Antonio Joseph Mendez
November 15, 1940
Eureka, Nevada, U.S.
|Died||January 19, 2019 (aged 78)|
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Colorado|
|Rank||Technical Operations Officer, SIS-2|
Antonio Joseph Mendez (November 15, 1940 – January 19, 2019) was an American technical operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who specialized in support of clandestine and covert CIA operations. He wrote four memoirs about his CIA experiences.
Mendez was decorated, and is now widely known, for his on-the-scene management of the "Canadian Caper" during the Iran hostage crisis. He exfiltrated six American diplomats from Iran in January 1980 by arranging to have them pose as a Canadian film crew. As part of their cover, the diplomats carried passports issued by the Canadian government to document them as Canadian citizens.
After declassification of records, the full details of the operation were reported in a 2007 article by Joshuah Bearman in Wired magazine. This was loosely adapted for the screenplay and development of the 2012 Academy Award-winning film Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, who also starred as Mendez. Mendez attended the 70th Golden Globe Awards to give a speech about the film, where it was nominated for (and later won) Best Motion Picture – Drama.
Early life and education
Mendez was born in Eureka, Nevada, in 1940 to John George Mendez (1917–1943) and Neva June Tognoni (1919–1995). He attended local public schools. His father was Mexican of mestizo descent, and his mother had Italian and French ancestry. In an interview by Open Your Eyes magazine, Mendez said that his father died when he was quite young. As he never really learned to speak Spanish and was cut off from his father's Mexican-American culture, he did not identify as Hispanic.
Mendez continued to work as an artist after college. He first worked as an illustrator and tool designer for Martin Marietta, a large aerospace firm. In 1965, Mendez answered a blind advertisement for a graphic artist. He was hired by the CIA and became an espionage artist for the Technical Services Division, where he specialized in identity document forgery and creating disguises. He worked as an officer in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, and served in the CIA for 25 years.
In 1980, in what became known as the Canadian Caper, Mendez travelled to Iran to rescue six American diplomats who had taken refuge at the Canadian embassy, after the United States embassy was overrun in the disruption related to the overthrow of the government. Mendez was part of a strategy to exfiltrate the diplomats by passing them off as a Canadian film crew, having received passports and supporting documents from the Canadian Government to identify them as such. He was awarded the Intelligence Star on March 12, 1980, for his efforts in leading the rescue mission.
Marriage and family
In the mid-1980s, Mendez worked with Jonna Hiestand Goeser, also a CIA officer, on rebuilding the U.S. security organization in the Soviet Union and later Russia. Following Mendez's retirement in 1990, they married in 1991. They had a son together.
Later years and death
After retiring from the CIA in 1990, Mendez and his wife Jonna, herself a 27-year veteran of the CIA, served on the board of directors of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. He also worked as an artist.
Mendez wrote four non-fiction memoirs, two with his wife including:
- Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (1999), with Malcolm McConnell, a memoir of his CIA experiences
- Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War (2003), with Jonna Mendez and Bruce Henderson.
- Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (2012), with Matt Baglio, a more lengthy account of the Canadian Caper.
- The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War (2019), with Jonna Mendez.
Representation in other media
In the first decade of the 21st century, records related to the Canadian Caper were declassified. Journalist Joshuah Bearman wrote a full article about this in the April 2007 issue of Wired magazine.
Bearman's account was loosely adapted for the screenplay and development of the feature film Argo (2012). It was directed by Ben Affleck, who also starred as Mendez. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. When interviewed in 2013 by ShowBizCafe.com, Mendez was asked how he felt about being portrayed by Ben Affleck, who is non-Hispanic. Mendez noted that losing his father when he was young meant he did not learn Spanish nor much of his father's culture. He said, "I don't think of myself as a Hispanic. I think of myself as a person who grew up in the desert."
- Bearman, Joshuah (April 24, 2007). "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran". Archived from the original on February 25, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
- Rosenwald, Michael S. (January 14, 2013). "Golden Globes: A big night for the real Tony Mendez". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on January 21, 2013. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
- "John George Mendez". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
- John G. Mendez's Death Certificate
- "Neva June Tognoni". Find a Grave. Archived from the original on April 18, 2018. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
- Tony Mendez's Birth Certificate
- "Antonio J. Mendez". The Best Reviews. September 17, 2002. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- Neva June Tognoni's Birth Certificate
- Rico, Jack. "Exclusive! Argo's real Tony Mendez: "I'm not Hispanic"". ShowBizCafe.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
- Rico, Jack. "Argo's real Tony Mendez: "I'm not Hispanic"". ShowBizCafe.com. NBC Latino. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
- Esparza, Moctesuma. "Ben Affleck's Argo and the whitewashing of the Mexican-American". Al Día (Philadelphia). Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
- Esparza, Moctezuma (December 7, 2012). "Ben Affleck's Argo and Whitewashing Mexican-Americans". Al Día (Philadelphia). News Taco. Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
- Carswell, Simon. "The agent behind the 'Argo' mask". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
- Melendez, Victor. "Tony Mendez: The Real Life James Bond". Open Your Eyes. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
- "Antonio Mendez: Author of the Master of Disguise and Spy Dust". Themasterofdisguise.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- Gardner, Karen (December 11, 2011). "Undercover no more". Frederick News-Post. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
- "A Tribute to the Oyster Tonger, A Chesapeake Waterman". Annmarie Garden. 1994. Archived from the original on August 27, 2010.
- "Three Memoirs from Former CIA Officers". CIA. Archived from the original on September 27, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- "Nonfiction Book Review: SPY DUST: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War, as Authorized by the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez, Author, Antonio, Author, Jonna Mendez, Joint Author, with Bruce Henderson. Atria $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7434-2852-1". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
- Reporter, Jenifer B. McKim-. "Book review:'Argo:How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History' by Antonio Mendex and Matt Baglio – The Boston Globe". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
- Mendez, Antonio J.; Mendez, Jonna (May 21, 2019). The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781541762176.
- "John Hollister Hedley". Missouri Southern State University. Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- "Errol Morris' First Person: The Complete Series". DVD Talk. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
- The Little Grey Man, retrieved January 20, 2019
- Owens, Donna M. ""Argo" subject now battling Parkinson's". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on October 26, 2018. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
- Kilkenny, Kate (January 19, 2019). "Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Portrayed in 'Argo,' Dies at 78". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
- "Review of Master of Disguise", Studies in Intelligence v. 46 No. 1 (2002)
- A Classic Case of Deception Mendez on the background of the Canadian Caper, Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1999–2000
- "Tony Mendez, clandestine CIA hero of Ben Affleck's 'Argo,' reveals the real story behind film smash". The Washington Times. October 10, 2012.