My Life In Disguise ~ Memoirs of an Undercover CIA Disguise Artist
Sometimes extraordinary things happen to very ordinary persons. I fell into a life of exceptional adventure behind the hidden doors of the CIA. The seemingly unconnected events of my life were slowly evolving beneath my awareness into some collective purpose. Patiently I tested the many avenues of painting, teaching, and theatre, which had been preparing me for my later work, not recognizing the pattern that was shaping my future. I had no intention that one day I would work inside the secret labyrinth of the CIA as a disguise artist. Nor did I suspect how each single step would give me the perfect skills for this career.
Although I always knew I wanted to succeed as an artist, I did not fulfill my art degree until ten years after my marriage to a military officer. We were assigned to the Strategic Air Command, located in the vast Midwestern plains of the United States. Some of you may recall that during the 60’s and 70’s few married women worked outside of the home, establishing a pattern for many years to come of divorced woman with no professional credentials. Supporting the “officer” was essential to his rise in rank, thereby for-going any personal identity a woman might have. One paycheck seemed to be adequate for a family’s needs, and no one was deluged with the incredible amount of luxury items that families are faced with today.
My one outlet and interest was in pursuing spiritual information, yoga, and meditating. There was no time for art, and no opportunity to study art out in the Midwest Air Force bases. After my divorce, the first year of freedom and independence launched me into a world of creativity and spirituality through the University of London. As my spiritual interests grew, I developed lasting friendships with a group, through correspondence and joint ventures. My connection to them became significant in the events that soon followed my graduation. They encouraged me to live with them, assuming the many disciplines they required of a spiritual student. I was free at long last to pursue a course of spirituality and/or art. They were not exclusive of each other, but living in a spiritual community (according to them) meant disassociating from the mundane world and living a life of detachment.
The choice would be a difficult one for it would mean putting aside my interest in art, and placing spiritual pursuits first. The choice would haunt me for years, but ultimately lead me to the sanctuary of the Central Intelligence Agency. The destination seemed at odds with both spirituality and art.
My pathway to the CIA did not happen immediately, but occurred after a chain of events forced me to choose an alternate profession. Living in a spiritual community was a very depressing time for me before the CIA rescued me. Instead of finding life liberating I became a victim of an oppressive life who scorned any chance for a meaningful art career. I was accused of choosing a “glamorous” life whenever I talked about future studies or travel.
Once I moved into the community, avenues to an art teaching position were closed to me. No one was hiring. For three years I lived at poverty level, living in a remodeled garage attached to the spiritual director’s home, hoping to find work as a teacher. Finally, convinced that I could no longer wait for that opportunity, I turned to the yellow pages of the Virginia-Washington telephone directory, and applied to every agency in the government. I was now in my mid forties, feeling that time was slipping away. I had few job skills other than teaching, and was impervious to seeking a permanent relationship that would save me economically. Isolated, without friends, income, and the opportunity to pursue a career in art, it was my darkest hour. I had no idea what opportunity would lie ahead when I received notification from the CIA of a background check and employment.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that there would be a challenging job as a disguise operational officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. They offered me special on-the-job training which prepared me to live for several decades traveling in alias identity to exotic countries where I would constantly face the unknown. Although I worked undercover, my friends in the community knew I had been offered a job at the CIA and looked on me and my choice with displeasure.
I provided disguises to our American and foreign spies abroad in a collaborative effort so that they could collect intelligence from their contacts or stake surveillance to an overseas target. While the job itself was fascinating it came with a price. Operating in a clandestine environment meant forgoing relationships and leading a life of anonymity. My life in disguise echoed the similar situation in my spiritual group; keeping my work and identity with them a secret from others. While I always loved the disguise work, I was emotionally and spiritually in conflict with my office, the drive for competition, distrust, and conflicting ethics.
While my personality life was happily anticipating adventure, there was an undercurrent of an isolated existence that a disguise artist lived. Perhaps the reason I so readily adapted to this life style was because my previous fragmented marriage of twenty years prepared me for a life of alienation and survival. A person can feel estranged and abandoned in a marriage even more acutely than someone who chooses to live alone and independently.
My strong attraction to learning about the esoteric teachings, holistic art, and practicing daily meditation was an integral part in separating me from the mundane world leading me into a life of quiet desperation. My safe world began to crack under a subtle awareness that there is more to life than appearances. My perception of the world and its ambiguity began to shift. Ironically, when I first acknowledged in my marriage that I was living a life of self deception, there was only one alternative; that was to change. The lie could no longer be lived. Despite the obvious setback that my divorce brought at midlife, there was the overriding compulsion to go forward and establish a new life.
The universe then offered me a greater challenge when I struck out on my own. I entered the most deceptive organization in the world, The Central Intelligence Agency. The test for commitment to the Path, not compromise, faced me every day. Reflecting upon my life story put me in touch with the important themes in my life that were ignored and unassimilated before. Like a textile that is woven into the loom, each different colored thread slowly builds a composite design until it becomes a timeless portrait. The warp and weft of my fragmented journeys wove together the uniqueness and value of things that happened to me. My relationship with the spiritual friends lasted six years, until I moved overseas for the Agency. It was a particularly challenging time, in that I felt my spiritual goals and my mission in art were being tested. Despite the priority of time that my job placed on me, I was able to initiate several spiritual study groups and lecture series. My interest in color (as both an artist and its occult implications) became my passion. Over the years, in the evenings and weekends, I read, studied, and offered workshops on my own in color magic. Several books commenced to be published after my retirement.
“My Life in Disguise” is my memoir which details more fully the life of a disguise artist. Foreign travel offered me the experience of visiting sacred places around the world, and to develop a lasting link with Peru and its mysterious White Brotherhood. My love for humanity expanded under silent observation and understanding. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that my life connected with thousands of persons of all continents, countries, and cultures. Through their stories I have learned to be a compassionate listener and opened my heart unconditionally to their world. Compassion can flourish when one can empathize with others, and as that empathetic relationship extends beyond the self interest of family and homeland to other cultures and other nations.
Any organization that includes worldwide travel is an opportunity for anyone to expand their ideas about the world. I had lacked a world view before my work with the Agency, believing in the superiority of our own culture. I discovered that wealth and technology does not make superiority, although it does create power. In the far away fields, market places, and villages I felt the power of a superior nature, within the community, that humbled me. At the grass roots level, every nation has that power of moral superiority that is centered foremost in our hearts. We would not have the troubled world if we joined together in an empathetic relationship with one another.
We each have our own journey to do in its own time. To find contentment, it is important to accept what circumstances are offered to you. Life doesn’t anoint you with success without some attempt on your part to seek it. I could have remained a teacher all of my life, married a suitable companion, and found some security in that choice. This alternative did not appeal to me. After my divorce, I could have blended into the Nebraska landscape as an art teacher forever, but I had greater needs. This meant having the courage to get out of my comfort zone already shaken by circumstances to pursue a vague dream that had not quite taken shape. When I made this choice I attracted the circumstances which allowed this dream to happen. The opportunity changed my life.
You can contact Jeanne through her websites: