The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
Antonio J. Mendez
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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.
During three of the Agency’s five decades, which spanned the Cold War years, I served as a professional intelligence officer, creating and deploying many of the most innovative techniques of the espionage trade. My purpose in writing this book, however, is not to bring credit to myself. I have already received ample recognition in the intelligence community. Vanity is not at stake in this project. Rather, I want this book to describe as accurately as memory permits a few of the operations my
personal alias documents. These projects went far beyond simply replicating official papers. I learned to work with linguists and area specialists who had studied foreign travel and security controls, often through debriefings of third-country bridge agents (CIA agents building a “bridge” into the target country), and were now much better equipped to design the “families of documents” our case officers needed to operate around the world. It was tense work. We never knew for sure if we had
border-crossing cachet (typically, a rubber stamp) had to be regarded as a sophisticated security instrument. I remember well when Franco presented me with a stack of travel documents all bearing the immigration cachets of East German railroad immigration police who had inspected travelers from Budapest to Berlin. “Study them carefully,” he said. “Then tell me what you’ve found.” Under high magnification, I discovered that the Roman numeral V and the Arabic numerals 7 and 3 each had miniscule
was convinced that he could make this remote mine pay because the silver vein appeared to run thick and deep through the volcanic ridge. So he began investing. But Silverton became the opposite of a mother lode: J.C. put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the claim, but did not take out a penny. The banks eventually gave him an ultimatum: He could choose between foreclosure on the ranch or on the mine. J.C. chose to save the mine. He died at sixty-seven on August 9, 1932. No one ever did
salt-and-pepper graying at the temples, a style completely different from the Nordic blond, Mickey Rooney pompadour that NESTOR had sported as a Soviet embassy attaché. In his alias photos, NESTOR’s eyebrows had been darkened, and he had been given a slight shadow beneath the eyes to produce the effect of age bags. Clearly Jacob had carved some soft cotton dental rounds into subtle “plumpers,” which he had inserted inside NESTOR’s cheeks below the gum lines to distend his youthfully lean Slavic