The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

by Antonio J Mendez


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From the author of Argo comes an unforgettable behind-the-scenes story of espionage in action. In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations.

Adept at creating new identities for anyone, anywhere, Mendez was involved in operations all over the world, from “Wild West” adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow. In 1980, he orchestrated the escape of six Americans from a hostage situation in revolutionary Tehran, Iran. This extraordinary operation inspired the movie Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

The Master of Disguise gives us a privileged look at what really happens at the highest levels of international espionage: in the field, undercover, and behind closed doors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060957919
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/07/2000
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 111,198
Product dimensions: 5.81(w) x 8.94(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

Tony Mendez is a retired CIA officer who worked undercover for 25 years, participating in some of the most important operations of the Cold War. He earned the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit and was chosen as one of 50 officers to be awarded the Trailblazer Medallion.

He is an award-winning painter and the author of The Master of Disguise and Spy Dust, which he co-wrote with his wife Jonna Mendez, also a retired intelligence officer. His most recent book is Argo, which tells the story of the operation he ran to rescue six Americans hiding in the Canadian Embassy in Tehran during the hostage crisis. The operation inspired the Warner Brothers feature film of the same name. Mendez currently lives and works in his studios and gallery on his farm in Maryland with his wife.

Read an Excerpt

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 villagesacross 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. Copyright © by Antonio Mendez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Robert M. Gates

Tony Mendez has written a spell-binding memoir of CIA secret operations and the Agency's unsung heroes of the Cold War, among whom he was one of the most imaginative and courageous. Put aside spy novels that bear no resemblance to reality - here is a gripping portrayal of the real world of intelligence operations by a man who was really there.
— (Robert M. Gates, Former Director of Central Intelligence)

Porter J. Goss

Tony is one of the officers of the Central Intelligence Agency who have dedicated their lives to the quiet service of their country. His experiences are part of the story, still mostly classified, of how the men and women of the CIA helped bring down the Berlin Wall and win the Cold War.

The story, of course, is a continuing one. Tony's colleagues and proteges are still at their quiet work, now against rogue states and terrorists, and are still making our country a safer place to live.

I am happy that Tony has been able to bring his story, and its lessons of service, to the public.
— (Porter J. Goss, Chairman of the U. S. House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence)

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The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I received this book for my 30th birthday about a month ago, and it was extremely hard to stop reading. Through reading this book, I not only gained an appreciation for espionage related activities, but also philosophical views related to espionage. Mr. Mendez describes his activities in extreme detail. From his initial hiring at the Agency, through to his retirement, he provides details I imagine have never been told. I found myself actually experiencing a portion of the fear that Mr. Mendez describes almost overcoming him as he attempted to pass phony documentation to foreign immigration officials. In a fictional movie, such activities do not appear as scary. During the reading of this book, I was physically nervous as I pictured Mr. Mendez having unfriendly government officials inspecting bogus documents! The extreme courage of Mr. Mendez becomes quickly apparent in this book. From the far east, to the middle east and to Russia, this book provides fascinating details! Of particular interest to me was how Mr. Mendez related his childhood experiences to his adulthood profession. Most people, I feel, can often see how their childhood activities helped to shape their chosen professions. I think that anyone in any profession would be able to learn valuable life lessons from this book. I only wish the book was longer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...I read this book years back. I thought it to be an awesome read. Obviously he can't go into great detail but just to gain insight into what his life was like is intriguing. For anyone that said it was a boring read...Let your imagination run when you read. Stop seeing words when you read and let it play out as a movie in your mind
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy true life CIA and spy drama this is the book cor you!
RandyGH More than 1 year ago
picked this one up after reading ARGO. Gives good insight into the Cold War Era of little know events. Leaves a lot of questions unanswered due to much of the events still being classified. However, some places can be figured out with the clues given, so how classified is it if a casual reader can determine some places.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well done tony
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book could be more interesting to read - the subject matter has a lot of potential?. Hard to believe the very excitng movie came from the same source. I gave up half way through.
mbowen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
mendez' book throws a new light on the spy business which has not been exploited very well in other fiction about spycraft - the value of disguise. not since watching 'the killing fields' in which dith pran keeps mumbling 'ankertill brewer' over and over, has the drama of exfiltration been so dramatically portrayed. i found it very interesting to consider the possibilities now open in identity theft and spoofing given the role of hollywood effects artists in disguise anticipating the technology mendez describes (which must already be quite dated). if eddie murphy can do it, the cia could be having a field day. think about it, does anyone know what michael dorn (worf) really looks like?in these days as we chase down individuals in a global 'war' on terrorism, understanding this bag of tricks add a new and fascinating dimension to our thought process. this is a very worthwhile book to consume.
MatthewN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a neat book. It introduces you to a portion of the CIA that you never knew existed. There was a TV show on a couple of years ago called "The Agency" that featured some of the forgery and disguise work, but I don't know how much of that was real and how much was Hollywood. This book talks about the Cold War and the various ways we collected intelligence against the Soviet Union and vice versa. I wish I could take a look at some of the classified disguise gear that the author mentions. It sounds very interesting. I especially liked this book because it focused more on the support side of life in the CIA as opposed to the 007 James Bond stuff you see in the movies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting, well-written memoir about the life and professional career of the author. Well worth reading.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For those who enjoyed the film "Argo", this author is the person who organized the rescue. This autobiography covers his early life and his career in the CIA. There are many fascinating tidbits but it is not great literature.
bonnieCA More than 1 year ago
This is a pretty good thumbnail sketch of spy life. He includes the Iran hostage incident (Argo) which was made into a movie starring Ben Affleck. It's mostly just CIA PR if you ask me. He sounds like a pretty interesting fellow, though, and the book is very well written. I enjoyed it but I like spy stories so that's not surprising.
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Manirul More than 1 year ago
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!
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Totally Awesome!
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I liked this book and found much of the real-life accounts interesting to learn about, however, at times it felt as though the tales ran a little flat. Perhaps I'm too spoiled to fictionalized spy stories, which are one of my favorite genres to read.
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