Cover image for The master of disguise : my secret life in the CIA
The master of disguise : my secret life in the CIA
Mendez, Antonio J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow & Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 351 pages ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
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Material Type
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JK468.I6 M46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
JK468.I6 M46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Tony Mendez led two lives. To his friends, he was a soft-spoken, nondescript bureaucrat working for the Department of Defense. To the leaders of the CIA, he was their master of disguise--an undisputed genius who could create an entirely new identity for anybody, anywhere, anytime. Combining the cunning tricks of a magician with the analytical insight of a psychologist, Mendez shows us how he helped hundreds of people escape potentially fatal situations.

From "Wild West" adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow, Mendez was there. He earned the CIA's Intelligence Star of Valor for his role in engineering the escape of six Americans from Tehran in 1980. On the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA, he was named one of the fifty all-time stars of the spy trade, honored with the Trailblazer Award, and granted exclusive permission to tell his fascinating story--all of it. Here he gives us a privileged look at what really happens in the field and behind closed doors at the highest level of international espionage: some of it shocking, frightening, and wildly inventive--all of it unforgettable.Tony Mendez led two lives. To his friends, he was a soft-spoken, nondescript bureaucrat working for the Department of Defense. To the leaders of the CIA, he was their master of disguise--an undisputed genius who could create an entirely new identity for anybody, anywhere, anytime. Combining the cunning tricks of a magician with the analytical insight of a psychologist, Mendez shows us how he helped hundreds of people escape potentially fatal situations.

Author Notes

Antonio J. Mendez is the former chief of disguise for the CIA. He is an author and professional painter.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A recent retiree from the CIA's gadgets department, Mendez parts the curtains on his career in espionage. The CIA cleared every word in Mendez's book, as it does every tome by former employees, perhaps a pro forma task here because Mendez doesn't talk out of school and sports an admiring attitude toward the CIA. Palpably proud to have been a secret agent, Mendez effectively conveys the thrills its practitioners derive from espionage, via an anecdotal accounting of his varied 30-year career. Like many, he answered a vaguely worded newspaper advertisement and started out as a document forger. Ambitious, Mendez broadened his perspective beyond the print shop, mastered disguise and surveillance techniques, and spent a few years abroad supporting operations in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Thailand. After Vietnam wound down, Mendez's career so prospered that he became the go-to guy for spiriting assets from hostile territories: the reader receives a vivid sense of the clandestine world through his part in the successful operations to extract a KGB defector from India and an Iranian spy from revolutionary Iran. The latter exploit was a prelude to an operation lavishly publicized at the time--the escape of six Americans from the U.S. embassy, seized by Iranians. Mendez divulges the hitherto-suppressed details of the caper, a zanily brazen operation in which the diplomats and Mendez slipped out of Teheran posing as Hollywood filmmakers. Garnished with his efforts to defeat KGB surveillance in Moscow (and glazed, no doubt, by coauthor McConnell), Mendez's memoir is a dish cloak-and-dagger connoisseurs will savor. No surprise the CIA's PR sentinels were all for it. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former CIA chief of disguise Mendez was an award-winning spy (yes, they have awards). Here, given unique permission by that agency to write about his career, he offers an entertaining and action-filled, though restrained, memoir of his Cold War clandestine service, emphasizing the gritty, complicated realities of intelligence work. Experienced as an illustrator and seeking a little excitement, in 1965 he answered a newspaper ad for navy artists to work overseas, and soon found himself signing on with "the Company" as a graphics specialist in the technical services division. Mendez effectively conveys the tension of forging documents on short notice and knowing that an agent's life depended on his accuracy. The ambitious Mendez quickly sought overseas transfer; this, coupled with his innovations in the then nascent fields of alias creation, countersurveillance and disguise, made him into a sought-after specialist who was brought in to numerous hot spots to perform daunting tasks. The book is packed with these stories, but the detail on espionage techniques his team developed can be excessively dry, and Mendez at times turns abruptly circumspect to avoid divulging current components of spycraft. Mendez offers a balanced and humanized portrait of life within the CIA, acknowledging the strain on agents' families, and grounds his tale in the Cold War era's historical realities, producing a volume with appeal for both spy buffs and the simply curious. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. 6-city author tour. (Nov.) FYI: Menendez will be profiled in an upcoming broadcast of 60 Minutes. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

