The movie ‘The Gray Man’ portrays the CIA’s real-life gray men and women

Robert Morton
3 min readSep 26, 2022


CIA Director William Colby was the first real-life ‘Gray Man’

CIA Director William Colby called himself “the gray man,” the sort of man who couldn’t even catch a waiter’s eye in a restaurant. A CIA gray man is a man or woman operative who can blend into any environment or situation and move through a crowd overlooked, unnoticed, and forgotten.

A gray man knows how to hide in plain sight while also not appearing to have anything to hide. The Gray Man theory is a concept whereby undercover CIA operatives carry out their everyday routine to blend in with the environment so as not to raise suspicion, and get their job done before moving away quietly.

In studying the origins of the phrase ‘Gray Man’, I made it a point to see the movie of same name. The CIA agent who portrays the ‘Gray Man’ does quite a good job- Regé-Jean Page plays this CIA operative role quite well, and Ryan Gosling stars as Court Gentry, a CIA agent known as Sierra Six who is recruited into the Sierra Program, a shadowy training program that trains skilled marksmen for the CIA. The program provides the background for Sierra Six and explains his unusual clandestine abilities. However, much about the training and its procedures remain unknown, because…it’s highly classified in real life!

In my spy thriller THE SHADOW WAR, CIA spymaster Corey Pearson uses his ‘Gray Man’ skills to escape a hotel in downtown Havana, Cuba to slip thorough a cadre of Cuban intelligence operatives and Havana police. And in my spy thriller MISSION OF VENGEANCE, CIA spymaster Corey Pearson often transforms into a ‘Gray Man’ when he’s inside unfriendly countries, for his personal protection and to move around freely in otherwise difficult surroundings. Here is a Snippet from MISSION OF VENGEANCE:

Snippet: Sweeney chipped in. “That’s what all of us do in counterintelligence, no matter which side of the fence we’re on, we all play the ‘Gray Man’ role! We lie all the time, to practically everyone, about who we are. We blend in well with our neighbors and the friends we make, the bartender at the corner pub, any women we may end up cozying up to…we hide what we do now and everything that we’ve done in our past…from everyone.”

End of Snippet

The video “First Person: The Little Gray Man” reveals what the life of a CIA “Gray Man’ is really like in the real world of espionage. Tony Mendez tells it like it is. I met Tony atan Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) luncheon years ago, and he inspired me to create the Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Tony Mendez was a CIA operative for 25 years specializing in multiple identities and was known as the “Master of Disguise”. In this video, he reveals the sacred commandments of espionage…and how to become a ‘Gray Man.’ Enjoy!

Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community. He authors the Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.



Robert Morton

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