The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

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By Antonio J. 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. Published in: Education. Full Name Comment goes here. Are you sure you want to Yes No. Be the first to like this. No Downloads. Views Total views. Actions Shares. Embeds 0 No embeds. No notes for slide. Book Details Author : Antonio J. Book Appearances 4. To all the members of our families who also served the cause. Although many others have written books about their careers in intelligence over the years and several have done so since the end of the Cold War, none could have been so blessed with encouragement and help from colleagues, friends, and family.

Also I received excellent assistance and advice from many highly qualified and understanding people as this project unfolded. My wife, Jonna, who was Chief of Disguise more recently and worked at the CIA for twenty-seven years, was fully engaged in this project. I penned the first lines in November and the last change to the manuscript was made on the fifth and final draft a year and a half later.

Her writing and editorial advice greatly enhanced the process and final product and her creative judgment and political sense helped ease my way more than once. My collaborator, Malcolm McConnell, proved he has infinite patience. His wife and able partner, Carol, was also a joy to work with and proved a marvelous cook and hostess as well.

It is no wonder their legions of wellknown clients trust them to run interference. Their thoughtful review and deft editorial changes, line by line, have added infinite value, well beyond what one might expect in the hectic world of publishing. They also developed and spread an interest and excitement for the book throughout their organization that bodes well for the further success of the project.

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Thanks also to my friends and associates, formally or currently in the CIA, who read and made corrections on the various chapters. Everyone in this group was there in the midst of the Cold War with me. They each appear as one of the major players in their respective stories. All have been given pseudonyms as a matter of courtesy or good security practices. They all took time away from busy operational schedules to help me write this book because they believe it is important. A special thanks to the reviewers of the final draft. Their comments and suggestions helped ensure an independent point of view, plus the historical accuracy and technical quality of the work.

This group includes: H. Smith, a scholar and professor of Russian studies who studied and did research in Moscow in the late s and early s; and Catherine Eberwein, a senior staffer on the U. Also my regards to the members of the board who have a tough job and little time to do it. By federal statute they have only thirty days to complete their review of sensitive material. The month they reviewed my final manuscript, they completed their review on over four thousand pages of material. Antonio J. 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 colleagues and I conducted. The reader can judge for himself the quality of our service in the cause of freedom. Some of those we worked with are no longer alive. Others prefer to celebrate their achievements privately. Others are still actively engaged and must remain in the shadows. I have changed certain details of their identities so that they can remain anonymous.

But, willing to err on the side of openness, I chose the potential risks of telling our story. I trust that doing so will also serve the cause of freedom. Several Directors of Central Intelligence and many of my colleagues have concluded that it is time to share more details of the earnest endeavor we made in the name of the American people. I agree. I realize that my decision alarms certain intelligence professionals who see no need to breach the principles of silent service that I and others instilled in them during their training.

Secrecy, of course, is the lifeblood of espionage. I am not a reckless renegade intent on exploiting clandestine operational methods to promote a book, nor do I feel it necessary to apologize for the U. I must also adhere to the spirit of the law. Further, I must consider the needs of intelligence professionals who continue to uphold the integrity of the service.

Publication review does not mean censorship. I have the same First Amendment right as any American citizen to express my opinion, positive or negative, about declassified details of our business. The review process is designed to determine whether any present or former Agency officers have violated the trust placed in them. The secrecy agreement we signed represents this contract of trust. We all signed it willingly, fully realizing that we would never be able to divulge certain details of our profession. But attendant to this lofty obligation is a more practical concern, first expressed by veteran American intelligence officer Sherman Kent in He was proud of his leadership position but ambivalent as a scholar.

Writing in the first issue of Studies in Intelligence, then a classified Agency in-house publication, Kent noted: Our profession, like older ones, has its own rigid entrance requirements and, like others, offers areas of general competence and areas of intense specialization. People work at it until they are numb because they love it, and because the rewards are the rewards of professional accomplishment.

Intelligence today is not merely a profession, but like most professions it has taken on the aspects of a discipline: It has a recognized methodology; it has developed a vocabulary; it has developed a body of theory and doctrine; it has elaborate and refined techniques. It now has a large professional following. What it lacks is a literature. From my point of view this is a matter of greatest importance. And where is that literature? Many intelligence officers did not live to see the end of the Cold War. The efforts of those who fought in the shadow world of the espionage wars, from the torrid backwaters of the Congo to the spy capitals of Vienna, Moscow, and Berlin, were never acknowledged in a parade or public memorial.

But like the countless documents awaiting declassification, this stone memorial gives the American public no opportunity to celebrate the sacrifice these men and women made for freedom. Perhaps this book will help honor the memory of their service. There is no place where espionage is not used. 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 watched Swissair arrive from Riyadh, Lufthansa from Bangkok. An Aeroflot IL arrives from Tashkent and lumbers up to the gate directly below.

