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Interview With Former Spies

Aired February 24, 2004 - 14:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So what's it take to be a spy in this new high-tech era? We're lucky to have Tony and Jonna Mendez with us from Washington. They are both retired CIA master spies who know a thing or two about this highly secretive world. I guess you could say welcome to Mr. and Mrs. Bond. Good to see you both.
JONNA MENDEZ, FORMER SPY: Thank you.

ANTONIO MENDEZ, FORMER SPY: Nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: All right, I'll tell you what. Before we get to the interesting fun stuff and aspects of your career specifically, I'd like for you to comment on what we've been hearing in the news right up through today with the director of the Central Intelligence before Congress. How much of what we're seeing there -- and we'll go ladies first, Jonna -- how much of what we're seeing there is 20/20 hindsight and how much do you feel is legitimate criticism of intelligence gathering methods?

J. MENDEZ: It's a combination of both. It's always a combination of both.

When they are talking about the kinds of intelligence, the enormous avalanche of intelligence that comes down this chute every day at the intelligence community and how to deal with that, how do you get the resources to sort through that and find the pieces that you need?

This is not a new problem. This has always been a problem. It's just new again. And the political constraints that tug at this intelligence community in this election year are probably going to become even more severe as time goes on.

O'BRIEN: Pick up on that point, Antonio, if you would, on how politics might factor into all of this. And how, through all of this, in your long career in intelligence you've lived through these appraisals, how much this affects the rank and file on a day to day basis?

A. MENDEZ: Well, the -- you hope to keep the politics out of it by having a policy-making machine. But the closer you get to an election year, the more and more politics are going to creep in. There's always competing for air time, if you will.

So at the working level, what you want to do is have a built-in filter to politics and try to keep an eye on the ball. The enemy is always changing as are the politics in our system.

So you can't do straight line projections from the past into the future in either count. You've got to always be alert to new stimuli, if you will.

O'BRIEN: Whether they see allegations of pre-9/11 missteps or the weapons of mass destruction issue in Iraq, are there fundamental failures in the intelligence community? Is this the gang that can't shoot straight? Jonna?

J. MENDEZ: I think this is going to sort itself out over time as these committees form, as these investigations proceed. We've noticed already changes in some of the basic ways that the CIA, for instance, is going to be handling its information.

I understand that the sources who are always kept separate from the analysis section, that the sources are now going to be made known to the analysts so that they can better evaluate the intelligence. And to me, that makes sense. Maybe some good will come out of all these investigations.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get to the fun stuff now. Antonio -- and this is all depicted in this wonderful program "Spycatchers" which airs on PBS. You are perhaps the definitive master of disguise for the CIA -- or were because now you just consult for them.

Give us a sense of what -- how much can you tell us about what you do? How much can't you tell us? And maybe give us a few tips out there in the unclassified world.

A. MENDEZ: Well, the business is old as Biblical times, if not older. So lot of the things we were doing then, we're doing now and they'll be doing in the future.

The sensitive part, the part you have to compartment, that you have to guard against getting out is the who, what, where, when and where of just like in journalism. You want to make sure that you protect the sources, keep them, in the case of espionage, alive and in place.

But the fun part of the tools and techniques that you can talk about -- and that's the James Bond, Q sort of -- we brought a little bit of that along with us.

O'BRIEN: Show us the tools of the trade, if you will.

A. MENDEZ: What I have right here on my finger is a ring which is in fact a Victorian era pistol.

O'BRIEN: Really? That's a pistol?

A. MENDEZ: This is a five-shot pistol. Shoots about a 4- millimeter slug, or I should say ball because it's percussion cap. You just flip it around and set it off like that.

Jonna's got the Cold War version of that, which is the KGB lipstick pistol.

O'BRIEN: Let me see that. So you actually captured a KGB lipstick pistol? Was that during the Cold War or did you get that afterwards?

J. MENDEZ: I didn't capture it. The poor gal that had it probably now is finding out where it is.

(LAUGHTER)

J. MENDEZ: It's a one-shot gun. There's one in the International Spy Museum and it's called "The Kiss of Death." It just fires one shot. But then if you're that close, it only takes one shot.

O'BRIEN: One shot would do it. What color is the lipstick? I guess it doesn't matter.

All right, Antonio, give us some other tools of the trade, if you will.

A. MENDEZ: Here are a couple disguise items that you'll see in the program tonight on PBS. This is a nose that I made for the reenactment of the one case where I am disguised as a South Asian type. That's the nose. And then I have...

O'BRIEN: Did you actually manufacture that or do you have people that help you with that?

A. MENDEZ: Actually, what you're showing right now is me actually manufacturing it.

O'BRIEN: Really? And you have a background as an artist, and actually a well-regarded artist. Obviously that comes into play here, didn't it?

A. MENDEZ: Yes. Actually these teeth are better than mine. So if you need to enhance things you can do that too. You try to make yourself into the little gray man but sometimes vanity wins out.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. Lot of people seen "Mission Impossible" where they pull the mask off at the end. Is it really like that?

A. MENDEZ: That's the part we can't talk about.

O'BRIEN: OK. Stepped right into it.

Jonna, anything else you want to share with us.

J. MENDEZ: Just my brick. This is a classic dead drop device. It can be a brick, it can be a tree branch, it can be a board. I made this and it even had a name. They were going to put it in a museum at one point but I got home with it. It's got a small camera in it. It's got a roll of rubles.

O'BRIEN: Rubles, OK. And small cameras are a specialty of yours, aren't they?

J. MENDEZ: Yes. I worked a lot with miniature cameras when I was working for the CIA.

O'BRIEN: And can you -- you can't share with us any of those right now?

J. MENDEZ: Most of them are not commercially available. This is a Minox camera and it is commercially available. But most of the formats I worked in were things developed specifically for the business that we were in.

O'BRIEN: All right. And, finally, you have a wig you want to tell us about. I want to hear the full story backstory.

J. MENDEZ: I think what you might want to do, if Tony wants to put it on, I can talk to you for just a moment about it...

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's a good idea. Why don't we do that? You talk it and, Tony, you demonstrate. All right?

J. MENDEZ: ... about how that works because most people think that classic disguise is wigs and mustaches and a new pair of glasses. And typically it is that. It can be. It can get as elaborate as your operation needs for it to be.

But sometimes just dead simple changes are what, in fact, really work. And so if you were to pan over to Tony, you would see that on the street if you walked by this gentleman, you would probably keep walking. You probably wouldn't look at him too hard. You might even crossover. I certainly would.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. And the thing is, as I look at this, and I assume this has been employed in various places, a lot of it -- there's a fair amount of acting involved, isn't there?

J. MENDEZ: Yes. Yes. You need to -- actually your demeanor is just as important as any disguise that you apply. Your walk is just as important as any disguise you apply. You can change everything about the way you look, but if you still have this unique walk that my friends tell me I have, they can see me a block away. Doesn't matter what I look like.

O'BRIEN: All right. So this age of high-tech satellites, there's still room for the real cloak and dagger, I guess.

J. MENDEZ: Lots of room.

A. MENDEZ: Absolutely. When the going gets tough, this is what the tough go after.

O'BRIEN: All right. Mr. and Mrs. Bond, thank you very much. Jonna and Antonio Mendez, formerly with the CIA, now consultants to them, experts of disguise, miniature cameras and featured in tonight's PBS program "Spycatchers." Check your local listings. It's a fascinating program. I think you'll really enjoy it. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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