Tony Mendez

Tony Mendez

Retired CIA officer, Author, and the Real-Life Inspiration for the Movie Argo.

Speaker Categories: International Affairs | Inspirational | Human Rights | Author

Travels From: MD, United States.

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Tony Mendez Bio
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Retired CIA Officer, Best-selling Author, American Hero
and Real-Life Inspiration for Argo

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.

Argo

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.

Other Awards

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.

Best-selling Author

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.

Parkinson's Disease

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.

Other Interests

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.

Argo: The Man and Story Behind the Movie

Tony Mendez, real-life CIA operative on which the movie is based, shares his personal experiences and insight into one of the most creative and daring operations in American history. Told through a discussion format with wife Jonna, also a former CIA operative, Tony details the purpose, planning and success of the operation to save American lives.

The Real "Q": Gadgets and Technologies in Espionage Operations

Tony and Jonna Mendez served over fifty years combined in the Office of Technical Service, the technical arm of the CIA’s operations directorate. They give an overview of technical operations and the spy gear that made them unique. These gadgets were designed to keep foreign agents in place in hostile environments and to get them out of harm’s way when it was time. They finish with an in-depth review of operational disguise and identity transformation operations where they tell stories of some of their life and death operations designed to elude surveillance and move intelligence agents and officers clandestinely around the world.

Disguise, Deception, and Illusion: Clandestine Operations Using of the Principles of Magic

Throughout history warfare has been conducted by the use of deception and illusion. Tony and Jonna Mendez, both former chief’s of disguise for the CIA, review some of the most important deception operations throughout history. With the use of the art of magic, illusion, and misdirection many enemies have been defeated without taking the field of battle. The Mendez’ recount stories of deception as it was used by the Allies in the Battle of El Alamien and “D” Day. Going to Hollywood they learned how to manage the “stage” on the streets of Moscow, helping win the Cold War. They also give examples of how the “stage” of battle could be better managed today in the war against terrorism.

The Life of a Female Spy: An overview of female spies throughout history

Jonna Mendez served twenty-seven years with the CIA and retired as the Chief of Disguise. She tells spy tales about a number of effective and not so effective female spies. She also discusses her own experiences, living and traveling around the world, operating in the alleyways of Europe and the Far East, participating in classic espionage operations.

  • Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History
    Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History Purchase Book
  • The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
    The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA Purchase Book

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Recent Books

  • Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History
    Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History Purchase Book
  • The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
    The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA Purchase Book
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