My pulse suddenly surges. The appearance of the Aeroflot is an ominous sign. 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 materializes. It lands, taxis down the runway, and finally stops at the far end of the poorly lit parking apron. 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.

I cannot leave the platform. But in this miasma, how can I see whether they reach the plane? 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? 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.

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No coin drop. 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. I look at my watch: , an hour past my scheduled call time.


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. I open my eyes to the wispy dawn spreading over South Mountain. I blink again.

Is that smit swirling among the azaleas? No, only mist. The intensity of the dream dissolves slowly. Still, as the cardinals start to sing, I am gripped by an anxious lethargy, the helplessness of the dream. Unable to return to sleep, I watch the colors in the garden change with the sunrise and quietly reflect on my life. For a long time, I also saw myself as a competent spy. Since , when I retired after a twenty-five-year espionage career in the CIA, I have once again been painting full time.

During these seven years of normal life, the recurrent dreams of the world I inhabited for so long have only slowly subsided. But one day, a totally unexpected event occurred that unleashed an avalanche of long-suppressed memories. Our post-and-beam house, and the surrounding studios on this lushly wooded property create a harmonious atmosphere similar to that found on a New England farm.

A hundred feet down the grassy slope from the house stands a two-story studio, a red saltbox carriage house, and several sheds. Dominating the studio and stretching back toward the house is a large enclosed pavilion with a thirdstory tower perched in the center of the roof. My writing studio is now in the tower. This complex of wooden buildings is my personal work in progress, built by the hands of family, friends, and myself over the years since Maple and oak trees cover most of our rolling property, on the base of a Blue Ridge summit west of South Mountain.

Late on Thursday, August 21, , Jonna and I drove up the winding gravel track with our four-year-old, Jesse, asleep in the backseat of the red Pathfinder. From the garage bay beneath the studio, we passed the door of the office. A white envelope had been slipped into the screen door.

I got out and retrieved the envelope. Tenet, the newly appointed and just confirmed Director of the CIA. Fifty Trailblazers or their survivors would receive commemorative medallions during a closed ceremony at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, scheduled for the anniversary date, September 18, I read the letter again slowly, finding it hard to grasp that I was one of those selected.

Jonna poured herself a glass of cold water. Jonna herself had retired from the CIA in with twenty-seven years of service, so she recognized the significance of the award. Tens of thousands of people had worked for the CIA in the past fifty years, hundreds of them virtual legends in the intelligence community, but most unknown to the public.

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On shelves around the desk were mementos of my CIA career. The dim light glinted off the tarnished silver of a Hmong necklace. But one object stood out from the others. It was a journey made in alias, using false documents—a hazardous and difficult assignment successfully accomplished, but never described in any unclassified publication.

In some ways, I realized, I had been destined from childhood for a career in the shadow world of espionage. Mendez, was hired at the nearby Kimberly copper mine. He was only twenty-three when he was crushed between two ore cars deep in a mine shaft. He left behind a young widow, four children, and a token insurance settlement.


Somehow, he reached the United States and traveled west to Nevada to join two of his brothers. It was working in the mountains as a young charcoal burner for pennies a day that J. Still a teenager, J. A year later, he married Jesse Myrtle, a twenty-seven-yearold widow who worked as a cook on the mule-train line between Eureka and Tonopah. For the next fifteen years, the couple struggled, with J. In May , J. After twenty-five years in Nevada, he could identify not only promising rock face, but also see from the narrowing of the washes where water might be found to work any claim.

In quick succession, J. These claims were among the richest gold strikes anywhere in the West. Within two years, J. In , my grandparents, Joseph R. Almost sixty, he pulled a horse trailer behind his Dodge Brothers truck until the dirt track petered out, then rode higher into the mountains. So he began investing. But Silverton became the opposite of a mother lode: J. The banks eventually gave him an ultimatum: He could choose between foreclosure on the ranch or on the mine. He died at sixty-seven on August 9, No one ever did figure out how to make Silverton pay off.

The old man was buried beneath that stark desert ridge, in a private cemetery where many of his descendants also now lie. Eventually, my grandfather, J. He died in February , leaving Grandma with four children. So she and her kids learned to live by their wits and hard work in order to survive. Her route led through some of the loneliest terrain in the state, and she drove through some of the most severe weather in North America. I grew up with eyewitness accounts of Ina Bell burrowing under her truck stuck in a snowdrift and cinching on her wheel chains before a sheepherder or passing busload of miners could stop and lend a hand.

Mom went to work as the editor of the county newspaper, the Eureka Sentinel. She and Grandma pooled their money so that Mom could save enough for a down payment on our own small house. Then she met Arch Richey, who was twentyseven years older than she was. They married in His idea of a good time was drinking boilermakers, swapping yarns, and gambling. Then the war ended, and the bottom fell out of copper and zinc. We left Eureka in , the entire family jammed into the family car, a Model A Ford pickup piled high with bedding and suitcases. My half-sister, Maureen, was a baby, and Mom was expecting her second daughter, and final child, with Arch.

