“In fact, it’s too good. It is so good in fact that after I pay the check, I’ll go straight into the kitchen and shoot the cook. Because that’s what I do. I restore balance to this country.” (Johnny Depp, 2003)

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, 1887)


The image of the spy over the past sixty years has changed substantially. The perception of the spy in Hollywood generally follows one of two tracks: the CIA as a shadowy, secret government that runs a government bent on corruption, drugs, and control; and the CIA agent as a type of James Bond, working for the betterment of the realm, but at the same time engaging in sex, drinking, gadgets, and lots of shootouts. Because of the secret nature of the CIA and other intelligence gathering offices, speculation immediately arises as to whether power has corrupted the agency to the point that its members feel like they are gods. In reality, the CIA is wont to explain to potential recruits, as well as the general public, that the image of James Bond is not reflective of the reality of life as a spy. While the Agency has spies (controlled by the Directorate of Operations) most of the CIA employees are little more than analysts, or administrative officials. Since the Agency cannot recruit people based on the image of “pencil pushers” the Hollywood image takes precedence.

The image of the CIA has also changed substantially since 9/11. This focuses on the perception of the CIA in children’s media, whether the image is predominantly in cartoons, comic books, or toys. The potential grooming of the young is interesting, especially when combined with real -world issues such as the USA PATRIOT Act, which allows for internal spying on US citizens. Is this new push in propaganda imagery indicative of the coming years? That is an interesting question. At the same time, the role, and perceived role of the spy in society has been around since the beginning of the Cold War.

Since the inception of the United States, the role of the spy has been a convoluted one. On one hand, the spy who has been caught is revered if they are working for the interests of the US (Nathan Hale) or reviled if they work against it (Benedict Arnold). On the other, is the concept that the spy is not an honorable opponent, as they work in secrecy, rely on the subterfuge of others, and often will do anything to either obtain information or evade capture. Following the end of World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency formed in 1947) offered itself as the vanguard of the US, protecting its freedoms against Communist invasion. As more and more people saw the atomic bomb as a threat, especially after 1949, when the USSR announced that they too had a functioning bomb, the role of the spy in all facets of American life, both in reality (news events) and entertainment, began to arise.

The role of the spy in American society had to be improved so that more recruits could be brought in. Since youth are impressionable, and many post-war Americans had access to new forms of entertainment, it was inevitable that the life of a spy be incorporated into story lines. There have been some outstanding works on the imagery of spies, from William Savage’s Commies, Cowboys and Jungle Queens (New England Wesleyan Press), to Spy Gadgets, and The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stoner. In these books, the role of the CIA in culture has been examined. However, little has been examined on the role of children’s media, which is the focus and goal of this paper.

For the image of the CIA in relationship to toys, three distinct areas of imagery quickly emerged. The first is from 1947 until 1964 when the CIA was still considered a shadowy, yet competent agency working for the betterment of humanity; 1964-1989 when the natural distrust of authority figures, combined with actual events portrayed the CIA in a very unflattering light, and finally 1988 to now, when the CIA has undergone a slow rehabilitation process which reached its pinnacle following the 9/11 attacks. While the imagery is slowly turning with the cynicism that has surrounded Operation Iraqi Freedom, the good will gathered by the media has trickled down to the toy representations of all the various spy organizations — some 15 within the US government.

Early Issues of Right and Wrong

For the CIA, the early years after its formation in 1947 meant the protection of nuclear secrets. For the general public, however, the image of the CIA was shadowy. The CIA was formed in 1947, and utilized the older, World War II based Office of Strategic Services (OSS), led by the charismatic “Wild” Bill Donovan. Having distinguished himself throughout WWII as a man of action and daring, it was no surprise that he was chosen to head the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. As a way of inspiring others, his stories, and those of the spy community, were often told in media that appealed to youth, specifically comic books and radio programs. Often, children could envision their own spy-based stories by sending away for a decoder ring (for sending secret messages) as well as reading the latest in derring-do from comic book writers.

The image of the spy met three main credentials: a fedora, or some other wide brimmed hat, which would allow for concealability; a trench-coat, which would allow the wearer to blend in with the businessman in Europe or America, as well as allow for concealed weapons; and finally the ubiquitous briefcase, which once again served as a prop for the businessman “cover” as well as conceal even more gadgets and weapons, more presumed of all was a collapsible sniper’s rifle.

