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Road Trip Report Washington DC a.k.a Dossier: Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol Launch Event Part 2

Part 1 of my recent roadtrip detailed the first half of my adventures in Washington DC for the Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol DVD and Blu-ray release. [Go back and read it!]

Later on in the day, after the interviewing sessions with Director Brad Bird and technical expert Dale Shelton, there was a panel discussion with four ex-spies and Mr. Shelton. All four of these 30-plus year veterans sit on the Board of Directors of the International Spy Museum and lend incredible authenticity to the history, stories, and displays that are presented in this amazing museum…what kind of secrets do you think they have?!!

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Ex-spy panel at the International Spy Museum

From left to right: Peter Earnest (30+ year vet of the CIA) who served as Moderator; Jonna Hiestand Menzez (Former Chief of Disguise in the CIA's Office of Technical Service); General Oleg Danilovich Kalugin (30+ year vet of the KGB); and David G. Major (Former FBI & CIA vet). 

I was enthralled. Fascinated. Mesmerized by the discussion. While I love spy films, I have not read too many spy books or done any research on spy life in general. That's not to say that I believe that the life presented in Hollywood blockbusters is accurate, but I thought there was a shred of validity. Turns out, not really. As each of the ex-spies reiterated over and over. The spy life is about intelligence and counter-intelligence. It is a cerebral professional with very little violence.

“It exists,” as General Oleg explained, “but not in the blow-up-the-Kremlin kind of way. It is more like poisonings and single-death assassinations rather than what is presented in Hollywood.” David Major, who is a professor (and Founder) at The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies says that he instructs his students to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as it is closer to reality than say the Bourne series.

Having said that, all of the group agreed that what they loved about Ghost Protocol was that the courage the team displayed after being disavowed (which they all agreed never happens). The team really thinks through the problem (they have to). There is complexity, nothing is as it appears and the ex-spies indicated this aspect of the film is very realistic.

Mr Major further went on to say that successful intelligence professionals are those who are experts at being charming and building relationships. It is a people business where being a master recruiter is essential.

I particularly admired Jonna Hiestand Mendez. Peter Ernest said, “she is the real Q.” As a member of the CIA's Office of Technical Service she created, tested, and released a lot of gadgets into the field. But beyond that she was Chief of Disguise and an expert in clandestine photography. She certainly did not miss a beat as I tried to discreetly snap her photo at the cocktail party after the panel, this was the only photo I captured that she wasn't looking directly at me!

Jonna Hiestand Menzez

There was a lively discussion between Jonna and Dale Shelton about the technology used in the Mission Impossible film. Mr. Shelton indicated their vision for the technology was to jump one generation ahead of some of the technology that exists today, however, there were some items that are definitely fictional (or at least Ms. Mendez would not confirm their existence!). Things like the gecko gloves and the contact lenses are fictitious, but the mask-making machine and 3D imaging concepts are “not bogus” according to Jonna!

Dale Shelton, Jonna Hiestand Menzez and General Oleg Danilovich Kalugin

She cautioned the audience by saying, no matter what technology she and her team worked on, there was an unspoken motto that the organization went by: technology always fails. She said it was critical to have an analog method as a backup. Seems like smart advice (as someone who knows their hubby doesn't know her phone number so if he ever lost his cell…okay, I digress!).

Later, a female reporter from NextMovie.com asked why women in the intelligence field depicted in Hollywood were always seductresses and vixens? She wondered if there are other roles for women in the field? Ms. Mendez said she teaches a Women in Espionage class as a lot of women in the field don't have a sense of their own history. She said there are a lot of smart women in the business, that in her day you had to be not only smart, but smarter, than the men you worked with.

They all agreed the glass ceiling had been shattered early in the intelligence community and that women are well-represented throughout the organization with the exception of field ops where they are still under-represented. Later David Major and General Kalugin told the reporter that Jonna was living proof of the success of women (despite the fact they both agreed, she was a vixen!).

I was nearly delirious with fatigue (and hunger!) when I took the photo below:


After getting a tiny peek at the museum, I headed back to the hotel to fall into bed (after having a lovely goat cheese and arugula sandwich)! The next morning I woke up to do emails and start processing some of the photos I had taken. My plan was that I would take a brief walk up to the White House and the Washington Monument before heading back to the airport. The reality? Despite the hotel is only about two blocks away from both those places, I got lost.

This is typical (hence the name of my blog). I was trying to use Google Maps on my phone, but I think I was just really tired and it was cold with a chilly wind. I wandered around (probably in a circle) for about an hour and then headed back to the hotel. At the last corner before crossing over the Sofitel, I looked up and saw the photo I posted last Thursday (hint: the Washington Monument)!

No matter. As I approached the hotel the welcoming flag of my adoptive country bristled in the wind just for me!

French flag over the Sofitel

So just a little over 36-hours after arriving in Washington DC, I found myself at the airport with a bit of time to kill. I was feeling somewhat blue about getting lost, so when I spotted a Vino Volo on the directory in the Terminal I was heading to, I was ecstatic! I had my own little pity party (and eased my aching muscles) with a flight of West Coast (represent!) Pinot Noirs:

Vino Volo flight of West Coast Pinot Noirs

And some lovely cheese! This is the only civilized way to wait for a flight!

Vino Volo cheese plate

And so ends my brief business trip. It was hard work, but I really did enjoy hearing the warm and engaging Brad Bird speak about Mission Possible Ghost Protocol, one of my favorite films from 2011 as well as listen in on the fascinating lives of spies!

How about you? Do you like spy movies? Have you seen any of the Mission Impossible series? Is there another spy film you like?

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  1. Camels & Chocolate says:

    I have! And I can’t wait to see the newest one, since we missed it in the theater. I also really love all the Bond films…and anything spy-like starring Angelina Jolie =)

    In D.C. on Thursday. Bummed we just missed each other once again!

    1. @Kristin, that is a total bummer!

  2. @Camels & Chocolate… if you loved the Bond films, and you like to read, you should check out “The Rx Factor” by J. Thomas Shaw, a great political thriller with a mix of romance.

  3. Walker Thornton says:

    I’ve always wondered how much of what one reads and sees about spy stuff is really true. As a fan of Robert Ludlum, it can be scary to think that some of that kind of intrigue and technology really does exist. Thanks for giving us a glimpse inside.

    1. @Walker, I was so intrigued!

  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    What an interesting discussion to attend and I love that their profession was early to accept women! The cheese looks gooood.

    1. @AndiP, I was very pleasantly surprised!

  5. I haven’t seen MI4, and wasn’t really planning to — but now after reading about the event (I’ve always been into spy stories, but thought Ghost Protocol would be too ridiculous) you’ve changed my mind!

  6. Amy Green says:

    I love spy movies and detective stories. It all started for me when I was eight and was introduced to James Bond. I also loved Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘The Russia House’. And then I got into reading Nancy Drew. If I I want something that fits the genre and is lighthearted, I’ll watch the Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase comedy ‘Foul Play’. It’s fascinating how many true crime/forensic evidence/murder mystery shows Americans watch. And I still need to see the ‘Mission Impossible’ movies!