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The CIA’s master of disguise

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2

When Robert Barron worked at the Pentagon in the 1960s, he “grew tired of the daily trek” across the complex’s vast car park, say Jackson Proskow and Brennan Leffler in Global News. So he pilfered a parking permit from a car in a prime spot and used his artistic skills to make a “perfect replica” for his own vehicle. It took a year for anyone to notice, whereupon he received a small fine – and a job with the CIA as a forger. He eventually transferred into the division responsible for disguising American agents and informants. His best work? Mission Impossible-style face masks that “could completely change someone’s appearance, right down to their ethnicity” – and be taken on or off in just three seconds.

Barron’s life changed in the 1980s when he attended (in disguise, of course) a biomedical sculpture conference. Seeing the work that was being done on disfigured people – “burn survivors, people with no ears” – he realised he could put his skills to better use. After retiring from the CIA, he set up a company to make ultra-realistic facial prosthetics for victims of disfigurement. He has since helped more than 1,000 patients, from a Pakistani woman whose jealous husband took a razor to her face, to a young girl whose ears were ripped off by a raccoon. “If you can put people in hiding,” he says, “you can bring people out of hiding.”

🚙🕵️‍♀️ One of the “most sophisticated” pieces of spy kit Barron worked on was the “jack-in-the-box”: an inflatable body double that fitted into a briefcase. It was for when an agent was being tailed on the road: he or she would leap out of the passenger seat as the vehicle turned a corner, whereupon the dummy would inflate and whoever was following “would think the passenger was still inside”.