talk to them. There was a protocol for who would go and there was a protocol for how to manage it. But on a lot of occasions, all the terrorists wanted to do was see what the CIA guy looked like, and then they were going to set up outside. They'll wait for him to come out and his car and they're going to follow him home. See where he lived? Did he have a wife? Did he have a dog? Did he have a kid? And maybe start planning something that was going to be really uncomfortable for that family. So those traditional disguises started becoming a little bit like body armor and our guys started using disguise much more frequently than that before. They didn't even care if the terrorists knew that they were in disguise. They just didn't want the terrorists to be able to identify them. That was a push in the area of disguise that started at about that time, about the '70s
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:13] That makes sense. I could imagine somebody being like, "I don't have time to put this disguise on." They're like, "Just wear the hockey mask from the Friday the 13th guy. At least he won't know what you look like." Or like, "Here's a kangaroo mask. Go down there with your Richard Nixon mask on or whatever." It makes sense that you would want to not let somebody who you don't know who's acting shady just find out what you look like and follow you home in Iran or whatever.
Jonna Mendez: [00:40:36] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. There were a lot of incidents. And it encouraged our men to use their disguise in that made their operations safer. It made everybody safer. So that was kind of a moment when disguise started becoming more of your operational planning. In Moscow, it became sometimes frequently, the only way you could do your job was to use some form of disguise, some operations, some deception, some illusion, and that's when we went out to Hollywood and we talked to the magicians. Actually, we talked to the magic builders, the people behind the magicians who create these moments on stage that we all look at and with our mouths hanging open like, "Just a minute. There was an elephant there a minute ago, and then he walked in that box and now they've opened the box and the elephant's gone. Where? Where's the elephant? And you look at these kinds of illusions and you say, your logical mind says, "The elephant has to still be there, but your eyes, your eyes are saying, 'No, no, he's gone. There's no elephant on that stage. There is no elephant.'" We wanted to learn how to hide an elephant among other things. We had things we wanted to hide, it might not be that big, but we wanted to know how do you pull that off and off we went. And that was all for Moscow. There's no other city in the world that we needed it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:52] I heard that you disguise an African-American and an Asian man as two white guys, which is super impressive. I mean, I can almost see how you could do it the other way around, you know, but like doing it that direction seems even more complicated somehow.
Jonna Mendez: [00:42:06] Well, it was for a car meeting and it was in a kind of a dicey situation. So the idea of having the African-American and the American diplomat in the same car at the same time was going to draw some undue attention. So in that particular operation, we didn't use a finely crafted mask. We use the equivalent of a stunt double mask. I mean, that's what it was, and it was a stunt double mask for Rex Harrison, the movie star. We used his face. I can't tell you how many times we could make his stunt double mask and then we would paint it. You could paint it to be dark. You could paint it to be Caucasian. You could put a wig on it and you could turn it into a woman, although she was not a very pretty woman, but that wasn't the issue. You can do a lot. You couldn't get too close to it, but in a car for a car meeting.
[00:42:58] My husband had this story when they first started using them. The agent and the case officer were in the car. The agent had on the stunt double mask. They're both Caucasian. My husband had made diplomatic ID cards for them because he could do that and they came to a roadblock. And this is like, oh my God, they didn't play it on that. They came to a roadblock. They stopped the car. They held up their diplomatic ID cards. The guards looked in the window, looked at the cards, waved them through. And this was just euphoria back at headquarters. Oh my God, that works so well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:35] Somewhere. There's this old Russian guy who's talking about the time he met Rex Harrison in Moscow.
Jonna Mendez: [00:43:41] Probably.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:42] Yeah. "I saw that movie star guy today. You guys aren't going to believe who drove through the checkpoint." "Wait, what? That doesn't make any sense." "Yeah, he's got a twin brother."
Jonna Mendez: [00:43:52] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:53] Yeah. The idea of identity transfer takes a big part of the book, and I love this idea. Can you tell us a little bit about what this is? It's not just hair samples, facial imprints, but it's like creating -- I'm trying to explain this, like you're creating a model of somebody else that exists so that you can kind of clone them and put them in different places so that. Maybe if you're cloning me, I have plausible deniability because I'm on camera at the, at the Lakers game, but really I'm at a meeting with an agent or something like that. Is that kind of what's going on here?
Jonna Mendez: [00:44:22] That went to our more advanced mask technology. Not stunt double masks, but masks that came out of Hollywood, came out of they're Hollywood. There was a man named John Chambers who won all kinds of Oscars for makeup, and he had done the masks for Planet of the Apes. Well, we didn't want that, but we were very interested how he fitted those eyes because the eyes were just right on and they could express emotion in those masks, and that was the direction we wanted to head. What we ended up with was something that was -- actually it was just, it was amazing. They were animated lifelike masks and we could create any kind of character over your face. We would fit it to your face, but we can also make your face for another person. So we could make a twin for you. For instance, if we had two of you, there'd be a donor and there'd be a recipient. So the case officer would be the donor. The recipient would be someone about the same built, maybe same, same height, same weight generally. We'd put the case officer's face on the recipient. So now you had two people that looked strikingly the same. And this is what happens in the magic industry out in Hollywood. And this is what explains a whole lot of tricks that take place on stage, that they're not twins, but they're very, very similar. They're always women. They're always blonde. I don't know if it's a thing.