In fact, many of the World War II based comic superheroes such as Captain America and the Shield were far more likely to battle infiltrators and spies on the home front rather than actual frontline troops of the Imperial Japanese army, or the vaunted Wehrmacht. As the Cold War emerged from the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the need for agents to remain ever vigilant for Communist spies took center place in the serials of the day as well as in real life events.

The threats of a spy around every corner were a common story line in many comic books. Everyone from Tom Mix (the cowboy star) to the feds was involved. Surprisingly enough, however, the actual use of spies was limited. The main heroes were already established and were simply helping American authorities do their part for the common defense. The two titles that did actually incorporate intelligence officers were still not identified with the CIA. Instead, they belonged to other similar groups. One such title was Kent Blake of the Secret Service. Another title was Spy fighters, which featured the feminine wiles of Vicki and the heroic exploits of Clark Mason. While these characters took on Communist threats at the top, the reader didn’t seem to catch on to the major geo-political nuances. The reason for the direct targeting of top Communist officials was that communism was presented as a few fanatical individuals enslaving people who wished to be free. If the spies could possibly eliminate the top man, then the plot, and the communist rule of law, would collapse. Even attempts to weave real stories of conflict (such as Tibet, and the Kashmir crises in Foreign Affairs), didn’t strike the reader with enough action, even if it was historically true. Perhaps the medium was not enough. (1)

While the stories of spies and espionage abounded in the 1950s, the impact on children’s toys, games and the like was not nearly as extensive as it later became. For children of the 1950s, the most common place to encounter spy issues in a “serious” format was at school. Several (unintentionally funny) educational movies came forth at that particular time, warning children of the dangers that would befall them if a communist attack occurred. The most well known of this genre is the infamous “Duck and Cover” movie, that showed children through the demonstration of Bert the Turtle, that to survive a nuclear attack, one need only to “duck and cover” and then everything would be all right. When a person from the late 1990s watches these movies, a sort of morbid humor comes into play. To assume that a piece of newspaper would shield a person from a 10-megaton blast was quite comical in a schadenfreude (taking pleasure at another’s misfortune) kind of war. (2) As the Korean War went into high gear, so too did the media justification for US involvement in the conflict. Most of the toys from this time frame were of a military nature rather than an espionage one, so the ties to the spy agencies were somewhat limited.

Spy vs. Spy, and the CIA in the News

In the early 1960s the public image of the CIA started to change. While many still knew little of the operational exploits of the spy agency, their mistakes became more pronounced. While Castro took over Cuba (in a CIA assisted uprising), many had their eyes fixed on the Soviet Union, and the perceived missile threat. Children also received their first purely cynical view of spies. In the mid 1950s, William Gaines, who was hounded by the various Congressional sub-committees for his “lurid” comic books struck back with a publication that was comic book, yet not. To avoid the problems he was having with his Entertaining Comics (EC) publishing line, Gaines published Mad Magazine, which was larger in size, and therefore not subject to the restrictions of the comics (or the dreaded comic book code). MAD poked fun at everything, and serious issues related to the Cold War were no exception. In 1960, a Cuban exile to the US, Antonio Prohias, came to the offices of MAD in search of work. His English skills were minimal at best, but his portfolio of work was full of satirical and political cartoons from Cuba. He was liked by many until Castro felt Prohias had gone too far and placed a bounty on his head. Prohias came to the US, and his career with MAD grew soon after. What truly defined his career was his two strange figures locked in a yin-yang battle of good and evil. (3)

Entitled Spy vs. Spy, the cartoon was novel on many levels. First off, there really was no true winner in any of the story lines. In each one-page story arc, the characters went to war with one another, usually resulting in death by their own traps or counter traps. The characters had the mannerisms and dress associated with the image of a spy: the fedora, a long coat, and many gadgets (usually in some sort of case or bag) to commit a violent act upon their enemy. Neither side was dominant, as with virtually all aspects of life. The white spy may win a couple of times, and then the momentum would shift to the Black spy. In the end, the fighting between the two was pointless, as it resulted in a victory for neither side (as with the real Cold War).

