Former CIA 'master of disguise' crafts lifelike prosthetics
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, June 28, 2015 11:16AM EDT
After a career concealing the identities of U.S. agents overseas, a former CIA "master of disguise" is using his talents to help other Americans come “out of hiding."
Robert Barron got into the disguise business while working in the CIA’s graphic arts department. But when he went undercover at a medical conference in 1983, he discovered a new passion.
"I looked at the disfigurements and the lightbulb went on and I said to myself: 'If you can put people in hiding, you can take people out of hiding,' " he said.
Barron launched a second career, crafting lifelike prosthetics for cancer survivors, accident victims and those born with birth defects.
During his three overseas assignments with the CIA, Barron's disguises were often a matter of life or death. To test their quality, he said he would ask himself if he would feel safe wearing the costume.
Now he applies that same precision to prosthetics, meticulously modelling them and painting each by hand.
His work room in Ashburn, Va., displays an array of body parts: fingers, eyes, noses, and face a mask for a burn victim, complete with sand stubble. On each model, unique freckles, veins and even pores are visible.
Recently, Barron crafted a new ear for nine-year-old Joey Bucchere, whose lobe never properly formed when he was born.
Barron modelled the ear out of silicone, carefully painted it to match Bucchere’s skin tone, and added a freckle for authenticity.
The end product was an ear so realistic it was difficult to tell which of Bucchere’s lobes were man-made.
Gazing in the mirror, Bucchere agreed.
"It's amazing," he said, turning to Barron and hugging him.
Barron says moments like those are what make his job worth it.
"My greatest reward is to see my patients walk out whole again after I’ve given them their prosthesis," he said in his official CIA profile.
"There is nothing better than knowing that I’ve given back someone their identity and quality of life with my work."
With a report from CTV's Washington Correspondent Joy Malbon