[00:45:48] If you have two people that look a lot alike and you're in Moscow, then you can preposition one of those people who wouldn't be getting huge surveillance because he's not a CIA officer. You could position him maybe in a shop, in a cafe somewhere, and you could have our case officer come along on foot and he could step into that cafe or whatever it is and come out with maybe a menu, maybe a book it matches, maybe a poster about some music on it, whatever it is. So surveillance sees him. He goes in and he comes right out with something in his hand that explains why he stepped in that doorway and he goes on down the street. But that's the double that comes out and they follow the double all night long. And the real case officer is now without surveillance, I can go do the things he needs to do, which would be to put down a dead dropped, pick something up, to put up a signal, to mail something, to make a phone call, maybe to meet with someone. Those things that you cannot do if you have surveillance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:50] That makes sense. So if you see me on video doing really bad karaoke, it's not me. It's my body double. I'm on a spy mission for the CIA,
Jonna Mendez: [00:46:59] And this is the dork they put in my place.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:02] Right, yeah. Yeah. This exactly. He looks like he's had too much to drink. You got to work on your recruiting folks. I think for me if I were in a disguise, I'd be so paranoid that other people could see it. It would be like. That time I tried marijuana in college. I'd be like, "They know I'm in a disguise. Everyone knows they can see me." It would be weird. I would act weird.
Jonna Mendez: [00:47:22] You're absolutely right. I mean, that's how it is. I remember the first time I put on a disguise. Putting on the disguise isn't the hard part. What the hard part is wearing it in public. I went into backyard called 7-Eleven. I went into a 7-Eleven in my disguise. I was kind of browsing and I thought, "Oh God, they're going to think I'm going to steal something. I mean, they're going to come," and you do get paranoid. And that's why, when we were disguising someone for the first time, they'd come in initially and we figured out what we're going to do and then they went away. And we have the hair goods made and whatever we're putting together. Then they come back for like a final fitting and put everything on. We'd say, "Do you feel okay?" "Yeah," "Is it uncomfortable?" "Yeah." "Do you think you're going to use this?" "Yeah." We'd say, "Great. Go down to the cafeteria to have lunch and then come back." This is a CIA headquarters where everybody knows everybody in the cafeteria where your office probably has a table, where your boss is going to be there, where everybody's going to be there. And they would go and discover that no one paid any attention to them. It's empowering. Once you get through that, you go, "Wow. I'm hiding in plain sight and no one even knows I'm here. That is so cool." And it was only after we went through that process with them that we thought they might use it when they went overseas. Without that initial exposure, they would have put it in some sort of a little Dopp kit and put it in the back of the safe drawer and never use it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:48] Yeah. I can see that. You have to kind of be able to go to Starbucks, grab a coffee, do a walk outside, go to the gym, do a light workout, sit around and read, drive home, and basically forget you have the dang thing on almost.
Jonna Mendez: [00:49:00] That's the point you want to get to. You don't want it to get in the way of whatever you're doing. You don't want to be distracted because you got this outfit on. You want to be unencumbered, you want to be incognito, and fully aware of what you need to be doing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:14] Yeah, I would imagine you also have to learn how to eat and drink with fake facial features that don't end up with you dribbling everything down your chin and not noticing.
Jonna Mendez: [00:49:23] You know, there are limits to what you can do. You can't do everything. You can brief the President of the United States, but it's hard to drink through a straw. It has restrictions but it also has freedom.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:34] That's funny. I never even thought about that. Right, you can do all of these amazing, super complicated things, but man, if you want to drink a diet Coke through a straw, you are out of luck, man. You got to wait until you get home.
Jonna Mendez: [00:49:46] They could live with that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:47] Yeah, I think it's a fair trade. We do read about all these old school dead drops. You mentioned a dead drop, like a fake wooden log that holds messages or a used milk carton with fake vomit on it on the ground. I wonder, is all this stuff obsolete now because of technology and encryption? Like do we just send them encrypted emails and we're good now? Or is low-tech even more necessary now? Maybe because of advanced electronic surveillance.
Jonna Mendez: [00:50:10] And here we go into this hall of mirrors. I don't know the answer to your question because I'm not there anymore and I don't need to know. My common sense would tell me that a lot of this is still used, but in a different configuration than what I knew. Otherwise, they're not going to let me talk about it or write it in my book. And by the way, just for your peace of mind, they're not going to come and get you because everything, everything that we're talking about is in that book and has been cleared by CIA. Two years ago, we never would talk about masks. We never did. We've been gone for a long time. We've never ever mentioned masks. All of a sudden, it's okay. So it may be that the form that their masks or their identity transformations they made be changing the way they do it. I simply don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:58] Yeah, that makes sense. I would imagine that it's not even worth speculating. We're never going to find out, so it doesn't matter. And even if we did, and nobody could confirm whether or not we were right or wrong.
Jonna Mendez: [00:51:08] Someday someone will be arrested somewhere and there'll be something in a paper. We'll read it closely and we'll go, "Oh, that's what they're doing."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:14] Right. That makes sense.
Jonna Mendez: [00:51:15] Yeah. That's how we'll find out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:16] How do you evaluate incoming assets or volunteers? So the people who work for a foreign government, or maybe like in the Soviet Union, a Russian scientist knocks on the window of a car and you had the story of this guy who kept trying to get people's attention and over and over and over and whoever is being approached by him just kept thinking, "This guy's obviously KGB. It's so obvious. He's knocking on my car window. He's showing up at my door." How do we evaluate these people? How do you know if they're crazy and delusional or if they're the real deal? How do you even begin to test someone for that?