Another interesting concept of this series was that it was told with no sound balloons or dialog. It was told strictly through actions. The story developed in such a way that anyone could understand the premises of the story. The illiterate, the foreign speaker, and the young could all grasp the ideas. The violence was there as well, but as with many illustrated works, it was overdone to become comical in nature. Once again, the style developed because Prohias himself had limited English skills, and in this form he could keep all work in his control, without having to learn grammatical skills.

What was another wrinkle to the traditional series was when the gray spy was introduced, creating the limited Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy, in which the only thing guaranteed was that the gray spy would best the other two. What made these limited stories interesting was that the gray spy was a woman, and therefore the assumption was that by using her feminine whiles, she would get the two to do her bidding. The story arcs also showed that the ultimate triumph for any aspect of society was not a clear cut one, but a shade of gray. (4)

While Spy vs. Spy was appearing in MAD, the movie world was introduced to the spy of spies: Bond, James Bond. Based on Ian Fleming’s series of books on the British spy from MI-5, Sean Connery was the first actor to personify the character on film in Dr. No. David Niven had portrayed Bond in a CBS TV adaptation of Casino Royale, but Connery is considered the first actor to portray the spy. Bond had his way with women attracting a teenage audience, plus lots of action through violence (fight scenes) as well as gadgets for all to admire. It is the gadgets that were quickly adapted to the toy market. In one of the mid-60s Bond films, a collapsible sniper’s rifle was introduced, as well as a gyro-copter that he used to escape. These translated quickly into toys that children could use for their own adventures. The concept of a sniper rifle for children may have waned after the JFK assassination in late 1963, but since both the play sniper rifle, as well as the real Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that Oswald used were available in the Sears catalog, it is somewhat fitting. (5)

The boom in spy toys started in earnest with the Bond films, but it was quickly accelerated by the slew of TV spy shows and by a new toy on the market. Don Levine, who was a toy designer for the Hassenfield Brothers (Hasbro) toy company, came up with the concept of a doll that boys could play with. Since the word doll was effeminate, the term action figure was quickly created to establish the masculine identity of the toy. Soon after, the GI Joe action figure made its debut in 1964 with the promise of adventure and military action. One of the notable design features of GI Joe (like its female counterpart, Mattel’s Barbie) was that accessory kits could be purchased so that different scenarios could be played out. One of the first attempts to incorporate a spy theme into the GI Joe world was the Secret Mission to Spy Island action set (1969). This figure and set featured the figure in a dark sweater and blue jeans, with a portable radio, dynamite, and a pistol. The indication here was that sabotage was to be the order of the day. In appearance, this set represented a member of the OSS (with the 1969 camouflage uniform, changed to an all-black uniform by 1970), or perhaps one of the early Navy underwater demolition teams, as opposed to a spy, as the popular media presented someone like James Bond. (6)

A closer representation to the image of the spy came with the GI Joe Secret Agent set (1972). This accessory kit featured the usual bill of fare for any good agent: a false face to disguise oneself; a trench coat and bullet-proof vest (marked as such); a radio for communicating with headquarters; and most importantly a briefcase that contained a pistol that converted into a rifle for (presumably) assassination work. Once again, this particular set came out when the rumblings of the CIA being involved in actual assassinations of foreign dignitaries spoken about in hushed, yet audible tones. The rationale for these “eliminations” was summed up by an axiom first used by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s (but still applicable in the late 1960s): “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch.”

In the crucial year of 1964, reporters David Wise and Thomas B. Ross published one of the first serious attempts to analyze the intelligence community. Entitled The Invisible Government, the book gave rise to some of the illusions that the population had about the spy community, and what their powers (perceived or real) were. The book appeared when the country was still reeling from President Kennedy’s assassination, and the myriad of theories about who wanted him killed. (7) By the mid-1960s, the veneer of respectability carried by US government agencies entrusted with keeping the world safe for democracy was starting to crack severely. The toy companies and the media were not as quick to judge the intelligence community as harshly. For major companies such as Sears, a child in 1966 could order a complete assassin’s rifle kit with the case included. Other major toys from this time frame included the various spy related items such as walkie-talkies, disguise kits, and a lot of material related to the various movies and television shows on TV. One could purchase Bond figures and accessory kits. Or, if Wild, Wild West was one’s milieu, you could order a special jacket. The most interesting toy kits were the toy versions of the props from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Of particular interest was the gun (actually a German P-38 pistol) that had been customized so that it could be converted to a sniper’s rifle. (8) One could even purchase the items featured in the spy spoof TV show Get Smart. Perhaps one of the most realistic sets on the toy market in the 1960s was the Secret Sam attaché case and gun set. Once again, the set came in the typical businessman accoutrement, but inside it contained a rather menacing, yet realistic gun, a stock and barrel and a scope to act from a distance against the forces of evil. Given that the Kennedy assassination was a mere two years previous, it is surprising that the item made it on the market at all. It is rare enough that in February 2005, an original secret Sam set (minus the camera) went for $103.89. (9)