What is it like to be a spy? Anyone who has ever wondered about those shadowy figures (so often described in fiction by Le Carr‚ and others) can now get a peek into the world of 1950s and 1960s espionage. Mendez worked in the CIA's Technical Services Department for over 25 years, eventually rising to its top position. With the approval of the CIA's censors, he has written a remarkably detailed picture of his work as a document-forger and disguise-maker for undercover assignments all over the world. This is endlessly fascinating stuff, especially for a generation raised on James Bond and George Smiley. Although the book is overwritten in spots, in the end, Mendez spins a good tale. For general public collections.ÄEdward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Master of Disguise My Secret Life in the CIA Chapter One A Letter Slipped in the Door Delicate indeed, truly delicate. There is no place where espionage is not used.--Sun Tzu The Blue Ridge Mountains, Maryland, August 21,1997 . The anxious memories returned to haunt me that summer night, keeping me from sleep once more... It is past midnight near the time of the monsoon. I wait tensely on the concrete observation deck of the sweltering airport terminal, peering down at the tarmac through a thickening haze. The TWA flight from Bangkok is already two hours late. I have watches Swissair arrive from Riyadh, Lufthansa from Bangkok. An Aeroflot IL-62 arrives from Tashkent and lumbers up to the gate directly below. My pulse suddenly surges. The appearance of the Aeroflot is an ominous sign. The operations plan called for the subject and his CIA escort to have left on the continuation of the delayed TWA flight at least an hour ago, for a very good reason. We wanted them out of here before the Aeroflot landed, with its inevitable ground retinue of KGB gumshoes. The subject is a KGB defector who simply walked into our Station ten days earlier. Now, waiting down in the steamy, crowded departure hall, will he panic and run when he hears the Soviet flight announced? I glance over the mildewed cement barrier. All the gates are full, but there is no American plane. Then, out of the gloom, the TWA Boeing 707 materializes. It lands, taxis down the runway, and finally stops at the far end of the poorly lit parking apron. The haze thickens--"smit," the old Asian hands call it, ground-hugging "smoke from shit" from the millions of cow dung cooking fires burning in villages across the subcontinent. I squint, but the TWA plane is hard to distinguish. I wait. The disembarking TWA passengers grope their way through the murk and stumble into the terminal, where the humidity and stench of clogged W.C.s will certainly overpower the smit. I cannot leave the platform. My task is to confirm that our subject and his escort officer "Jacob," my partner in this operation, safely board the continuation of the TWA flight. But in this miasma, how can I see whether they reach the plane? If I don't catch sight of them coming out of the terminal with the other passengers booked for the same flight, it could mean they have run into trouble at passport control. That is where the alias documents and disguise I've helped create will be tested. Passengers emerge from the terminal, headed for the TWA plane, but I still don't see the subject and his escort. Is it possible that they have already bolted to the two getaway cars sitting at the dark end of the parking lot with their engines running? Whatever the outcome of the exfiltration operation, I have to pass a signal from the phone booth at the bottom of the stairway. Tonight, we will use an open code with an ostensible wrong number. Is Suzy there? (They made it.) May I speak to George? (Something went wrong.) The rest of the plan will unfold based on which of these two things happens... Finally, I sleep, but I have no rest. Even in my dream, my mind cannot let go of the scene at the airport. I find myself descending the stairs with their chipped paint and wedging myself into the oven of the phone booth. I lift the receiver of the clumsy red Bakelite phone, put a brown coin in the slot, strike the cradle bar and release it. No dial tone. No coin drop. Damned colonial phone, a legacy of British rule that probably hasn't been maintained since the Raj folded the Union Jack. Again I jiggle the cradle. The fat copper disk drops into the coin return slot. I jam the coin back in. A hiss, a click, a weak dial tone. Receiver held between ear and shoulder, I dial quickly, scanning the number scrawled on the hotel matchbook in my other hand. Clicks and pops, finally a coherent double whir. The phone is ringing at the other end. I press the receiver tightly against my ear. Four rings. . . five... Pick it up, Raymond . I slam the phone down after ten rings. Why doesn't he answer? I look at my watch: 3:07, an hour past my scheduled call time. I know he's still at the safe house. They're expecting me to pass the signal. I suck in a deep breath of humid air and release it slowly to ease the tight band across my shoulders and the drumming in my ears. I have to call. I insert another fat copper coin and dial. A pause. A click.., the coin drops through again. The phone is dead. The Master of Disguise My Secret Life in the CIA . Copyright © by Antonio Mendez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
1 A Letter Slipped in the Doorp. 1
2 Border Crossingsp. 23
3 Onto the Shadowy Battlefieldp. 51
4 Murky Waters, Southeast Asiap. 78
5 Kipling's Beatp. 122
6 Honor and Gambitp. 158
7 Pinballp. 176
8 Moscow Rulesp. 196
9 Raptor in the Darkp. 256
10 Endgamep. 308
Epiloguep. 341
Glossaryp. 344