Jonna Mendez: [00:51:49] The guy that you're describing was Adolf Tolkachev. He was probably the most brilliant spy we ever had. He was known as the billion-dollar spy for the value of the intelligence that he gave us back then. It would be double, triple that now. There was a real fear of what we call dangles double agents being sent to us, claiming they wanted to work for us, when in fact they didn't. They just wanted to learn about us and see who would meet with them and see what kind of questions we would ask them because that would tell us where the holes were in our intelligence. I mean, by running a double agent against us, they could learn a lot. Tolkachev, it took him five tries to get through to us, and it was just almost crazy. Stansfield Turner was the head of CIA back then. He almost shut down Moscow station. There had been some incidents and he didn't want any more incidents. There were a lot of reasons. There's James Angleton back at headquarters. He was our counterintelligence person and he was a little over the top on all of that, but our Chief of Station at the time finally just decided that we had to meet this man and see what he had.
[00:52:53] What he had was just pure gold. It was the equivalent of their pentagon's future plans for radar -- this was the beginning of it -- for ground-based and airborne radar systems. They're new technology that they were going to start producing and they were going to have operational in 10 years, and we had that information 10 years before they built it, enough time for the Pentagon to build the countermeasures. So by the time it came out, we already could defeat it. It was amazing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:26] That is amazing.
Jonna Mendez: [00:53:28] Absolutely amazing. And this man was amazing. He loved his country. It goes back to this thing about Stalin and the purges and both he and his wife had these terrible stories of what had happened to their parents, to their families during the purges. They could never, ever forgive what happened. We offered to exfiltrate Tolkachev. He said no. He didn't want to leave the country. He wanted to help the West work against his country and he was arrested and he was executed.
[00:53:58] There was a man who was named Trigon, the third case. There are three big cases that we talk about in that book. Trigon was one of the few who asked for an "L" pill. He was a really valuable agent. He said, "I'll work for you on one condition," and that is, "That you give me the ability to take my own life. If they arrest me, I don't want them to be able to do what they're going to do." And there were all these terrible rumors about what they were going to do. He knew that execution would certainly be part of it, but the question was how will they do it? And the rumors were that they were feeding people into these crematoriums feet first alive. So nobody knew if that was true, but he was hedging his bet. And he said, "If they arrest me, I want to be able to make the decision myself." So they arrested him. Eventually, everybody eventually got arrested. They stripped him down to his briefs in this room, and they took every piece of equipment he had with him and they said, "We want you to write your confession." And he said, "Well, comrades, I will write my confession, but I want to ride it with my Montblanc pen over there on that table with my clothes and everything else." So they brought him his Montblanc pen. And we had put that "L" pill, we gave him in the cap of the Montblanc pen. We had milled it out so that it was just paper-thin, that cap, and he knew where it was and he bit down on it. He took the pen and he just put it in his mouth and bit down on it. It was cyanide. The Russians in their report to their supervisors said he was dead before he hit the floor, which is the way he wanted it.
[00:55:32] Tolkachev, the one that gave us the information on the radar. He was the other one who wanted an "L" pill. Those are the only two cases I ever knew of where they asked for it and they both had to fight to get it. We didn't want to be giving out suicide pills to anybody, but if that was the last straw, we would do it. Tolkachev had one of those pills, but it wasn't with him when he was arrested. It was home on his desk. He didn't have it with him, so he couldn't use it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:56] That's horrible.
Jonna Mendez: [00:55:57] I know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:57] It's straight out of James Bond -- like this is dark, and I'm not trying to make light of somebody having to take their own life. But if that's the first time this type of thing was used, this is kind of like the OG suicide pill story, right? I mean, you see it in spy movies. It's a cliche. Now, you have this suicide device or the suicide pill in a necklace or something like that. Is that where this comes from?