As the incursions of the CIA came to light in the form of the MK Ultra and Operation Phoenix programs (mind control, and CIA sponsored assassinations of Vietnamese officials) in the late 1960s, the games and toys that reflected the atmosphere and the images remained. Even popular culture picked up n this, as the nemeses of Rocky Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose were the evil spies Boris Badinoff and Natasha Nogoodnik, both of whom talked with decidedly Eastern European accents. Wherever one looked, the image of the spy was there. Boris retained the trademark fedora and black suit, and Natasha often applied her feminine wiles to entrap our bumbling yet well-meaning heroes from Middle America (Frostbite Falls, Minnesota). (10)

Games People Play

Despite the truly negative publicity that the CIA was garnering by the early 1970s (the 1973 overthrow of Chilean Salvador Allende in a CIA sponsored coup, as but one example), the CIA still maintained a role in the minds of children. The image of the spy also started to change. The Fedora was now replaced by another form of headgear (such as a porkpie hat), or a pair of sunglasses to conceal the face of the wearer; the trench-coat was now supplanted with a black suit, giving the spy the look of some anonymous government bureaucrat, yet far more malicious; and the briefcase was now replaced full time with even more gadgets and a willingness to use them, especially any sort of handgun. The image was far more driven by Hollywood and the minds of toy manufacturers than by the spies themselves. It was at this time that the last vestiges of any sort of military connection to the spy were severed, as far as image was concerned. For these toy companies, the idea of the spy still evoked a kind of nostalgia and interest in adults, who attempted to pass that interest along to the children.

One media aspect that was marketed to children was the sales of board games. Many featured a kind of who done it set-up so that, one could use their wits to outmatch the dreaded KGB. In the early 1970s, the Milton Brothers released the “Super Spy Game” in which the players attempted to obtain secrets from an opposing enemy. While the game was based on the luck of the draw, another game, this time produced by Parker Brothers was called “Microdot.” The goal of the game was to use dots, similar in nature to the microdots of spy fame of that time to construct a secret message to defeat ones enemy. Once again, the game in certain ways reflected reality, as microdots (small encoded messages placed on a sheet of paper and approximately the size of the dot over an “i” were being used by the various agencies in the 1970s as well as before). (11)

Another Milton Bradley game which tried to draw children into the realm of the spy was the game Enemy Agent. This game centered on a foreign country with a “Border Wall” that the player had to get over, around, or through so that they could eventually discover the enemy’s master plan. The players were given fake identities, and a team of agents to control. The only thing missing from the description was a “cyanide” tablet the agent could take if caught! (12) In addition to the board games, Revel model company created the Soviet “Volga” class trawler/spy ship, as well as the U-2 US spy plane, flown for many years as well as crashed by Francis Gary Powers following his shoot down by Soviet missile defenses on May 1, 1960.

By the 1980s, the spy image had remained virtually the same with a few new twists for children’s games, as well as other toys. British game maker Waddington created the game Spy Ring, in which the players collected top secret tiles so that they could advance. Whoever collected the complete set of four top secret tiles first won. The game also came with decoding cards (code lists) and decoders themselves. As role playing games came into vogue, the game Spycraft by AEG came onto the market. This game, which was similar to Dungeons and Dragons, was more for the early teens as one had to read the rule book on how to develop characters, what attributes they might have, and how to conduct various missions. The game was also akin to TSR’s Covert Operations which was basically the same as Spycraft. More advanced books in the series could be used to create female characters to induce sex for secrets scandals (mirroring the very real sex scandal in which a US Marine Clayton Lonetree, was court-martialed for giving secrets to a female Soviet KGB agent with whom he was sleeping), and other variables. Even the Bond series of movies in the 80s inspired the Corgi and Action man toys lines to create special James Bond metal cars (Corgi) or action man based accessory kits. As the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the US became embroiled in the buildup of Desert Shield and Desert Storm (the Gulf War of 1991), and the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, the realm of spy toys was scaled back, but was not ended.

