From James Bond to The Spy Who Dumped Me: What its like to be an actual spy

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Is James Bond all that accurate?

After spending several years performing in dark seedy nightclubs as an improv comedian, Emily Brandwin took the next logical career jump and joined the Central Intelligence Agency AKA the mighty CIA.

As you do.

Over her time at the CIA she worked as a disguise specialist and later a National Operations Officer travelling all around the globe – and, you know what, as she detailed her role to it really does sound as awesome as we imagined. To an extent.

Not knowing what the job was until her first day – throughout the whole application process she was denied information on the role she was interviewing for, which is a massive leap of faith – when she turned up on her first day she was greeted by the disguise department: A room full of wigs, moustaches and glasses.

After becoming bored in the role and realising that while working for the CIA she should never be bored, Emily landed a role as an Operations Office, or, to us laymen, a spy.

Emily Brandwin

Emily has shared her life as a CIA covert employee (Picture: Supplied)

The job is kinda like dating, youre meeting people who could potentially have information important to the US, she said. Youre going to continue to see them, its always business. Its not a honey trap. Its always professional and youre making yourself interesting so they want to meet you. It ended up being a really good fit.



I travelled around the world, assessing whether people have information that could have been useful to the United States.

Luckily by this stage she was allowed to tell her close family she worked for the CIA, however, unbeknownst to the organisation at the time, she had already spilled on applying for the role way back when.

I did tell people because I thought this was really fucking cool – and because no one told me not to tell anybody, she laughed. Toward the end [of the process] they said “oh by the way you cant tell anyone”. They said if anyone asked me if you got the job I couldnt tell people I did.

This image released by FX shows Matthew Rhys, left, and Keri Russell in a scene from "The Americans." On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, "The Americans" was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best TV drama series. The 76th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6. (FX via AP)

She said her role was most like The Americans (Picture: FX)

We see myriad of spy tales, movies and TV shows portrayed in pop culture. Its no secret us punters get our kicks on a story of espionage, deceit and setting the world to rights with a legend disguise.

However, as Emily set us straight, its hardly like what you see in the movies – bar some exceptions.

James Bond isnt CIA stuff…no body looks like Daniel Craig and if they did I would have never left the agency, she said. The spy gear isnt quite that cool – its more fantasy. There are kernels and nuggets of truth.

Emily added: The day to day is kinda boring. The best representation of espionage is [TV show] The Americans. While its not CIA, they use disguise really well.



What I appreciate about movies like The Spy That Dumped Me is you have two women who are super capable and to me thats a very accurate representation of what I did. The Gillian Anderson character [in TPWDM] is a woman and the CIA has done a great job of recruiting women, I think the top three people are women.

Mila Kunis as "Aubrey" and Kate McKinnon as "Morgan" in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.

Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon in The Spy Who Dumped Me (Picture: Lionsgate Entertainment)

The CIA used to be a boys club but I think it had to come around to the times. It has to be diverse because youre meeting diverse targets.

I say without a doubt women are better spies. Were much better listeners, much more empathetic and better on our feet because were used to juggling so much. By far you see those multitasking traits more in women, which is why I think theyre more capable.

However, as a female, Emily recounted times when she was challenged merely for being a female in a rather sketchy environment.

A lot of the times youre meeting men and if youre saying “hey want to get coffee? Oh this is really fun lets get dinner now”, they think its romantic. So whats really important is to put the boundaries up front and keep it business.

Of course youre trying to build a relationship, and its not super organic, but you want to make sure those boundaries are very clear and I think that can be a challenge.


She said there is a tendency in the industry to underestimate women, which works for our advantage, however she added a fair share of hairy situations in the field.

Ive definitely had some situations where its like “oh shit, Id love to be under my duvet right now”, Emily said matter-of-factly. I think what the CIA and what [her earlier career of] improv comedy helped me achieve was the ability to think on my feet and change the situation and go with the flow.

You dont allow yourself to be scared because if you did you wouldnt be able to do your job. Then you come home and think “oh shit that was intense and scary”. I was pretty much in the moment because I knew what I wanted to do and I had to do it safely and securely.

More: James Bond

After spending well over a year on the famous training facility of the CIA dubbed the farm, Emily has now obtained a very particular set of skills that, not to sound like Liam Neeson in Taken, make her a nightmare to many. Okay, so we sound like Liam Neeson in Taken.

I can kind of tell when people are lying, she said. When I was dating, I just knew.


Now to my husband, hell literally jump off the couch and face the wall to tell me something. He doesnt want me to tell him hes giving off a tell.

Im like, “sorry, you can take the girl out of the CIA, but you cant take the CIA out of the girl”.

The Spy Who Dumped Me is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K 26 December.

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