Mendez, Antonio J. 1940-
MENDEZ, Antonio J. 1940-
PERSONAL: Born 1940, in Eureka, NV; married Jonna Heistand (a CIA intelligence officer), 1991; children: Jesse. Education: Attended University of Colorado.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: U.S. intelligence officer, artist, consultant, and lecturer. Martin Marietta, Denver, CO, plumber, illustrator, and tool designer; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Office of Technical Service, 1965-90, became chief of Graphics and Authentication Division, grade SIS-2. International Spy Museum, Washington, DC, advisory board member; The Agency (television series), technical advisor, 2001—; guest appearances on nationally broadcast television and radio programs.
AWARDS, HONORS: CIA Intelligence Medal of Merit, Intelligence Star, two Certificates of Distinction, and Trailblazer Medallion, 1997; IMOS Inter-Allied Distinguished Service Cross, and Order of the Sphinx, Legion of Frontiersmen, both 2000; various awards and prizes for art.
(With Malcolm McConnell) The Master of Disguise:My Secret Life in the CIA, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
(With wife, Jonna H. Mendez, and Bruce Henderson) Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War, as Authorized by the CIA, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor of articles to periodicals.
ADAPTATIONS: The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA was adapted for audio, read by Dick Hill, Brilliance, 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Antonio Joseph Mendez retired from the CIA in 1990, after a long and distinguished service, to devote his time to his art, writing, speaking, and guest television and radio appearances. As Chief of Disguise and later as Chief of the Graphics and Authentication Division, he and his team changed the identities and appearances of agents, enabling them to move more freely as they engaged in Cold War spying operations for the United States. Mendez met Jonna Heistand, also an expert in disguise, photography, and false documentation, who worked under him in Technical Operations, and they married and moved as their assignments required, spending seven years in Asia. Between them, the couple devoted more than fifty years to CIA service. Jonna retired in 1993.
Mendez wrote The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA with Malcolm McConnell. Named one of the agency's top fifty officers on the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA in 1997, Mendez tells how he was first recruited because of his artistic ability. He began by creating counterfeit identity documents by hand (they were later computer-generated), then moved on to disguises, a talent that enabled the CIA to remove six U.S. diplomats from Tehran while fellow Americans were held hostage for more than a year.
In the successful Mission Impossible-type operation, Mendez entered Iran as a Canadian film production company, going through all the steps, including scripting a screenplay, hiring a crew and cast, and even opening an office in Hollywood. The phony production was advertised in all the industry papers and received worldwide attention, and the ruse was so convincing that Mendez successfully extricated the diplomats.
In a review for Crescent Blues online, the writer said that "Mendez's account of his first 'exfil' of a high-ranking KGB officer, 'NESTOR,' contains the suspense and thrills of the best spy stories. . . . The rescue demanded intricate stratagems and a masterpiece of disguise. Finally, the operation's entire success hinged on the defector's bluffing at airport security."
Booklist's Gilbert Taylor wrote that "garnished with his efforts to defeat KGB surveillance in Moscow . . . Mendez's memoir is a dish cloak-and dagger connoisseurs will savor."
Mendez and his wife wrote Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War, as Authorized by the CIA with crime writer Bruce Henderson. It is a memoir of the Mendez's romance, beginning in the 1980s, and their chosen profession. David Pitt remarked in Booklist that "the developing relationship between the spies adds a human dimension to the story, but it never gets in the way of the insider stuff."
The main title alludes to the marking compound used by the KGB to track individuals, just one of the techniques and tools discussed by the authors. Library Journal contributor Daniel K. Blewett noted that "a lot of professional brain power goes into planning and carrying out this deadly game with the highest stakes imaginable."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Spy Dust "is an entertaining thriller with the added virtue of being true." Dana Goodyear observed in the New Yorker that the book "makes a post-September 11th case for spooks—reminding us that the most successful operations are the ones we never hear about." The volume includes a glossary of spy terms.
Antonio and Jonna Mendez helped design the forty-million dollar International Spy Museum located a few blocks from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in Washington, D.C. The museum, which has no official connection to the CIA, is a for-profit business that was developed by some of the founders of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. The Spy Museum displays all manner of weapons and gadgets that range from a one-shot pistol contained in a lipstick tube to a camera, the lens of which is fixed to a coat button.
In a New York Times article, Phil Patton wrote that Mendez "has even designed a disguise kit to be sold in the museum shop, though it is not likely to be as elaborate as the disguise technology he helped develop for the CIA in collaboration with Hollywood makeup masters. One method—code named Dagger—lets a spy don a paper-thin mask in minutes, without help. The method is still classified, but from Mr. Mendez's accounts, it sounds a lot like the peel-off latex mask used by Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Two." But unlike in the movies, the Mendezes, who sometimes refer to their division of the CIA as "the Magic Kingdom," not only designed the sometimes million-dollar devices, they became part of the operations that employed them.
Patton observed that Mendez has a mustache and his wife is several inches taller and said that "one can't help thinking of, yes, Boris and Natasha." Patton wrote that the Mendezes "would like to see more openness. They argue that keeping secrets for too long prevents the intelligence agencies from learning the lessons of their own operations, successful or not."
"On their farm, the Mendezes still spend a lot of time doing what they did in their earlier lives: painting and photographing," noted Patton. "Mr. Mendez, who once painstakingly inscribed Farsi lettering on a fake passport, now paints landscapes in the open air."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Mendez, Antonio J., and Malcolm McConnell, TheMaster of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Mendez, Antonio Jr., Jonna H. Mendez, and Bruce Henderson, Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War, as Authorized by the CIA, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, September 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, p. 5; August, 2002, David Pitt, review of Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War, as Authorized by the CIA, p. 1898.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Spy Dust, p. 936.
Library Journal, September 1, 1999, Edward Goedeken, review of The Master of Disguise, p. 204; August, 2000, James L. Dudley, review of The Master of Disguise (audio), p. 179; August, 2002, Daniel K. Blewett, review of Spy Dust, p. 117. New Yorker, August 19, 2002, Dana Goodyear, review of Spy Dust.
New York Times, July 17, 2002, Phil Patton, "Once Secret, and Now on Display: Declassified; a Spy Museum Opens This Week in Washington," p. E1.
Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2000, review of TheMaster of Disguise (audio), p. 41; July 22, 2002, review of Spy Dust, p. 165.
Security Management, May, 2000, Gordon Mitchell, review of The Master of Disguise, p. 102.
Blether.com,http://www.blether.com/ (December 9, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of Spy Dust.
Crescent Blues,http://www.crescentblues.com/ (December 9, 2002), review of The Master of Disguise.
Mendez Home Page,http://www.themasterofdisguise.com (February 21, 2003).
Escape from Iran (television documentary), Discovery Channel, 2001.
Masters of Deception (three-part television documentary), Discovery Channel, 2000.*