Spy Stories: CIA & KGB Agents | Jonna Mendez on The Jordan Harbinger Show

 Check out the Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The CIA had to develop special techniques to help agents survive in the USSR because they were extensively tracked
  • Since Russian intelligence officers were constantly monitoring Americans, for 10 years no US agent met with their Russian informant. Instead, they used dead drops–placing information in fake rocks, crushed soda cans, milk cartons with fake vomit on the outside or other concealment devices and giving the other person some kind of signal (like a chalk mark on a mailbox) to go get the information from the concealment device.
  • The CIA drew inspiration from Hollywood make-up artists to create masks for their agents
    • “They were animated, life-like masks and we could recreate any kind of character over your face. We would fit it to your face. We could also make your face for another person.” Jonna Mendez
  • Every year the CIA looks at countries that pose a threat to the US, brainstorms the possible intentions of those countries’ leaders, and then tries to recruit people who have access to information about those plans
    • “Let’s go recruit them, let’s go get them on our side” – Jonna Mendez
      • Most of the intelligence research isn’t done by US spies, but rather it’s done by the native people in that country that the CIA recruits 
  • Adolf Tolkachev is known as the billion-dollar spy because his information was worth literally billions of dollars
    • He provided key information to the CIA about Russia’s radar technology 10 years before it was built
      • “Enough time for the Pentagon to build the countermeasures, so that by the time it came out we already could defeat it”Jonna Mendez

Intro

  • Jonna Mendez is a former chief of disguise in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Technical Service
  • Host: Jordan Harbinger (@JordanHarbinger

Books Mentioned

Working As A CIA Spy In The USSR

  • From 1976 to about 1989, Joanna was an undercover intelligence agent in the Soviet Union
    • The CIA had to develop special Moscow Rules for help agents survive in the USSR
      • “They were following us 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…they were everywhere around us”Jonna Mendez
        • However, the KGB was actually after the Russian who were committing treason by working with the Americans. If they found those people, they were executed.
  • The KGB had 50,000 agents in Moscow alone
  • “The mark that Stalin left on that society carries on today” – Jonna Mendez
    • “You’ll almost always hear these stories about the purges, you’ll hear stories about arrests and murders…there were these tragedies on a scale we can’t imagine.” 
  • Since Russian intelligence officers were constantly monitoring Americans, for 10 years no US agent met with their Russian informant. Instead they used dead drops–placing information in fake rocks, crushed soda cans, milk cartons with fake vomit on the outside or other concealment devices and giving the other person some kind of signal (like a chalk mark on a mailbox) to get the information from the concealment device.

Battle of The Spies: US & USSR

  • No country is perfect, but the US does have certain freedoms that you won’t find in many other places
  • The USSR allowed the US to build an embassy in Moscow as long as Russia got to build an embassy in D.C.
    • The Russian imported all of their construction materials and workers
      • The US, however, let Russian build most of the embassy. As a result, the US embassy was filled with Russian listening bugs
        • “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.” – Jonna Mendez
          • The US eventually tore down the embassy and then brought in American construction workers to build the new one
  • People used to leave their shoes outside of their apartments and sometimes Russian agents would put listening bugs into the shoes
    • “Every opportunity to do a bug they took” – Jonna Mendez
  • Russia would sometimes have double agents or Russian spies who would work for the CIA and pass along US intelligence to Russian agents

Working For The CIA

  • Jonna’s husband saw an ad in a newspaper saying the Navy was looking for an artist to do international work–the job was actually creating copies of travel documents for the CIA
  • How does the CIA recruit people?
    • The CIA can’t compete on salary with private companies but they do offer people the chance to work on cutting edge technology that makes a difference and saves lives
  • Jonna’s main mission for the CIA was to collect intelligence about the plans and intentions of their enemies for policy makers back in Washington
  • Every year the CIA looks at countries that pose a threat to the US, brainstorms the possible intentions of those countries’ leaders, and then tries to recruit people who have access to information about those plans
    • “Let’s go recruit them, let’s go get them on our side” – Jonna Mendez
      • Most of the intelligence research isn’t done by US spies, but rather it’s done by the native people in that country that the CIA recruits 
        • The US usually has passports and any documents needed to get evacuate them in case of danger to their lives 

How The CIA Uses Disguises

  • The CIA started to use more disguises during the 1970s in an attempt to stop terrorists from identifying CIA agents and following them home and learning about their personal lives
    • The CIA drew inspiration from Hollywood make-up artists to create masks for their agents
      • “They were animated, life-like masks and we could recreate any kind of character over your face. We would fit it to your face. We could also make your face for another person.” Jonna Mendez
        • The CIA would make a mask of one person and apply it to another agent and that way, Russian agents would follow the wrong agent 

Famous Spies

  • Adolf Tolkachev is known as the billion-dollar spy because his information was worth literally billions of dollars
    • He provided key information to the CIA about Russia’s radar technology 10 years before it was built
  • Another well-known spy was Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik
    • He provided key information to the US government but was eventually captured and took a suicide pill which was secretly placed in his pen
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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