Changes in the CIA, Changes in Toys

One of the last “traditional” spy kits manufactured was in the early 1990s. Noted as the Secret Agent Spy kit and attaché case, it took on many of the features of the older 1960s sets. It contained a gun (with stock, scope, and silencer attachments), as well as fake passports, multiple IDs, handcuffs, a watch, walkie-talkie, binoculars and fake money of different countries. The set, manufactured by Redbox, was discontinued in the early 1990s as the Cold War ended. (13)

One of the more interesting toy companies to emerge in the 1990s was Wild Planet, which featured a line of spy toys. The purpose of the company was to create toys that would not incite violent play, but would have a scientific basis, and would promote interactive learning. (14) While the toys are meant for a younger base (children 5 and up), the various toys are familiar to children who grew up watching either spy movies or TV shows or happened to catch news show with military action. The catalog of the spy toys features listening devices (akin to parabolic dishes), infrared, and night vision devices, as well as access denial sensors. While the toys obviously do not function to the extent that the real items do, it is interesting that the items would be marketed to children. The success of the toys was such that other knock-off companies such as the generic brands that are built for Sears and Kay-Bee toys, came up with their own spy kits, so that people could look in on their neighbors. (15) Since the majority of these items came out after 9/11 (and the passage of the Patriot act) it asks the question if a subliminal message might be that it is all right to spy on one’s neighbor.

21st Century toys also tried to capitalize on the spy concept by producing 12” action figures that could serve as a counter to GI Joe. In the summer of 2000, the company introduced the figure called “Boris the Enforcer.” Boris was a “bad guy” who took the appearance of a KGB operative from the days of the Soviet Union. He came with the traditional accessories of the spy: trench-coat, Russian hat, several guns, and the ever-present briefcase that hid even more weapons and gadgets. (16)

Spy Figures and Enduring Freedom

Following the 9/11 attacks, many of the toy companies joined in the massive patriotic movement sweeping the nation. Anything that could have a flag or some sort of national symbol attached to it, was. The images of the military that were immediately dispatched to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban once again proved irresistible to toy makers. Soon after the troops entered Afghanistan, Hasbro created their “Strategic Operations Forces” series. One of the first figures in this series was the “tactical advisor.” While the package made no reference to the CIA in any way, it was apparent through the description on the back of the package, as well as the media usage of euphemistic terms as “tactical advisors” to refer to the CIA in various countries. The figure itself was equipped in such a manner as to bring back imagery of the “Return to Spy Island” set of the 1960s (black pullover sweater) as well as incorporate some new twists, such as tennis shoes instead of military boots. It was little touches such as these that allowed people to see the figures as what they really represented. Hasbro was also quick to point out that no military or government agencies endorsed the figure. (17) When asked about whether anyone helped in the creation or the figure, or if it actually represented one particular group, Hasbro customer service claimed proprietary rights, and declined to comment. (18)

At approximately the same time, another action figure company, Dragon Models of Hong Kong, also created their own enduring Freedom figures. Unlike the GI Joe figures, which are stated for children 6 and up, the Dragon series is meant more for the adult collector, stating that it is for 14 and older on the box. The two CIA figures from Dragon were Agent “Smith” and Agent “Jones”. At first glance, the Agent Smith figure is basically a better, more realistically equipped version of the GI Joe tactical advisor. The similarities end there. The packaging of the Dragon figures utilizes both an American flag, bold letters proclaiming “SWIFT FREEDOM” and actual pictures of “operators” on the battlefield, presumably shots used in the development of the final product.* (19) These figures were accurate to a level that the cheaper, more widely sold GI Joes were, but they were still more realistic, than the perception of the trench-coat and fedora wearing, silenced pistol wielding martini drinkers. For the agent “Jones” figure, the character carried a captured AK-47 assault rifle, would be more indicative of someone trying to blend in with the indigenous population. The figure also wore tennis shoes, this time Addidas look-alikes. The figures are more poseable than their Hasbro counterparts, but once again, it is because the Dragon figures, while assumed to be “toys” are geared towards the adult consumer. (20)