Jonna Mendez: [00:56:19] I think this probably comes out of some sort of a military -- you know, before the CIA, there was OSS. Before OSS, there were even some earlier forms of intelligence agencies turned into the CIA, but I think during World War II probably it came out of that kind of a climate.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:56:41] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:44] This episode is brought to you in part by ZENB. ZENB Veggie Bites and Veggie Sticks are plant-based, organic, a good source of fiber, gluten-free, non-GMO. There's a lot of non's in there, a lot of free's in there. No artificial flavors, no colors, preservatives that are artificial. There are natural ones in there though, of course. I've been trying these for a while. They sent me like a variety pack and I believe that's what you can get at zenb.com/jordan. It's like a variety pack of bites and bars and stuff like that. And I've been eating them for dessert and snacking on them because it was freaking sitting around all day work. And so I've munched on these things instead of getting fatter. And it's kind of nice. There's a range of veggie first flavors, so fruits, nuts, spices. Each one's pretty unique. I've never had a lot of these types of flavors before. And they deliver right to your door. You can't find veggie first snacks like these in any store. So in times like these, it's very handy that they deliver. Jason,
Jason DeFillippo: [00:57:35] Visit zenb.com/jordan today. That's Z-E-N-and the letter B.com/jordan today to get 30 percent off any product and get a free trial. Yes, a free trial today. That's zenb.com/jordan, 30 percent off any product and your free trial.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:52] This episode is also sponsored in part by Better Help. We've all got stuff going on. I've got a cat, a business, a newborn son, a garden that needs tending to which I will never do, books I want to read, a wife. Full disclosure, that is not in any particular order. I'm busy. You're busy. We're all busy, and because of that, we all have excuses. Excuses for not going to therapy and maintaining that sanity. Whether you have a young child, you're trying to have kids, you just started a new job, you just lost your job whatever, Better Help online counseling is there for you. Better Help offers licensed professional counselors who specialize in issues like depression, stress, anxiety, relationships, trauma, anger, family conflict, self-esteem, and more -- and a lot of times, right now we're dealing with all that at once. Better Help makes it easy to connect with a counselor because you can book videos, chat sessions, phone calls, chat, text. It doesn't matter what computer or device you have, they've got you covered. And if you don't like your counselor, you can request a new one at no additional charge. Jason.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:58:46] Best of all, it's a truly affordable option for our listeners because you get 10 percent off your first month with a discount code JORDAN. So why not get started today? It's never been easier. Go to betterhelp.com/jordan. Simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get matched with a counselor you'll love. Better Help is convenient, more convenient than your excuses. That's betterhelp.com/jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:10] This episode is also sponsored in part by Progressive Insurance. Fun fact, Progressive customers qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up for Progressive Auto Insurance discounts for things like enrolling in automatic payments, ensuring more than one car, going paperless, and of course, being a safe driver. Plus customers who bundle their auto with home or add renter's insurance save an average of 12 percent on their auto. There are so many ways to save when you switch, and once you're a customer with Progressive, you get unmatched claim service with 24/7 support, online or by phone. It's no wonder why more than 20 million drivers trust Progressive and why they've recently climbed to the third-largest auto insurer in the country. Get a quote online at progressive.com in as little as five minutes and see how much you could be saving.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:59:53] Auto insurance from Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates, home and renters insurance, not available in all states, provided and serviced by affiliated and third-party insurers. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
[01:00:06] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you're listening to us on the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now back to the show.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:33] If you get a walk-in like Soviet engineers, scientists, somebody from the Soviet Pentagon who's stealing documents, they have no clandestine operations training, how do you train them in what they need to know to avoid counter-surveillance by the KGB? I would have no idea how to stay covert while stealing documents and taking photos of them and delivering them. You can't fly me to the United States from Moscow, train me for two months, and then plot me back at work. So how does it work?
Jonna Mendez: [01:01:01] It's actually very simple. If you have a real operation, you have someone who has access to the information and is willing to work with us. We have a case officer there who is going to run it out of some situation. That foreign agents should not have surveillance. If he has surveillance, you don't have an operation. He has to be just a member of the masses, wherever he's working, if he's working in an aeronautical, if he's working in chemistry, he's working at their nuclear plant, wherever he's working, he has to be, he will be just a normal guy who goes to work every day and comes home. No one will follow him. He's not suspicious. If he's suspicious, you don't really have an operation. So that's all set up when you do the recruiting when you find the person that you think can give you the information. They're willing to give it to you. They have access to it, and they can do it in a way that is not alerting and they can use my little tiny cameras so that they won't be seen taking photographs. They won't be fingered that way. You've set it up to protect that foreigner and let him get the information that we want and then the risk is the American going to meet with him because the American will have surveillance, not the foreigner.
[01:02:21] The way that they've found out is if we lead the surveillance to them. And that's where all these tricks about disguise and identity transfer and pop-up dummies in cars and all of that technology comes in to keep the KGB from following our case officer to meet with the agent. And for 10 years, we would not meet with an agent in Moscow. It was too dangerous. No matter what we did, we didn't think that we could guarantee that we wouldn't somehow tip them off to who the Russian was that was working for us, so we didn't meet them face to face. We did it all with dead drops. We would take our tasking memorandum, our letter, whatever form it took. It might be on film. We would conceal it in -- you mentioned a couple of them. We could seal it in a fake brick, or a fake rock or a fake tree limb, or a crushed can, or an old dirty glove from a construction site covered with grease. Or like you said, my favorite, the milk carton with vomit on the outside or a dead rat.
[01:03:30] Those were concealment devices made so that we could put them down in a very particular place and the foreign agent knew where that place was. And then we would do that. We would place it say by a telephone pole. We had to get away from surveillance in order to even do that. We had to absolutely know that we did not have surveillance when we put that thing down by the telephone pole and then we had to go and put up a signal, a particular signal. It might be a chalk mark, it might be lipstick scratched on something. It could take many forms and the signal would mean because the agent would walk by that site every day, or he'd drive by. Let's say it's a mailbox. The agreed-upon place for the signal is on the mailbox. He would drive by, every day he'd drive by that mailbox on his way to work, and one day he'd see a white stripe on it. "Ah," he'd know, "They'd put something down for me and I know it's going to be by that tree, so I'll go get it." And then after he picks it up, then he has to put a signal up somewhere where we drive by that means, "I got it." It's not lying out there in the open anymore. "I got it." This is what, if you can't meet with him face to face, this is what it turns into. And it's tedious and it's very carefully done because if you make a mistake. I mean it's a big mistake.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:45] The amount of pressure these people are. You're under pressure, but these people are under absolutely insane amounts of pressure. I know you had the car, the pop-up doll, I guess you would say in the car to make it look like somebody was still in the car when they weren't. It sounds like the singing mannequins at Chuck E. Cheese, do you remember those?
Jonna Mendez: [01:05:02] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:04] Well, maybe, we're a different generation.
