Former Members of the CIA Compare Mission: Impossible to Real Life

Tom Cruise and his character, Ethan Hunt, may live a fictional life as a CIA agent in Mission: [...]

Tom Cruise and his character, Ethan Hunt, may live a fictional life as a CIA agent in Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which will be released on DVD, 4K and Blu-ray on December 4th, but for Peter Earnest and Jonna Mendez, dangerous missions were their day-to-day life as former members of the CIA. So, we set out to find out: how true to real life are movies like the Mission: Impossible franchise?

"There's some truth to it," Mendez, the former Chief of Disguise in the CIA's Office of Technical Service, told "There's a lot of real life compressed into 90 minutes, whereas when we do it, it is spread out over months and months, and it is never as clear-cut as it is in the movies."

"Just as in the films, things go wrong," Earnest added. He is a former member of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service and is the Founding Executive Director Emeritus of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "Nothing is ever exactly as you planned, therefore, you have to be innovative and you have to think on your feet. Things happen very quickly sometimes."

Both agree that dealing with terrorists was the most threatening part of their job.

"When terrorism and narcotics became a part of our portfolio, we were dealing with a different level of person," Mendez said. "Previously, it had been more official government entities, and now there are people with guns where violence is a way of life."

"During the Cold War our primary adversary [sic] were the Soviet Union, Russians, East Europeans, but as time went on, increasingly we were dealing with a terrorist," Earnest said. "At one point, I was handling a terrorist target, and I never knew what to expect at any given meeting, because his loyalties were far different than mine, and we were a marriage of convenience, and I never knew if things might not go the way I want."

"The friends that I've lost that have been killed in intelligence work have always been a result of terrorist action," he added.

In the movies, gadgets that are used run parallel to those used in real life for spy use, according to the two experts. In the International Spy Museum, there are several tools that both Mendez and Earnest have used in the past. One contraption you can check out inside the museum happens to be a favorite of Mendez from when she was in the CIA.

"The teeny, tiny camera I used all over the world [...] is here in the Spy Museum. Inside of it there is a film cassette that holds a piece of film and every picture is a dot, and more significant intelligence was collected with my cameras than any satellite system," Mendez said. "The satellites would show you what was going on, but my film was the agenda of the meetings, the minutes of the meetings, it showed you plans and intentions of what they were going to do next, and that is what the policy makers want."

On the other end of the spectrum, Earnest found one gadget in particular to be thrilling, but not so handy if a mission went wrong.

"One of the more exciting devises I used, [which] now seems very clumsy, was an overcoat camera." Earnest said. "You were wearing a very cumbersome harness with a Pentax camera underneath it, and when you were in crowds you were trying to do certain photographs, and if you got bumped into the wrong way -- you're wearing this big camera underneath. It was an exciting device to use, and it was very effective, but it was very cumbersome."

The spy world may be entertaining in Hollywood films, but it is nothing short of real for those who choose to enter that line of work. Mendez said her priority was the safety of those around her.

"While there were some dangerous situations in my career, the people in danger predominantly were the foreign agents working for us, and my concern was particularly protecting them."

"The purpose of the museum, really, was the founder believed very much that the public should have a better understanding of -- and I'll say intelligence in a broad sense -- and the role that it plays in government affairs and the national security of our country," Earnest noted.

The International Spy Museum is a non-profit museum that explores the history and practice of espionage. It has educated the public since opening on July 19, 2002.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout will be out on DVD, 4K and Blu-ray tomorrow, December 4th.