The Secret World of Spy Beauty Pageants From Miss NSA to Miss KGB

Spies from Russia, America, and Canada flaunted their assets in covert Cold War beauty contests.


Back in 1990, when supermodels Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford weren’t getting out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, a new beauty queen elbowed her way onto the world stage.

Katya Mayorova, 23, newly crowned Miss KGB, was the first title-holder of ‘Security Services Beauty’ with a front-page splash in Komsomolskaya Pravda and a follow-up feature in The Washington Post. We soon learned that Mayorova wore her bulletproof vest with “exquisite softness, like a Pierre Cardin model”.

Miss KGB 1990, Katya Mayorova practices with a gun
The KGB beauty pageant was held - perhaps unsurprisingly - in secret

Miss KGB

Miss KGB liked the Beatles and was certified in handling small arms should she ever need to open fire during her day job as a Moscow secretary. “They try to give us all-around skills,” Mayorova explained.


Miss KGB 1990, Katya Mayorova outdoors
“We’d like people to think that we’re not monsters,” Mayorova told the Washington Post


When the USSR collapsed in 1991 and the KGB was dismantled, Mayorova and the Miss KGB contest disappeared from the limelight. (For the record, SPYSCAPE contacted the KGB’s successor, Russia’s Federal Security Service, but the FSB wasn’t in the mood to share their beauty secrets.)

Some believe the Miss KGB beauty pageant was simply PR spin designed to soften the spy agency’s image in the era of glasnost. But was it really just a blushing black op?

A big, beauty pageant wave to Miss NSA


The US National Security Agency (NSA) - the electronic eavesdropping agency that’s so secretive it’s been dubbed ‘No Such Agency’ - crowned beauty queens throughout the Cold War. (So did Canada’s RCMP intelligence branch, but we’ll get to that contest one strut at a time.) 


Miss NSA beauty pageants contestants circa 1960s
The Miss NSA Pageant winners (circa 1960s)

The NSA held annual pageants in the 1950s and '60s. The numbers that stood in for the contestants' real names (see above) were supposedly related to their top-secret units but the NSA is still keeping those details under their sash.


NSA princess for the beauty pageant are chosen at the Fall Festival
NSA spy ‘Princesses’ are honored at a 1958 lunch with Deputy Director Dr. Louis Tordella (center)


The NSA Princesses

The NSA pageants appear to have started in 1958 - six years after the Agency was formed - when 15 spy ‘Princesses’ were selected for the Fall Festival pageant, each vying to be crowned Queen or chosen as a runner-up Maid of Honor.

The Secret World of Spy Beauty Pageants From Miss NSA to Miss KGB

BY
Caroline Byrne
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Spies from Russia, America, and Canada flaunted their assets in covert Cold War beauty contests.


Back in 1990, when supermodels Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford weren’t getting out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, a new beauty queen elbowed her way onto the world stage.

Katya Mayorova, 23, newly crowned Miss KGB, was the first title-holder of ‘Security Services Beauty’ with a front-page splash in Komsomolskaya Pravda and a follow-up feature in The Washington Post. We soon learned that Mayorova wore her bulletproof vest with “exquisite softness, like a Pierre Cardin model”.

Miss KGB 1990, Katya Mayorova practices with a gun
The KGB beauty pageant was held - perhaps unsurprisingly - in secret

Miss KGB

Miss KGB liked the Beatles and was certified in handling small arms should she ever need to open fire during her day job as a Moscow secretary. “They try to give us all-around skills,” Mayorova explained.


Miss KGB 1990, Katya Mayorova outdoors
“We’d like people to think that we’re not monsters,” Mayorova told the Washington Post


When the USSR collapsed in 1991 and the KGB was dismantled, Mayorova and the Miss KGB contest disappeared from the limelight. (For the record, SPYSCAPE contacted the KGB’s successor, Russia’s Federal Security Service, but the FSB wasn’t in the mood to share their beauty secrets.)