Jonna Mendez: [01:05:05] I don't know maybe.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:07] Maybe you've seen these. Sort of like these mannequins that would be in a rock, and they could kind of talk and move around and obviously someone was controlling them and they had little cameras in them. This is like in the '80s. It sounds like they're sort of automated people and they look kind of real, especially if you're not right next to it. And I know originally you'd started using -- what was it? Like sex dolls and inflating them using gas canisters, concealed in briefcases. The pop-ups silhouette, that's what it was called, right?
Jonna Mendez: [01:05:31] Yeah. It was Tony's story. He was -- he was somewhere in the Middle East -- finishing something and he's sitting outside having a beer with a friend and they said, "We need, you know, for car surveillance, we need a new idea." And they came up with this idea of a pop-up dummy, and they called it a Jack in the box, a jib. And initially, it was the sex dolls that I'd never heard of. So somebody had to walk me through that. They sent a cable back home to headquarters and said, "We need about a dozen of these things." And so two of our little young engineers with their high water pants and their all the pins in their pockets and you know, these are kind of dirty little guys. They went down to Al's Magic Shop down by the White House and they bought a dozen sex dolls and they came back and they said, "Don't ever send us there again."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:16] Yeah, the good news is I have a punch card and the next one is free, but please don't make me go back.
Jonna Mendez: [01:06:21] Oh, that is the best. Well, that's what they started with the gas inflated. They thought they had something, but they put them in briefcases. One of them was being tested behind the iron curtain and more so it was by one of the wives just to see -- because the driver of the car would deploy it. This was a pop-up dummy which started out in a briefcase on the floorboard, the case officer would step out of the car. The wife would hit a button or the driver would hit a button. This dummy would pop up wearing the wig, wearing the same clothes as the guy that had just left trailing. Surveillance would come around the corner. It's still two people in the car and they follow that car all night. They never knew. This is always one of the goals. They should not know because then if they ever figured it out, they'd think that they goofed up. Not that you escaped, but that it was their fault. This is what we always wanted to happen.
[01:07:11] Anyway, when she was doing that, the gas came out of the canisters. It was so cold because of the compression that it froze the plastic sex doll, and she exploded and the wife evidently would just freaked out. So we went out to Hollywood, to our magic people, and we said, "Is there a better way to do this?" And oh, there was such a better way to do it. In the book, the first operational deployment was in a birthday cake. The Chief of Station was driving. The passenger needed to get out of the car. The chief of station's wife was in the back seat and the birthday cake was in the back seat. So when the person stepped out of the car, the cake went on the passenger seat. Somebody hit the button, the dummy popped up. It was perfect. It worked really well. I mean, they are behind you. They don't drive up next to you and peer at you. They're being a little discreet. You know, they're there and they know, you know they're there, but they're not going to come up and wave at you through the window or anything. But the head on that dummy turned so it could turn it to the driver and then it could turn and look out the passenger window. It was fairly realistic.
[01:08:15] That's how Ed Howard, who was one of our huge traitors at CIA, he gave away all our secrets and then he fled to Russia years ago. That's how he escaped. He went to his local hardware store and bought the supplies to make a homemade Jack in the box. He used a plunger, like you used with the toilet. He used a styrofoam head that we used as a wig block. He put his wig that we gave him on it. He put his Safari jacket that he always wore on it, and he fooled the FBI at Santa Fe and escaped to Moscow where he lived the rest of his life.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:50] I always wonder if people like that who went behind the iron curtain got there and after a few months were like, "Oh shit, this was not a good move."
Jonna Mendez: [01:08:58] You hope that, don't you?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:00] Yeah, totally. Because you'd think like, wow, you cost a lot of innocent people, their lives and in exchange for what? Like not a whole lot. I mean, you don't see a whole lot of people fleeing to North Korea across the DMZ for example.
Jonna Mendez: [01:09:14] Exactly that's a good example. Yes, that's absolutely true.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:17] So yeah, who knows. I'm just always so curious. I've made this call out on the show before, if anybody knows any Americans who defected to the Soviet Union in the 80s, I am dying to talk to them because I'm so curious what they think. And now they can probably speak a little more freely. I'd love to hear a balanced version of that besides the one I built in my head, which is that they regret it.
Jonna Mendez: [01:09:36] I don't follow Snowden. I know he pops up on screens. He talks. I'd really be interested to know how he's feeling about his decision.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:43] Sure. If I were him, I think I would be pretty worried to say anything because if they decide he can't live there anymore, he's in even deeper trouble than he's already in.
Jonna Mendez: [01:09:51] He is. Yes, he is.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:53] The amount of pressure these assets are under though is beyond stressful. The guy -- was it Tolkachev who put the cyanide pill under his tongue every time his boss said, "Can you come to my office?" Because he thought he was going to get arrested.
Jonna Mendez: [01:10:04] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:05] And he burned like hundreds of thousands of dollars because he thought, "Oh, they're going to find this evidence," and it just turned out to be a false alarm, which is like setting millions of dollars on fire when you make $200 a month or something in the Soviet Union.
