Real life spies Peter Earnest and Jonna Mendez may not have directly inspired the events that unfold in Mission: Impossible - Fallout, but the experiences they've dealt with during operations within the CIA are very much present in the film. Both are former CIA agents who have personally dealt with everything from high-risk covert missions to infiltrating foreign territories in disguise.
In Mission: Impossible - Fallout, the world is put at risk after IMF senior field operations agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team fail to complete one of their missions. As a result, the past comes back to haunt Ethan, and he is forced to work alongside the CIA's Special Activities Division operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) in order to fix his mess. In true Mission: Impossible fashion, not everyone is who they seem, and Hunt is given very little time to navigate a globe-spanning mystery that may well result in mass destruction. The film also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, and Angela Bassett, with Christopher McQuarrie returning as writer and director following 2015's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
To kick off the home entertainment debut of Mission: Impossible - Fallout, we spoke with two retired CIA intelligence officers, Peter Earnest and Jonna Mendez at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Based on their experience and knowledge of the world of espionage, they walked us through the similarities between real life spies and the IMF, what Mission: Impossible - Fallout gets right about their line of work, and some of the most dangerous missions in which they were personally involved.
Can you guys walk me through a personal experience in your line of work that you can compare to something that has or might happen in a Mission: Impossible movie?
Peter Earnest: I would probably pick one particular activity where we were very concerned about one of our sources, one of our assets - whether he was also reporting to another service in this case. And I ended up, in effect, running an operation against my own source, which involved my going to a reception at his home, wearing a tuxedo, and having a listening device taped to my leg. And, at an appropriate moment, I broke away from the crowd, and my wife happened to be there, and she kept him occupied. I went downstairs, lay on my back, put this device up under the desk - and if he walked in, I had a story; I was ready - and the next day, I had outside a typical van, like you see in the movies, with a couple of guys in it with headphones listening. And we caught him meeting with his other case officer. So, that sort of follows some of the technology and suspense of the movie.
Jonna Mendez: And I would point out that the thing taped to your leg, and the people in van, were all from my office - the Office of Technical Service. And we very much identify with this IMF team in these movies because that was us putting in bugs, doing documents, doing disguises, doing the technical support for Peter and his colleagues. If you ask me about an operation I was involved in, it was going into a foreign compound - is how we phrase it - with a team of men, and I was the disguise officer. We went in, the men removed a piece of machinery from this foreign compound on a rope coming down a staircase. We put it in a van, and we made off with it. We stole it. The team put on disguises that- I was there with the disguises, and they went over the walls of this foreign compound and blended in to the local population; the population that they did not resemble. That was an operation that we took part in.
How do you prepare for those disguises?
Jonna Mendez: Something that people don't understand, I think, about the intelligence community - to plan a big operation, to plan your operation, it is meticulous, it is time-consuming, it can take months to plan the thing that's only going to take minutes when you do it. So, people all came back - for my operation - they all came back to our disguise labs; we made the materials that they would need to use to blend into that local population. Do you see how I'm just talking in big, soft, puffy- [laughs]
Peter Earnest: So, if you're looking for an analogy with what we see in the movies, the analogy is in real operations, it's what you do for real movies backstage to get ready. It's that meticulous planning.
Peter Earnest: Yeah.
Jonna Mendez: Good point, good point.
Peter Earnest: That's the analogy.
So, there have been a lot of designers and innovators in the world who have taken inspiration from old sci-fi shows to create new technology. Was there anything from old spy movies or spy TV shows that you've seen kind of giving inspiration to real life tools that are being used now?
Jonna Mendez: Our duty officers used to receive phone calls on Monday mornings. This was back when there were a lot of spy shows on TV. Get Smart. Those kinds of shows. Mission: Impossible. They would call us on Monday and say, "I just saw this device on TV. Do we have one of those?" "No." "Can we make one of those?"And, do you know, on occasion, we did. And that would be life imitating art, which was a very interesting thing to have going on in the CIA.
Are you allowed to say what those were?
Jonna Mendez: No. [laughs]
Jonna Mendez: A lot of the things we invented made their way out into commercial technology, like teeny-tiny batteries, and one of our battery people went on to work on the Hubble Telescope and help save it when it was dying. And that became a matter of batteries and lithium and things I know nothing about.
Peter Earnest: Or your cell phone. A lot of that began in the intelligence world.
In what ways would you say that the Mission: Impossible franchise positively reflects on the real life world of espionage?
Jonna Mendez: I liked the friendships they established in the first scene in the movie, where this was a tight, tight team that had worked together before that supported each other, and that set up the whole premise of the movie that went forward. The people I worked with when we went overseas and worked foreign operations, we had exactly that kind of camaraderie. That was the nicest thing you could say to another person in our office was, you know, I'd work with you. It meant a lot.
Peter Earnest: The thing I would add to it is that nothing ever goes as planned. And, therefore, even with the best of planning, once you get into the field, and once it begins taking place, things change. The adversary doesn't do what what you think it's going to do, that door is locked that you were going to go through, and that happens quite often in the Mission: Impossible series, and it often happens in real life.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout is available for digital download and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 4, 2018.
- Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) release date: Jul 27, 2018