Some believe the Miss KGB beauty pageant was simply PR spin designed to soften the spy agency’s image in the era of glasnost. But was it really just a blushing black op?

A big, beauty pageant wave to Miss NSA


The US National Security Agency (NSA) - the electronic eavesdropping agency that’s so secretive it’s been dubbed ‘No Such Agency’ - crowned beauty queens throughout the Cold War. (So did Canada’s RCMP intelligence branch, but we’ll get to that contest one strut at a time.) 


Miss NSA beauty pageants contestants circa 1960s
The Miss NSA Pageant winners (circa 1960s)

The NSA held annual pageants in the 1950s and '60s. The numbers that stood in for the contestants' real names (see above) were supposedly related to their top-secret units but the NSA is still keeping those details under their sash.


NSA princess for the beauty pageant are chosen at the Fall Festival
NSA spy ‘Princesses’ are honored at a 1958 lunch with Deputy Director Dr. Louis Tordella (center)


The NSA Princesses

The NSA pageants appear to have started in 1958 - six years after the Agency was formed - when 15 spy ‘Princesses’ were selected for the Fall Festival pageant, each vying to be crowned Queen or chosen as a runner-up Maid of Honor.

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The ‘Princesses’ worked in Research and Development and in the NSA Production department. Among them was Miss Sally Botsai, a former Pittsburg prom queen who later served as deputy director of the White House Situation Room during the Vietnam War in the Nixon and Ford administrations, according to the agency's archive.

The NSA Princesses wore their Festival Identification ribbons to work, lunched together for maximum impact, and charmed staff members who selected their Queen by ballot using their assigned numbers 1-15.


Miss RCMP beauty pageant contestants
Karen de roo van Alderwerelt, 20, (center) was crowned Canada’s Miss RCMP 1958


Oh, Canada! Miss RCMP

It seems the Canadian beauties may have had a spray-tanned leg up on both NSA and KGB queens, however.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Service (RCMP SS) held its beauty contest in the early 1950s, awarding contestants 10 points each for hair, face, figure, dress, poise, and personality.

The RCMP pageant was just the warm-up act, however. The winner moved on to the big leagues - Canada’s Miss Civil Service contest - where Miss RCMP competed with the Department of National Defense and other beauty queen big wigs.

Sparing no expense, the Canadian government awarded Miss Civil Service various prizes including an all-expense-paid trip to Bermuda - for one.


Miss Atomic Bomb in a poster showing off her smokey bathing suit
Las Vegas Copa showgirl Lee Merlin was Miss Atomic Bomb 1957


Isn't she lovely? Miss Atomic Bomb

Perhaps no North American beauty queen was more famous than Las Vegas showgirl Lee Merlin, however. The reign of America’s Miss Atomic Bomb - complete with a cotton mushroom cloud on the front of her swimsuit - coincided with Operation Plumbbob, a series of nuclear tests conducted in 1957 at the Nevada Test Site.

In all, there were at least four Miss Atomics, but were beauty pageants actually held or was it all just a PR stunt? Nobody seemed to care in the heady post-WWII decades. The US was in the grip of Atomic fever. Las Vegas was cashing in with Sin City atomic cocktails and parties. Bars offered complimentary sunglasses for guests at atomic-blast-viewing soirees on rooftops.

Not much is known about what happened to Merlin, a Copa showgirl and the most notorious of the four titleholders. Her fellow queens included Miss Atomic Blast 1952 Candyce King (who ‘radiated loveliness'); Miss A-Bomb 1953 Paula Harris; and Miss Cue 1955 Linda Lawson (nicknamed after Operation Mis-Cue) with a tiara in the shape of a mushroom cloud reportedly constructed by US military servicemen from the Nevada Test Site.

Like Miss KGB, Miss Atomic Bomb disappeared in a puff of smoke.

In fact, by 1991, at the end of Katya Mayorova’s Miss KGB reign in Moscow, all of the international spy agencies seem to have put an end to the pageantry and slipped back into the shadows.

Kinda makes us want to hold hands and burst out crying.

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