Jonna Mendez: [01:10:18] Yeah, not everybody can handle that kind of pressure. And these guys that were doing it, they knew there were consequences that they were caught and they knew what the consequence was. And you know, the other thing is that they typically, their families didn't know what they were doing. They couldn't trust them with it. Not that the families would rat them out, but that the families might slip up and somehow make a mistake. And so most of the people that worked for us like this were on their own. They were doing this completely separate from their real lives. This was just a category of work that no one knew about, but the CIA,
[01:10:51] I don't have a copy of the book with me now because I gave it to someone this morning. There was a comment from Gina Haspel in the book. She's the current head of CIA, and she's talking about how the CIA is the keeper of the human intelligence source. That means people, people, and that no technology can replace these people. And they need to be met and they need to be reassured, and they need to look you in the eye and be told how important what they're doing is, and that it's worth the risks that they're taking. And she kind of pulls that out of the air and says that you can't do this job without these human beings that are willing to take these risks. It's absolutely true.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:30] I'm confused though. There was something where he was supposed to exfil but his wife was too large that he was worried she couldn't fit into the plane. Is that what I understood?
Jonna Mendez: [01:11:39] That's what he said. I think that he just didn't want to leave. You don't want to stereotype, but mostly they did not want to leave. They'd rather take a chance then leave. But he did say that his wife was too heavy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:50] Wow. Yeah.
Jonna Mendez: [01:11:51] I never saw a picture of her, so I don't know. But then there was one other case, just real quickly, in the book where an author back here in the States had written a book that had -- I don't know if he meant to, but he had identified one of my Russian sources who was no longer working for us, no longer doing what he did, but it was very clear to anyone who read the book, who he was, and our Chief of Station in Moscow decided that we had to alert this guy and offer to move him. We were always ready to move them. We actually had document packages for all of these people ready, passports to everything they'd need to get out of the country. But our Chief of Station couldn't get rid of surveillance, and he wasn't a man who was out on the street a lot, so he was maybe not as clever working this surveillance thing. He wanted to go meet the Russian and say, "Your life is in danger. This book has been published. We couldn't stop this book. It's going to be out. They're going to come and get you. They're going to execute you." So he was trying to get to the door to knock on the door and he couldn't get out of the embassy. But my husband had been there about a year before and had left behind a contingency disguise. It's called a Carol disguise. Because there was a woman in the embassy, it had nothing to do with us who liked to ice skate and she had this distinctive big blonde hair, kind of Dolly Parton hair.
[01:13:07] And so the way we got to that agent to warn him was our Chief of Station dressed up like a woman. This is a real man who did this. Put on the dress, got Carol's ice skates, put them in his lap, put on Carol's wig, got Carol's husband to drive using Carol's car. They drive through the gates of the embassy to go out. These were people that were never followed because they just weren't out. They couldn't be spies. So our Chief of Station dressed up as a woman, went, ended up knocking on the guy's door and said, "You know, there's nothing we can do except when we can rescue you right now. You want to go?" The guy said, "No, I'll take my chances." And he stayed. And because he was a war hero and a very celebrated war hero in Russia. They didn't kill him, so he got out. It's a good ending. It's one of the few, one of the few good endings.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:57] So he was so decorated that if it came out he was a spy, it would've just been damaging to the country's morale. Like, "Well, if he's a spy, maybe this place is going to hell in a handbasket." That kind of thing?
Jonna Mendez: [01:14:07] I think it's that kind of thing. I think that's what it was, but he knew, or he thought he knew. He said, "Thank you." Actually, he said some things that were really profane, but they were just, he did the moment. "No way in hell, I'm going to leave the motherland."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:21] Wow. I mean, those guys have brass balls. You all do honestly. Reading the book you're like, "Oh gosh, what's going to happen next? Please don't kill him. Oh, he got killed." You know, it's really upsetting and the risk level is so high. Even like you said before, you don't even meet these agents for years and years and years because it's too dangerous to do. There was one situation in which I think the guy had done something with the wax or the ink and he had spilled the decoder stuff on it and it obscured the message. What if you destroy the coded message? What do you do? You have to explain in the next drop, like, "Hey, sorry, warhog7H, Q spilled coffee over that thing you just risked your life to give us. Can you just make another one and drop it off real quick?" Like what can you even do?
Jonna Mendez: [01:15:06] I think that was the hairiest moment in the book. That was an operation that my husband was -- he happened to be in station when that happened. This message came in. The agent had prepared the message wrong. He had used it. It sounds ridiculous. He'd used the wrong kind of paper. He used paper that had a wax-like butcher paper -- a butcher might put some meat in it, so it's waterproof. That's not what you're supposed to do. He had written it in cursive instead of block letters. Cursive is harder to read if you're doing secret writing. He had just sent this message and when they went to develop it, this is secret writing, and it's not lemon juice and heat. This is a very sophisticated system, but the developer had alcohol in it. So you take the letter and you basically float it in a tray of liquid that has alcohol in it. That and only that will develop the message. So the man that's developing it, not my husband, but another man, he puts it in the tray and you do it by inspection. You watch it. And he's looking for any, he sees the message, he sees it come up. It's just like developing a photograph. So he can see the message. It's all in Russia and he can't read it, but he can see it and he goes to pull it out of the liquid and the letters just float off the page and dissolve. And it was a nightmare because this particular message was so important. This man had just come into country and it was the one chance that we got to meet him or not? Is he going to meet with us or not? There's a lot of agents, you meet them outside of the country and they're like, "Oh, sure, yes, I'll work for you. I would do this, not a problem." And when they're back to Russia and they look around, they go, "Well, I don't know. This looks pretty dangerous." So we're never really sure if they're going to show up once they returned to their country.