Perhaps the most realistic of the CIA themed figures is an agent in mufti (disguise) from Hot Toys. This figure, which was released in 2004, is not cheap ($95 US retail), but it is the epitome of realism. Among the items that the figure comes with are a Sony Viao laptop, Digital video-recorder and a 35mm camera, as well as 1:6 scale versions of propaganda posters, Afghani money, and maps of the region. The accessories are indicative of what the stated mission of the Directorate of Operations truly is: to obtain information on an enemy, without engaging in combat unless necessary. The figure also bears a likeness to Eric Bana, who was in the Hulk, Black Hawk Down, as well as Troy, all popular movies from that time frame. (21)

The most recent figure presented in the CIA milieu is produced by Blue Box toys, and is once again meant for the lower end, children’s market. This figure which is labeled as a CIA paramilitary force, is the most surprising of the figures mentioned. For example, his accessories are far more lethal in nature. The figure comes with an inordinate number of grenades, a pistol, knife, and other martial items. What is most interesting is the CIA baseball cap, which is quite ridiculous when one’s stated mission is to blend in with the local population, not announce it. The only time that Hollywood has done something this egregious was in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, when Agent Sands, played by Johnny Depp, showed up to a bull fight wearing a CIA t-shirt. (22) The figure was not top quality, with only limited articulation, but it was meant as a cheap way of showing children that the role of the CIA in military action was important as well. What was the finishing touch to the figure was the stickers that one could attach to the figure stating that they are part of the CIA paramilitary force. Once again, subtlety is not the means of the figure, unlike the real CIA. (23)

In direct opposition to what is the conceived notion of a spy as far as “costume” is concerned, the figures could have represented Special Operations forces who also dress in such form as to blend in with the local population. But, once again the subtlety of the figures is missed at first glance. While the real CIA paramilitary forces are dressed in such a way to blend in, real Special Forces units in the US military are required to wear some sort of identification to denote that they are troops and are therefore entitled to the rules accorded to them under the Geneva convention. Since the CIA are often in countries to do whatever is necessary to win the conflict at hand, the uniform requirements (and the plausible deniability in the event of their capture) are not as important. Therefore, the blurring of the lines between combatant and non-combatant often occurs more frequently. (24)

The other figure of note was the CIA operative with helicopter (1:6 scale) and the 1:18 scale CIA “Air America” helicopter, both produced by 21st Century Toys. Both toy kits featured a pilot and a helicopter that was used quite successfully by the CIA owned and controlled “Air America” Cargo Company. With their motto of “anything, anytime, anywhere”, the company boasted the most flights of any air carrier in the world. It was often used to not only transport legitimate cargo and personnel, but illicit items as well, such as guns, drugs or anything else that might bring influence or profit for the Agency. The two sets mentioned here are fairly similar in nature, since they are both helicopters and are both made by the same company. The larger one is a “Covert Ops” Little Bird chopper, with a pilot that looks like a normal pilot. The 1:18 scale toys is a Huey in either military green or silver. The helicopter does not say CIA on it, but instead says Air America. The phrase “CIA” is prominent on the box however, thereby increasing the connection for the child or consumer. (25) Apparently these helicopters are collectors’ items (as are most CIA toys, as they usually fetch at least 1.5 times their original asking price when they were available at places like Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R’ Us and the like.

What is of interest is not only the accessories and the perception of the spies, but the race and appearance of the figures. The race for all the figures is either white or Hispanic. This is a subtle, yet effective means of emphasizing the role of the CIA as a perceived way of keeping down the minorities in the US, as well as the perception of who truly runs the government in the US. While the figures all strive for some sort of realism, one of the interesting items of note is that the figures, with the exception of the GI Joe, are clean shaven. Given the fact that a beard is a sign of manhood in Afghanistan, it is surprising that the figures would be clean shaven. This is most likely due to the fact that facial hair is seen as an unconscious indicator of a person hiding something. For the person in the field however, such niceties would not be adhered and a beard would be not only common but expected.


