20 Jul 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Who better to tell a rapt San Diego Comic-Con crowd how to follow people and evade surveillance than a pair of ex-CIA spooks come in from the cold.
A pair of former spies with “The Agency” told a Comic-Con audience at the San Diego Convention Center how to “hypothetically” conduct and escape surveillance — for storytelling purposes in spy novels, scripts and comics.
The Spy and Espionage Tech panel at Comic-Con featured espionage experts, detectives and former spies discussing espionage techniques of the past, present and future.
“Everything I’m going to tell you is hypothetical,” former CIA agent Jason Hanson said to knowing laughter. “Remember that, hypothetical.”
Hanson, who was with the CIA for 7 years, now runs the Utah-based Spy, Escape and Evasion, which teaches everyday people how to escape duct tape, pick locks, detect lies, crash cars and conduct surveillance.
“We went to Hollywood. We were intrigued by their ability to build deceptions and illusions,” former CIA chief of disguise Jonna Mendez told the Comic-Con audience. “For God and country, they gave us some lessons.”
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Mendez belonged to an office at the agency that was the equivalent of the Q Branch in the James Bond novels that created surveillance bugs, phony documents and camera pens. Mendez is the wife of former CIA officer Tony Mendez, the subject of the 2012 film “Argo.”
Here are 6 CIA-tested espionage techniques you can use the next time you need to conduct or escape surveillance — hypothetically speaking, of course.
1. Twins and Triplets
“We used Hollywood as a vehicle to teach us a little bit about teleportation,” Mendez said. “How to make twins. It’s what they do in the magic acts. We discovered we could make twins, too.”
The CIA would create twins or triplets to throw off surveillance, Mendez said.
“We could rig it where they weren’t sure if it was you, or you No. 2,” Mendez said. “Then the real you could step out of the picture.”
2. Secret Disguises
“Disguise has become not just a great tool to have in your bag of tools, it has become a form of body armor around the world,” Mendez said. “It will protect you in a lot of situations.”
“We could do anything with disguise that we put our minds to,” Mendez said. “We could do ethnic changes. We could make you Chinese, we could make you African, we could make you Indian. We could make you anything you needed.”
“We could do gender changes,” Mendez said. “We could turn women into men and men into women.”
3. Mobile Sniffer Machines
Tailing bad guys in a car is not as easy as it looks in the movies. The surveillance vehicle can’t just be two car lengths behind and avoid detection.
“Maybe there would be an additive you could pour in a gas tank,” Hanson said. “You pour that additive into the gas tank and then it emits a certain smell.”
A trailing vehicle with a sniffing machine can follow the exhaust of the suspect’s car without drawing attention.
4. Cell Phone Magic Wands
Drug dealers and mafiosos use burner phones to hide their identity.
“All you’ve got to do is have somebody get within 20 yards,” Hanson said. “The ‘magic wand,’ as we call it, will read all the electronic serial numbers on the cell phones.”
With the cell phone serial numbers, spies can follow their targets undetected. Even if the bad guys are using burner phones.
5. Tag, Track and Locate
What’s the best way to get a listening device into a home with the help of the person under surveillance? Follow their shopping habits.
“If I know he goes to 7-Eleven and he loves Coke and he always buys a 6-pack every Friday, well all I’ve got to do is tag the many 6-packs of Coke in that 7-Eleven,” Hanson said. “I can put listening devices on multiples of them — remember, hypothetical. If he brings that 6-pack of Coke in his house, maybe I’m going to hear something.”
Shampoo or laundry detergent might be a better Trojan Horse because they would stay in the house longer than Coca-Cola, which might be consumed faster.
6. Cell Phone Microphones and Cameras
“There are multiple ways these days to track you,” Hanson said. “Most of us just have cell phones. We can turn on your microphones or we can turn on your cameras very easily — if you were the government and were allowed to do that stuff. It’s easier than ever these days to track people.”
In addition to Hanson and Mendez, the Comic-Con panelists included cyber defense expert Josh Ray and genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter. The panel was moderated by Dent the Future co-founder Steve Broback.
READ MORE about SDCC 2019:
Photo galleries: Cosplay | Scenes from Comic-Con | Her Universe Fashion Show | Preview night
Recaps: Day 2 | Day 1 | 5 memorable moments from opening day |Preview night and the Running of the Nerds
Only at Comic-Con: Tom Cruise lookalike at the “Top Gun” bar | Wheelchair cosplay | The dancing monster
Fashion: Her Universe Fashion Show winners | SoCal Her Universe designers | Interview with Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein | The Hero Within clothing line | What cosplay weapons are allowed | The 23 swag backpacks
Inside SDCC: A daily guide to TV and movie panels | George Takei and “The Terror” | “Fear the Walking Dead” | Christian comic books | The $1.1 million comic book | Mensa members predict the future | The future of college esports |
Super fans: Orlando Jones is Comic-Con’s No. 1 fan | “Steven Universe” | “Dragon Ball Z” world record | Wayward Cocktails “Supernatural” party
Things to do: No badge needed for these activities | Comic-Con museum in Balboa Park | Where to drink and party
History: The 12-year-old who co-founded Comic-Con | 50 facts about Comic-Con’s 50 years
The big issues: Service animals are superheroes | Cosplay, panels reflect diversity | Security measures