[01:16:50] But his message, they worked night and day to develop that message. They used photography. They pulled out all the old writing in his file, compared it to the shreds that were left and they'd put together up what they thought was a message but still in Russia. It was my husband working on this, so he didn't know what it said. He didn't even know if it said anything. If these were really letters, and the Chief of Station came and leaned over him and looked in it said, "I will meet you." And it was, you know, big cheers all around. He was going to make that meeting. He was going to work with us, and he turned out to be -- that was the agent that bit down on the lethal pill eventually and killed himself. But in between the letter and the lethal pill, he gave us some amazing, amazing intelligence.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:38] I can only imagine. I just, the level of risk. You wouldn't do it for money, you would think anyway. I guess some people do, but there's just, it seems like there has to be more to it. And even when people betray their country, like when we look at some of the leaks from the United States, when they finally do get caught and go to prison, it's almost always like revenge, ego, vanity. It rarely is just purely financially motivated.
Jonna Mendez: [01:18:01] There's always that ego in there somewhere, one way or another. It's always part of it. Aldrich Ames when he betrayed the United States, it was mostly money. Bob Hanssen when he betrayed the United States, it was mostly ego. And these Russians, when they come up to us for ideological reasons, but then when you talk to them for a while, like I said, Stalin always comes up. There's history always. I don't think there was anyone in Russia that wasn't touched by Stalin, who's family wasn't touched by Stalin, and it's a mark that I don't know that it'll ever go away.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:33] Yeah, it's kind of like the Holocaust. People now are still alive but there's going to be people who'd never met the people that went through that or that are going to have that imprinted. It becomes part of the family legacy and history that gets passed all the way down. Like, "Where did we come from?" "Oh, we don't know because Stalin murdered everyone in our family and then moved us to the middle of nowhere and here we are."
Jonna Mendez: [01:18:51] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:52] "And that's where grandma and grandpa were born," like that kind of thing.
I heard that you used to use handwriting analysis. Is that even real? It sounds like such pseudoscientific baloney, honestly.
Jonna Mendez: [01:19:01] Well, it's because we use it as pseudoscientific baloney here in the States. It's got a long history in Europe. It's respected. Years and years ago when I first went to Europe, before I even knew what CIA was or that it existed, I was working for Chase Bank in Frankfurt, and as part of my application, I gave them a page of handwriting. It was part of their process. Our handwriting analysis was put together by a European woman who was very well respected in Europe. There's nothing casual about her approach. It was a series of measurements. It was a very scientific approach. We used it extensively with our agents. We would have them write their messages. We would send them for analysis. This was all in a computer too. This wasn't really, weren't eyeballing it so much as you were using the computer, but we would discover that people were sick. We would discover that people were lying. I mean, that was our first indication. And then you go explore that and find out, "Oh yeah, they are sick." "Oh yeah, they are lying."
[01:20:01] We discovered that combining handwriting analysis and polygraph. And there was a personality sort of test that we would give a psychological assessment test we would give to our agents. And if you had those three pieces of information, you had a pretty good handle on who you were dealing with. It was very useful.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:19] Well, so this has been very enlightening and I'm very thankful for your time. There's one last little bit, and nobody can really settle this, and I don't even know if we'll get an answer today, but I was talking with a friend who is also really interested in espionage and things like that, and he'd said, "Well, you know, I heard that since there were so many leaks back and forth between the CIA and the KGB, everything just kind of evened out, so maybe the whole thing was a wash," which I think is kind of ridiculous. His argument was there's no point in even doing it because everything evened out. But obviously, if one side is doing it the other side, it's not, then that wouldn't end up like that. But what do you think from being on the inside, are you able to sort of see any sort of scoreboard and go, we definitely got one over on them in the end or is it actually kind of six of one-half dozen of the other?
Jonna Mendez: [01:21:03] I don't know that it's about getting one over on them, but it's about did we receive any usable intelligence, any actionable intelligence, did we learn anything that made a difference. There was a Cold War conference held at Texas A&M, George Bush's University some years ago, maybe it was 20 years ago, and the question was, who won the Cold War. And we had all kinds of, you know, scholars and we had lots of different intelligence people. And we had Oleg Kalugin at the very end. We had Oleg Kalugin on the stage with a CIA officer named Paul Redmond. It was just two people. It was like everybody else had made their cases. And now we're down to two people.
[01:21:41] Paul Redmond was chief of counterintelligence and Oleg Kalugin was an ex-KGB general. So the question was who won. At the end of the conference, it just kept boiling down, boiling down. Finally, Kalugin said, "I would say that for every penetration we had of American intelligence, you had five of ours." So it was five to one and there's silence because everybody in that room is thinking, "Yeah, but you killed them all." Aldrich Ames gave them to you about a dozen. And you wiped them all out, you killed them all. So that score five to one didn't really make any sense if they were all executed. So you know, it just goes on and on. We had a great run back then. We had amazing intelligence coming in, did make a difference.
[01:22:25] What Tolkachev gave us with their weapons programs made a huge difference. What Trigon gave us was the bottom line for the Soviets, an assault to talks. He told us where they were willing to go and wouldn't go any further. So we went into negotiations with the Soviets about strategic arms limitations, knowing their position before we even walked in the room. Things like that. They do make a difference. They do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:54] Jonna, thank you so much. This is fascinating and I really appreciate you doing it with a very sore throat. I know what that's like from personal experience and I really just want to say thank you so much.
