Secret Agent Evy Poumpouras: Brains, Beauty, and Brawn
When one thinks of a strong, fearless, and independent woman, Evy Poumpouras can be considered a paradigm. She not only wrote the book, but she has the hands-on experience and training to go along with it. She tells it exactly how it is with a “what you see is what you get” assertiveness that comes from hard-earned experience. When it comes to walking the talk, she’s all action. In NEO’s interview with Evy, we learn about her journey as a criminal investigator, undercover law enforcement agent, interrogator for the Secret Service’s elite polygraph unit, multi-platform journalist, and on-air national television correspondent, to her role as the co-host of Bravo’s Spy Games.
You can’t pull the wool over her eyes, but she may be able to spot a few loose threads if she catches you in a lie. With her training in the art of lie detection, human behavior, and cognitive influence, Evy’s newly published book Becoming Bulleproof can teach us valuable life skills on protecting ourselves by strengthening our mental awareness and resilience, so that we, too, can live confidently and fearlessly. And if you are girl, it’s ok to have a girl crush on her. You very well may after reading this interview.
How does a Greek-American girl from an immigrant Greek family grow up to become a Secret Service agent in what is a dangerous and predominantly male dominated profession? Is there anything in your own life experiences that prepared you and inspired you to go into this field?
It’s hard work followed by hard work, and then more hard work. I never had a sense of entitlement that something should be handed to me, nor did I wait for anyone to give me anything. In the Greek community where I grew up, you are expected to fit into a certain role as a young woman. I never bought into the mindset that because I was a girl I could, or rather should, only do certain things. So the more I was told to “stay in that box” the more I defied it. For me it was about drive and passion. I still have it, even now transitioning into a career in television as a co-host of Bravo’s new show Spy Games and working as a multi-media journalist. If you want something you have to put in the time – and the heart.
Did you encounter any resistance from your male colleagues, being one of few women to be in such an elite security force?
I didn’t care nor did I really think about it. I performed at their level. I even surpassed many of them even in the physical training aspects. When you perform to that degree, when you know you’ve earned your place it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It’s just noise. Usually it stems from someone else’s insecurity about who they are. Understanding this I made sure not to let others’ false perceptions of me enter my sphere of influence. However, I’m a person of action not of words. I made certain that I held a high standard in my performance – that I was doing what was expected of me and beyond. You can’t demand respect rather you command it. You show people who you are through what you do.
To us regular people, the idea of being a Secret Service agent sounds glamorous, intriguing, and exciting, like something out of a movie. Is it?
I have been fortunate in my professional careers, both as a Secret Service agent and then working in television, to be exposed to its glamour and intrigue. And yes there are those moments, either when I was walking into the White House or walking the Red Carpet when it felt surreal. But what you don’t see is the hard work and grit behind the scenes to get to that point.
You’ve served under a few great presidents during your tenure. Were there any conditions that you faced under any of these administrations that you encountered to be more challenging?
There were many aspects of that job that were a challenge. I served many functions. I worked cases, executed arrest and search warrants, worked undercover deals, interrogated criminals and terrorists and served to protect numerous presidents and their families. All those challenges built my resilience and confidence to take risks. Challenges also make you braver – no one gets strong without facing their fears and overcoming adversities. You also make peace with the dangers that come with that job. You are there after all to ultimately die in the place of someone else, to take a bullet for them in the literal sense. But I was around other brave people who were like-minded, and I couldn’t help but be inspired by those around me. That is why to this day I am very thoughtful about whom I keep in my inner circle of people.
I understand you have specific training as an interrogator in the Secret Service’s elite polygraph unit where you can analyze lie detection, human behavior, and cognitive influence. Is this an important life skill for all of us to have, outside of a career path?
It absolutely is an important life skill to hold. That is why I wrote Becoming Bulletproof. Reading people and assessing human behavior is so important. It enhances your personal relations, helps you communicate better with your employees, helps you negotiate better business deals – it is what gets people to open up to you, to come to you with their great ideas, or to invite you into partnerships. Our ability to read and analyze the people around us can excel our quality of life in myriad ways. I use these skills even now in my business deals, when negotiating terms on a new TV or film project, when interviewing people on camera, or when deciding with whom I should do business and why.
How much does gut instinct play in the role of as a Secret Service agent? Were there times when you were uncertain and had to rely on a “sixth sense”? And if you did, was it considered credible evidence?
