Spy Tech: CIA Masks In Five Minutes Or Less

You know the old trope: James Bond is killed but it turns out to be someone else in an incredibly good-looking Sean Connery mask. Mission: Impossible and Scooby Doo regularly had some variation of the theme. But, apparently, truth is stranger than fiction. The CIA has — or at least had — a chief of disguise. A former holder of that office now works for the International Spy Museum and has some very interesting stories about the real masks CIA operatives would use in the field.

According to the video you can see below, the agency enlisted the help of Hollywood — particularly the mask maker from Planet of the Apes — to help them with this project. Of course, in the movies, you can take hours to apply a mask and control how it is lit, how closely the camera examines it, and if something goes wrong you just redo the scene. If you are buying secret plans and your nose falls off, it would probably be hard to explain.

While the technology to make a mask like this is interesting in of itself, a comment from former chief [Jonna Mendez] was the most interesting part of the video. She says: “The fact that we (the museum) are allowed to show it (the masks) tells me the CIA has moved on.”

So you can only wonder what tech the CIA and other spy agencies might have now to disguise an agent. In William Shatner’s short-lived TekWar series, people used holomasks that looked like black hoods with some sort of emitters along the surface to project a different face.  Or maybe you put your face in a specialized 3D printer and hold your breath. We’ll entertain guesses in the comments.

Apparently, the industry term for these sort of things are hyperrealistic masks and they’ve been used in everything from Halloween costumes to committing bank robberies. Still, we imagine even the priciest of these can’t be put on in two minutes while running down an alley in the rain.

If you are wondering what these masks could do to face recognition systems, you aren’t the only one. We wouldn’t suggest making your own silicone masks, but since you won’t listen to us, here’s some tips on making molds.

23 thoughts on “Spy Tech: CIA Masks In Five Minutes Or Less

  1. How do you deal with sweat in such masks? I find wearing surgical gloves uncomfortable after as little as 10min, because transpiration starts to accumulate as moisture inside the gloves, and I suspect these masks would have the same effect – unless there’s a nice structure of micropores included

      1. In the Atul Gawande book “Better” he mentioned surgery that people get, that snips a nerve in their armpits, and stops them blushing or sweating in the upper half of their bodies. People who got this were mostly actors or news people who couldn’t tolerate having a blush response. The weird part of the discussion was that after getting this surgery, they no longer felt the embarrassment response that leads to a blush response. It more or less removed their sense of embarrassment.

    1. The requirement of being able to put it on in 5 seconds in a car leads me to believe that it wasn’t intended to be worn for long periods of time, but rather to be slipped on at a moment’s notice to lose a tail. She also said it had to be good enough to fool someone at 4ft. That’s basically passing someone in a hall.

      Imagine you’re being tailed and slipping into a bathroom for refuge. You have minute or less to throw your jacket in the trash, slip on the mask and maybe a hat and then walk back out right past the person following you.

    2. Surgeons wear surgical gloves for hours at a time without problem. But “real” surgical gloves are much much more comfortable for long wear them “exam gloves” like the disposable nitrile ones used for degreasing car parts or something. Not sure why that is but maybe the much closer fit has something to do with it.

    3. IIRC while filming Planet of The Apes, they perforated the latex so the actors could sweat through them (and not sweat off the prosthetic), I imagine a similar thing.

    1. They have successfully infiltrated most of the internet keypoints. So they can find out the darkest stuff about any target. There is no need for an original agent in the field. All they have to do is to force a target on-site to do their work for them.

  2. I’m not convinced that the CIA talking about this means they have better tech. The specs for many current weapons are available.
    It’s more likely that they’re talking about it because it’s cool, and everyone from Russia to North Korea already knows it, so why shouldn’t the taxpayer know (especially as it’s one of their less nasty activities…)

  3. These have been around for a very long time, since the 1970s. Speargum, TPE silicon pieces, dental veneers, a wig or extensions amd voila! You be John Lennon. There are even vocal filter technologies to make you sound like anyone you want to be.

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