So what really can be made of all these toys, and the ties to the world of espionage? Perhaps, simply, very little. Children will take from these toys whatever they will. I remember playing cops and robber, and it did not cause me to commit crimes. We spied on each other, and while some of the neighbor kids were scolded for being budding peeping toms for their exploits, little more came of it. What the exposure of spies in relationship to children’s media (games, toys, and the like) does signal, however, is a mirroring of societal issues and exposure of media in the creation of toys. The continued sales of spy related toys for eavesdropping, signals intelligence, or remote-control vehicle manipulation does make the user more comfortable with real world items. It gives the “sentinel” of liberty a sense of technological pride knowing that the toys they played with as children’s fantasy have become high-tech video cameras, unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles or even remote-control bombs. And for those who wish to live in a child’s world, the toys serve as a bridge between what is accepted (collecting for adults, “research” in toy stores for the author), as well as the untenable (an attempt to delay growing up). As the action figure market continues to make figures that a small child could not afford, nor would an adult give to a child to play with, the lines become further blurred. Perhaps it is just our consumerism, perhaps it is the culture of violence. Either way, expect “Big Brother” to be watching, and playing with your toys.


Burks, Cramer. 1999. Spy Toys. Sherman Oaks, CA: The Windmill Group.

Depriest, Derryl. 1999. Collectible GI Joe: An official guide to his action-packed world. Philadelphia: Courage books.

Engelhardt, Tom. 1999. The end of Victory Culture. New York: Touchstone Press.

Michlig, John. 1998. GI Joe: The Complete story of America’s favorite man of action. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Prohias, Antonio. 2001. The Complete Spy versus Spy. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.

Savage, William. 1990. Commies, Cowboys, and Jungle Queens. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.

Stone, Kathryn. 2004. “All Necessary Means” – Employing CIA Operatives in a Warfighting Role alongside Special Operations Forces. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College.

“Your Money.” Transcript of channel news Asia 27 January 2002, (www.channelnewsasia.com/cna/finance/moneymind/ep4-yourmoney2002.htm)


www.eBay.com (Spy Toys, terrorist toys)





  1. William Savage. Commies, Cowboys, and Jungle Queens. (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan/New England Press; 1990), 41-42.
  2. US government film “Duck and Cover” 1950.
  3. Antonio Prohias. 2001. The Complete Spy versus Spy (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications), 6-8.
  4. Prohias, 47.
  5. Sears Corporation. 1965. Sears Christmas catalog (Chicago: Sears corporation), 505.
  6. Derryl DePriest. 1999. The Collectible GI Joe (Philadelphia: Courage Press), 67-68.
  7. Tom Engelhardt. 1995. The End of Victory Culture. (New York: Basic Books), 181-183.
  8. Cramer Banks. 1999. Spy Toys (Sherman Oaks, CA: Windmill Group, inc.), 69.
  9. eBay site, Feb. 23, 2005
  10. Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
  11. Ebay site Feb 25, 2005. item #5167484494)
  12. ebay site Feb. 25, 2005 (item 35168095347)
  13. Redbox toys and ebay (#5958328517)
  14. Email from Wild Planet, Feb. 1, 2005.
  15. Sears spy kits (2004)
  16. 21st Century website, and questions asked via email with the company spokesperson, May 4, 2005.
  17. GI Joe Tactical advisor package (2002).
  18. Email with Hasbro, Feb. 2, 2005.
  19. Dragon-mdels.com (decommissioned figures #71049 and #71051 – CHECK #)
  20. “Your Money.” Transcript of channel news Asia 27 January 2002, www.channelnewsasia.com/cna/finance/moneymind/ep4-yourmoney2002.htm
  21. Hot Toys CIA Afghanistan figure (2004)
  22. Once upon a time in Mexico (47 minutes in). 2003.
  23. BBI CIA paramilitary force (2004).
  24. Kathryn Stone*. “All Necessary Means”- Employing CIA Operatives in a warfighting role alongside Special Operations forces.* Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 12-16.
  25. 21st Century Website, and Ebay site.

    (Featured Image: “Sabotage” by Polish Madman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)


  • Cord A. Scott

    Cord A. Scott has a Doctorate in American History from Loyola University Chicago and currently serves as a Professor of history for the University of Maryland Global Campus for Asia. He is the author of Comics and Conflict, Four Colour Combat, and the Mud and the Mirth: Marine Corps comics of WWI. He has written for several encyclopedias, academic journals such as the International Journal of Comic Art, the Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, and in several books on aspects of cultural history. He resides in Okinawa, Japan.

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