I interviewed a woman once whose seven-month-old baby had been physically abused. Everyone suspected that it was either the nanny or the father. But no evidence could be found. I turned my sights on the mother and after interviewing her and following my instincts I knew she was the one who had fractured her baby’s skull. Now I had no evidence – so I could not charge her for it – but I was able to get the detectives to refocus their investigation on her as the suspect because up until that point they were looking at everyone else but her. Our intuition is there to guide us. But many of us so rarely follow it. I think that comes from a lack of confidence – the belief that we “know” better. My intuition has guided me throughout my life and in so many ways. Were it not for that, I never would have accomplished what I have today.
Among your many accomplishments, you are also the recipient of the U.S. Secret Service Valor Award for your efforts as a first responder during 9/11. Can you tell us a bit about your service here and what it feels like to be a hero during a national homeland security emergency?
I am not a hero. What I did on that day was about my humanity not heroism. There were people around me dying and I could not run away from that. My love and compassion for humanity is what made me stay and help those I could. When your brothers and sisters are out there suffering, bleeding, being burned by fire, or jumping to their death – you can walk away or you can stay and fight. I chose the latter.
What are your thoughts on the current health pandemic with Covid-19? Will we ever get back to normal? Is there anything in your experience that we can apply to help us “Covid-proof” ourselves, so to speak, from the fear and mistrust this virus has created for us?
There are two types of people – those who can accept the current situation and those who cannot. To overcome anything, we must first live in the truth of things – of where we are now. Not where we use to be or where we wish to be – but where we are NOW. Accepting your new reality and then adapting to it by creating new routines or business models. Those who cannot adapt are those who will struggle the most. It is because they are inflexible. One thing I’ve learned as a Secret Service agent is that rigid people are the most dangerous. Because they only see things one way – they have created one narrative and when that fails, which eventually it will, they are unable to overcome it. We are living through a historic moment and it will eventually pass – but in the end you have a choice of who you want to be when it’s over. Will you be that person who just thought of himself or herself and complained the entire time? Or someone who stepped up to help others struggling – many of whom may have it worse than you? Our character is not defined by our circumstances, rather the way in which we choose to face those circumstances.
Do you think travel will ever be the same again or will security measures become more heightened and travel more difficult in light of the pandemic we are facing?
Things will flux and flow. Like anything it will take time. And many things will depend on how other countries choose to handle the pandemic as well – whether or not they will keep their borders open and/or what restrictions they will put into place. Don’t worry about what will or won’t happen – quite frankly everyone is still trying to figure it out. Focus on adapting to this new normal and making it work for you. For example, I’m expected to go to Los Angeles later this month (in May). If I can fly, I will. If I think it’s not a good idea, I’ll drive. That’s it. We overcomplicate situations in our minds and put in a great deal of energy into things where we have no control over. Focus your energy on finding a solution rather than dwelling on the problem itself.
I look forward to reading your new book, Becoming Bulletproof, published by Simon & Schuster. What do you hope readers will walk away with?
Becoming Bulletproof is about living in a powerful mindset. It took over two years to write and draws from all my training, education, and experiences. I share my successes as well as my failures because quite frankly I have learned more from my failures than anything else. Truly it is three books in one, which is why it is divided into three parts: mental and physical protection, reading people, and influencing situations. It is a life manual you can go back to over and over again. All the strategies and techniques that I learned to make me as bulletproof as possible. I’ve been through four training academies, each one harder than the previous, and that training fundamentally changed me as a person. I want people to have access to that. I was privileged to be around some of the most extraordinary people and learn from some of the bravest and boldest – I never had that exposure growing up in my small Greek community living in low-income housing. I had to figure out a great deal on my own – and although my parents loved me and did their best, they could not guide or advise me on so many other things. We are all looking for mentors and guidance, which is why I read veraciously – at least five books a month. Reading has inspired me in so many ways. And so I hope my book will help inspire others to LIVE as fearlessly as possible.
Is there any advice or feedback you would like to give to young women who may be reading and aspire to follow in your footsteps?
My advice is for both women and men of all ages. It’s not just for women or for the young – because everyone needs advice and guidance. And quite frankly what I did and still do is difficult regardless of gender or age. Listen to yourself. Believe in yourself. And live the best life you can. Don’t let others hold you back. But most importantly don’t hold yourself back.
Lastly, for our Greek readers, I have to ask. What part of Greece is your family from?
My father is from Mesta, Chios and my mother is from Kilkis, Macedonia.