Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

Ex-CIA agent is Target's 'gift detective'

As the pressure to win the holiday shopping battle builds, marketers are inventing creative ways to help parents strategize.

Enter Jonna Mendez.

After a 27-year career at the CIA, the former "chief of disguise" (yes, that was her actual title) has an unconventional retirement job — teaching parents to scope out their kids' wish lists. Mendez's official role is Target's "Kids' Gift Detective." This season, she is sharing years of spy expertise in an online series that will guide mommy-bloggers in their quest to identify their children's favorite things.

To parents whose children have no problem stating exactly what they want, the whole exercise may seem pointless. Mendez said she wondered about the same thing when Target approached her with the idea. But she knew from her own experience that children think in different ways.

"My son didn't want to give me his list," she said. "It was between him and Santa — I was never in that equation."

Over the years, Mendez said, she applied basic CIA techniques to find out what her son wanted, shop discreetly and keep gifts hidden until Christmas morning. That led to some of the pointers she is giving parents, chocka­block with all the movie-spy jargon you might expect.

To find out what kids really want, she recommends talking to people close to them — or "access agents" — who hear ideas that parents may not. "Your son's coach at school might know that he wants that Nerf blaster gun more than anything," she said.

Another way to guess children's holiday wishes is to encourage "clandestine communication" with Santa Claus, she said. Ask them to write "invisible" letters using milk or lemon juice so no one can read them. Parents can see the ink by warming up the letter, using nothing more than a hair dryer.

The CIA also used secret ink, Mendez said. "But it was not milk or lemon juice."

Finally, to hide holiday gifts, Mendez suggests moving them to an "off-site location" (spy talk for "next door") or using "concealment devices" (simply covering presents in brown wrapping paper and sticking on a mailing address). Mendez said she would simply mislabel her son's gift, placing his father's name on it instead.

After a career that involved staying firmly out of the spotlight, Mendez, 68, has embraced it. She is one half of a CIA couple; her husband, Antonio Mendez, is the former agent Ben Affleck portrayed in the 2012 political thriller Argo. (Her husband jokes that Affleck wasn't "good looking enough" to play him, she said.)

Jonna Mendez moved through several departments during her tenure at the CIA, but her specialty was clandestine photography in the Office of Technical Service. The office was not unlike "Q in James Bond," she said.

Comments
Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

TAMPA ó Stripped to the girders, the old Bromley office building looked about as substantial as fish bones on a dinner plate.But the 5-story structure proved Sunday it still had a surprising amount of fight left in it.A demolition team had planned to...
Updated: 5 hours ago
President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

STERLING, Ill. - As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newsp...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Making the case for more drones

Making the case for more drones

BLACKSBURG, Va. - They considered how well everyone slept the night before. They considered the chances a military jet might scream by on a training mission. They considered the farmer in the field.Then they considered some more.After making it throu...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

The biggest hospitals in Houston had a problem.To earn a prized institutional certification, they needed more nurses with bachelor of science degrees in nursing.But local colleges were more focused on turning out nurses with two-year degrees who, to ...
Published: 06/22/18
Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

TAMPA ó The days ahead were supposed to be bright.For weeks, the future of health care tech company CareSync had been thrown into question as founder and CEO and founder Travis Bond unexpectedly departed, kicking off multiple rounds of layoffs. But t...
Published: 06/22/18
Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Hereís an intriguing set of facts: Coal produces the same percentage of the worldís electricity as 20 years ago. Oil and gas remain about level, too.Same for nonfossil fuel sources. In other words, the massive push towards renewables over the past co...
Published: 06/22/18
Brink: Why have Floridaís working-age men left the labor market in droves

Brink: Why have Floridaís working-age men left the labor market in droves

A cancer lurks within Floridaís otherwise rosy job numbers, one thatís been called a quiet catastrophe and an intractable time bomb.Too many men between the ages of 25 and 54 have stopped working.Economists call those the prime-age years. Incomes gen...
Published: 06/22/18
Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

ST. PETERSBURG — The 16th annual St. Pete Pride Parade is getting ready to march along the downtown waterfront the second straight year. But many hope to move past the division caused last year when the parade was uprooted from its original hom...
Published: 06/22/18
For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

ST. PETERSBURG ó For sale: a 104-year-old elementary school with restaurant and wine shop. It even has a title company where you can close the deal.Less than a year after completing a major renovation of the historic North Ward school, developer Jona...
Published: 06/22/18
Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others donít

Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others donít

TAMPA ó When the 2008 financial crash brought down the nationís housing market, hundreds of home builders went out of business. Among them was Sharon McSwain Homes in Atlanta, forced to liquidate in 2009.But just as developers like to develop, builde...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18