Lisabeth Purnell was certainly clever enough to appreciate the grand irony of her opening at the White House as Ingrid Carlsbad, appearing in a one act play about the power of redemption, accompanied by ear-shattering thunder and dramatic sweeps of rain.
Who really knows the heart and soul of anyone among us? she asked herself.
Like many intelligence officers in the clandestine service, Purnell used more than one pseudonym. Ingrid Carlsbad just happened to be her favorite fake name. Bogus names threw off of her trail any curious civilians—including clandestine agents of hostile services—who might be inclined to follow up after events in the open like this briefing.
Lisabeth was also wearing light disguise. This was a subtle collection of invisible, almost magic alterations to her facial structure, her hair, and certain parts of her body. Lifts and slight orthopedic adjustments to her shoes changed her height, and the pace and cant of her walk. The CIA had used these techniques for decades to ensure that no one who happened to see an actual covert operations officer in such a public context would recognize the real person in a chance encounter elsewhere.
From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz
Lisabeth Purnell (aka Ingrid Carlsbad) is just about the coolest character in my novel, Cronatos Hybamper. A CIA operations officer, she “had the perfect cover for her work in Moscow Station. And she had a score to settle. This was a dangerous combination for the Russians.” You can read her story and how she got her revenge in the novel.
There are several good sources on the use of disguise by agents in the field. Three that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to are these podcasts from the Spycast series posted by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. They feature Antonio (Tony) Mendez and his wife Jonna Mendez, both of whom worked in the CIA’s Technical Services Division. At separate times, each was Chief of Disguise for the agency.
Tony Mendez was the real agent who got out the American diplomats trapped in Tehran, the story featured in the movie Argo. The pair have written several books about their craft and episodes from real life.
Here are links to the three podcasts:
A discussion of the intricacies of developing disguises for use in hostile environments, the advantages of selective aging, and the secret history of facial recognition technology. https://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/from-the-vault-the-tony-and-jonna-mendez-edition-part-1/
Jonna Mendez discusses some of the operations she was involved in as well as opportunities for women in the intelligence community. https://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/from-the-vault-the-tony-and-jonna-mendez-edition-part-2/
The story of how Tony Mendez mounted an elaborate deception and disguise operation to exfiltrate six Americans from Tehran before the Iranians were able to track them down.https://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/from-the-vault-the-tony-and-jonna-mendez-edition-part-3/
One of the rescued diplomats wrote an article praising the film and Mendez, but explaining how the cinematic version differed from real life. See, Mark Lijek, “I Was Rescued From Iran: It wasn’t like the movie.” Slate.
Both of the Mendez couple have written books. Here are links to just two, and there are more. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, and Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.
To read a sample of Cronatos Hybamper and order the book, click on the link below.