In 1965 CIA's Technical Services Division recruited him. Born in Eureka, Nevada, Tony led two lives. For 25 years he worked under cover, often overseas, participating in some of the most important operations of the Cold War. To his friends he was a quiet bureaucrat working for the U.S. military. To the CIA he was their disguise master. From Wild West adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow he was there.
He moved into the CIA's executive rank over the course of his career. Mendez and his subordinates were responsible for changing the identity and appearance of thousands of clandestine operatives, allowing them to move securely around the world.
In January 1980 he was awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor for engineering and conducting the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the hostage crisis. This rescue operation involved creating an ostensible Hollywood film production company, complete with personnel, scripts, publicity and real estate in LA. Ben Affleck directed and starred in the film as Mendez. With Warner Brothers and George Clooney producing, the movie "Argo" won Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards. Mr. Mendez has a new book by the same name that was published by Viking in September 2012.
When Mendez retired in November 1990 he had earned the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit and two Certificates of Distinction. Seven years later, in September 1997 on the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA, he was one of fifty officers chosen from the tens of thousands who had worked at CIA over its first fifty years awarded the Trailblazer Medallion. This honor recognized him as an "officer who by his actions, example, or initiative...helped shape the history of the CIA."
At the 60th Anniversary of CIA's Office of Technical Service, Tony Mendez's parent organization, General David Petreus, former Director of Central Intelligence called out Tony as one of three OTS officers in sixty years who had made a difference in how the CIA did its work. That, combined with plaudits from four previous Directors of Central Intelligence in reviewing his book, ARGO, lend credence to his innovative spirit and courage.
He published his first book, The Master of Disguise, in November 1999. Since then Mendez has appeared in various national media to include twenty-two documentaries. In September 2002 he published his second book with his wife Jonna entitled Spy Dust. Tony's book ARGO: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History was published prior to the film's release.
In a recent October 2014 article in the Washington Post, Mendez and his wife revealed that Tony has been battling Parkinson's disease. According to the interview by Michael Rosenwald, "Tony and Jonna had been discreet about his struggles, including when we first met in his early stages of the disease, but they decided to talk publicly about it for the first time in front of 400 people at an international symposium for the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, an organization helping develop a new treatment for the debilitating disease." The couple wants to use Tony's fame and notoriety to help promote new and experimental treatments for Parkinson's.
Mendez continues to paint, to lecture and consult to the U.S. Intelligence Community. He has published articles in their journals and he and his wife are founding board members of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Tony is an award-winning painter with an international reputation. He lives and works in his studios and gallery on his forty-acre farm in rural Maryland. Tony travels with his wife, Jonna, who is also a retired CIA intelligence officer who lived undercover for 27 years in such places as Germany, Thailand, and India, specializing in clandestine photography.