The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents

Listen to The Spying Game

While most spy movies and novels are dominated by men like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt, the history of spying is filled with female secret agents including Virginia Hall, the American Revolution’s female spy Agent 355, and ex-CIA officer Amaryllis Fox.

Fox, a bestselling author and TV host, was once part of the CIA’s clandestine service, the secret agents who go undercover on missions, but hers was an inauspicious start. Three months into training, the new CIA recruits were learning how to deal with alias documents so they were brought to an international airport at 2 am when no foreign flights were landing to practice defending their alias identities at passport control.

The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents
Amaryllis Fox, former CIA agent


“I remember the guy saying, ‘Oh, your name is Gloria. You must love that song’,” Fox told The Spying Game’s podcast host Rory Bremner. “And I didn’t know the lyrics to the song. You can’t just memorize the birthdate and memorize whatever - you’ve got to BE that person and know all of the weird things that they would know.”

Lesson learned. Fox went on to have a successful career in the CIA and learned how to immerse herself in her cover story as an art dealer - so much so, she could pass a polygraph test - as well as spot the perfect, isolated meeting site, and how to handle surveillance tails that could jeopardize an entire operation.

The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents

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Listen to The Spying Game

While most spy movies and novels are dominated by men like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt, the history of spying is filled with female secret agents including Virginia Hall, the American Revolution’s female spy Agent 355, and ex-CIA officer Amaryllis Fox.

Fox, a bestselling author and TV host, was once part of the CIA’s clandestine service, the secret agents who go undercover on missions, but hers was an inauspicious start. Three months into training, the new CIA recruits were learning how to deal with alias documents so they were brought to an international airport at 2 am when no foreign flights were landing to practice defending their alias identities at passport control.

The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents
Amaryllis Fox, former CIA agent


“I remember the guy saying, ‘Oh, your name is Gloria. You must love that song’,” Fox told The Spying Game’s podcast host Rory Bremner. “And I didn’t know the lyrics to the song. You can’t just memorize the birthdate and memorize whatever - you’ve got to BE that person and know all of the weird things that they would know.”

Lesson learned. Fox went on to have a successful career in the CIA and learned how to immerse herself in her cover story as an art dealer - so much so, she could pass a polygraph test - as well as spot the perfect, isolated meeting site, and how to handle surveillance tails that could jeopardize an entire operation.

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“It’s a very lonely job,” she said. “You have circle upon circle upon circle of people who are farther and farther away from your truth. There you are in the central prison circle and there’s no one in there with you.”

Fox was speaking to Bremner on SPYSCAPE’s podcast The Spying Game, which brings together major Hollywood storytellers and top international spies to break down what we see on screen, separate fact from fiction, and shine a light on extraordinary characters and skills.


The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents
Simon Kinberg, director of The 355

Tackling espionage on film

Hollywood director Simon Kinberg (the X-Men films, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) is inspired by escapist movies like the Bond films and Star Wars which focus on covert operations: “Because James Bond is the gold standard of spy movie entertainment the focus has been more on the action than on the intelligence gathering.”

Kinberg decided to shake things up in The 355 by telling a spy story from a female perspective. The ensemble cast features Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong'o as international spies who stop a terrorist organization from starting World War III.

Kinberg sees similarities between actors and CIA officers, telling Bremner and Fox. “I do feel like part of the appeal of playing a spy for actors is that it feels so second nature for them.”

The Spying Game: Sex and Special Agents
Simon Kinberg, Rory Bremner’s guest on The Spying Game, produced The 355


The Spying Game


What’s the most frightening part of being a real-life spy? “The scariest part of the work that I did was wading into the world view of the person you perhaps hate and fear most in the world and actually giving it the time of day,” said Fox.

So how did she cope with adopting the views of the 9/11 attackers in the months and years after the US terrorist attacks, and how do CIA officers manage to survive underground in an Agency-controlled bunker for six months where they live, eat, and breath their enemy’s lifestyle - right up to listening to their media and reading their newspapers?

Fox addresses those issues along with another frequently-voiced question about espionage: Are spies allowed to have sex with sources to get the intelligence they want?

That, and much, much more awaits on The Spying Game.

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