Jonna Mendez: [01:23:03] This is a really good interview. I must say. I'm just really impressed with what a nice interview you do. Not nice. Nice is the wrong word. Very intelligent, very informed. I really like doing this.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:13] Yeah, this is fun. I've wished we could have done it in person, but you know, it was that or wait for three years, whenever we're in the same neighborhood. So I chose this.
Jonna Mendez: [01:23:21] Yeah. I think this was good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:25] Great big thank you to Jonna Mendez. The book title is The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. There's actually an exhibit on Jonna at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. I definitely plan on going to that spy museum, by the way. If anyone's been there, let me know how that is. It sounds amazing.
[01:23:43] She told me off-air that they actually brought babies on surveillance operations because babies are not suspicious. It's funny because that sounds so obvious, but again, we're playing on unconscious bias. If I'm looking for somebody who might be suspicious, the woman with a baby is not high on my list. It's just really not. "Oh, you're out for a random walk in a random place where you have a baby, you're probably tired and you're trying to get the baby to sleep." Like that would never occur to me, even if I were looking for it. She also told me they had to disguise vehicles, so they had a fake Tony's Pizza surveillance van, which now, of course, we've seen that in every spy movie, but back then that was pretty novel. She actually took the sign from the van home when she retired, which I can assume it's either in the garage or maybe in an office somewhere, but that's pretty rad.
[01:24:26] Other uses of disguise that didn't make it on the show, they used to dress up some agents like embassy wives and drove them past security. Or they would clone the intelligence agent, have the agent drive out past security, and then just sit at a cafe somewhere, while the actual operative was somewhere else doing some things. So this is really cool stuff. The whole cloning people and just kind of sitting there at your local cafe, having a cup of coffee, because you know that person is being watched. But the other person who was actually up to something, who was the real version of that person, was out there doing their thing. So it's really, really cool. The security box with the police outside the embassy, especially in the Soviet Union, was often to monitor coming and going, not necessarily to keep the embassy itself safe. It's amazing how bad things got over in Moscow for the CIA.
[01:25:11] At one point, they had no foreign or Russian employees to drive cars, build offices, do anything. They fired all the Russian staff because they were nearly all KGB informants or agents and they just really had to go back to the stone age here. The reason ballpoint pens to write and legal pads, cause they couldn't use typewriters cause the typewriters were bugged. They were flying memos to Germany to be typed up and sent back to the States. The pens would freeze because it was so damn cold when they had the temporary office space cause the other embassy got caught on fire. That was a whole story with fake firemen coming in that were KGB, firemen, just an unbelievable tale. So they were working outside in like 30 below zero weather. The pens of freezing, just bonkers. Talk about a rough assignment. They've really invented some cool stuff. Even vans that let other cars drive into them using a ramp so they could be concealed. It's like straight out of Spy Hunter. If he ever played that game back in the '80s I loved that game as a kid.
[01:26:02] We're also going to link to a cool video from Wired about Jonna in disguise. We'll link that in the show notes as well. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you learned here today from Jonna. We've also got transcripts for each episode and those can be found in the show notes as well.
[01:26:17] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits. I have taught this to intelligence agencies, so if you're interested in this kind of thing, check out the Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. It really is sort of some spy stuff, but you know, applied to civilian life, at least for most of us. Dig the well before you get thirsty, folks, jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Jonna and tell her you enjoyed this episode of the show? Show guests love hearing from you, and you never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[01:27:01] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yes, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. I'm sure as heck, not a doctor, therapist, or spy as far as you know. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. So if you've found somebody who's into spy stuff, this is one for them. Hopefully, you're finding something in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:27:49] A lot of people ask me which podcasts I listen to and recommend, and the Art of Manliness has been a good old staple, whether you're a man or a woman. It's not really about that anymore, right, Brett? It's more, it's male-focused, but you probably have a ton of female listeners.
Brett McKay: [01:28:01] We've got a good female following.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:03] Now, this episode, The Mystery, Science, and Life-Changing Power of the Hot Hand kind of goes into whether or not, was kind of an NBA jam reference, right? Like whether or not you can be "on fire". Tell us a little bit about that episode.
Brett McKay: [01:28:16] So I talked to Ben Cohen. He wrote this book called The Hot Hand. He's a Wall Street Journal sportswriter, and he went in to explore whether the hot hand exists, and I think all of us have seen the hot hand. If you watch Steph Curry play basketball, it seems like every shot that he puts up goes in, or you might've experienced it playing basketball, you know, a pickup game. Every shot you put up, no matter how difficult, it just seems to go in and he wanted to explore if this thing real and is actually a big, big debate about whether the hot hand actually exists. Some big names in academics have debated this and we'll let you listen to the episode to find out if the hot hand actually exists.[01:28:52] The answer is yes, no, or maybe check it out. It's got a lot of fun and we do have some NBA jam references in there, so boom-shaka-laka
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:00] That game was so addicting. I still dream about it. Do you still have [01:29:04] that?
Brett McKay: [01:29:05] I'm trying to look for it. I'm trying to scrounge it up.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:07] It's hard to get. I had an emulator running it for a while and then like the software broke for Mac and then you know, here we are at square one. If anyone knows how to set up old-school NBA jam email -- No, don't really do that, you're going to get 7,000 emails. It's probably somebody has this set-up.
Brett McKay: [01:29:24] I'm sure they do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:24] If somebody knows how to set up NBA jam, go ahead and email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org in case we get a deluge of that.
[01:29:33] Brett, thank you very much.
Brett McKay: [01:29:34] Thanks for having me.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.