The only work Richey could find was cutting rock at a quarry outside of Sparks, a suburb of Reno. He planned to build a house on the side of a desert mountain and had made a fair start on the foundation.

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But we were forced to spend several months in a sun-faded old Army surplus pyramid tent, sleeping on canvas cots, before moving into the shell of the house. We had no toilet and used a boulder slide down from the building site as the latrine. The sites could be supplied only by helicopter or rugged little short takeoff and landing planes, so amenities like water were precious. Still, taking a sponge bath from a five-gallon Jerry can that had warmed all day in the tropical sun was a lot better than bathing in the Truckee River in the winter.

It was in the half-finished house in Sparks that I started to draw. One Saturday after payday, Mom came back from town with small presents for the kids. But there were plenty of nights between paydays when the single pot of beans Mom always kept on the stove and a few slices of Wonder bread had to stretch to feed us all. On summer mornings, my brother John and I often headed up the canyons, lugging a black cast-iron frying pan, a potato, and an onion, sometimes an end of bacon if we were lucky.

High-quality bat droppings made excellent fertilizer, and we could usually peddle a gunny sack for a dollar to the better-off Mormon ladies across the tracks. Word got out that we knew of secret caves, and some of the kids tried to tail us. I learned my first lessons in surveillance evasion by leading them into dead-end box canyons well away from our precious bat caves, then climbing out unseen through hidden, narrow chimneys.

John and I shared a Las Vegas Sun paper route and always asked our manager for extra copies when we filled our sacks each morning. We turned over our regular pay to Mom; anything we made selling the extras was movie money for all the kids in the family. Watching the Bob Steele and Superman serials at the Rex, I felt an early fascination with the magic of deception: The kids around me in the splintered old movie-house seats actually believed the characters were real. I knew they were actors, and I wanted desperately to discover what makeup techniques, props, and camera work had transformed them into celluloid heroes and villains.

Startled, they would jump back in their trucks and get away, terrified of being recognized by two scrawny little kids from town. Their embarrassed expressions stayed with me for decades. I would also encounter this caught-in-the-act resignation among Soviet bloc diplomats in Bangkok. The paper route provided another crucial skill that served me well in my later profession: the ability to deceive with plausible denial.

When John and I were stuck with unsold papers from the previous day, we met the Union Pacific streamliner from Salt Lake to Las Vegas that stopped in Caliente for just nine minutes each morning. But before beginning this little operation, we worked out a contingency plan. One day I sold a paper to a stocky professional gambler in a herringbone suit who was too busy chomping down ham and eggs to even look up as I took his dime. But as I turned away, he reached out and grabbed my shirt. I looked into his hard eyes, then noticed the ruptured duck pin in his lapel.

I have to take the old ones back to the station. Even though there were several potential customers seated at tables down the line, I opted for a tactical withdrawal. At Englewood High School, I fell in with a group of boys who shared my interest in art. We drank beer, organized illegal drag races, harassed the local cops and our high school teachers, and had the occasional rumble with kids from outside neighborhoods. This meant that guys like my buddy Doug and myself, who liked to go to dances to meet girls, would be excluded. Ever since the announcement that morning in home room, a plan had been forming.

Once Doug registered Denise as his official date from another school, we got down to the details of building a foolproof disguise. It had been announced that the regular school teacher chaperons would be supported that year by city police under strict instructions to maintain order and admit only couples with tickets. Their vigilance would discourage the leather jacket crowd from crashing the party. Mom borrowed a dress from a friend who was about my size, constructed a padded bra, and even plucked my eyebrows the afternoon of the dance. Doug and I had already picked out a long brunette wig from a costume shop in Denver.

That evening, I shaved my legs and practiced my backward dance step, wearing the borrowed pumps for the first time and coached by my four giggling sisters. There was a big, serious-looking police sergeant standing beside the ticket taker. It was not too late to back out, but I struck out my chest and strutted ahead. Out on the crowded dance floor, my anxiety dissolved and I began to enjoy the power of our deception.

This was fun. After two more dances, Doug and I pulled up alongside Dave again and unleashed the surprise we had been saving up for him. He threw a solid punch into my ample right breast. Girls around us screamed. He ducked and a girl behind him was hit by the flying tresses. For a couple of minutes we traded movie punches and wrestled, my crinoline skirts whirling.

As the cops and chaperons shouldered their way onto the dance floor, I snatched up the wig, and Doug and I sprinted for the emergency exit. Everybody in authority, including the cops, had found our little act outrageously funny. For me, the most amazing aspect of the episode was that a good cover story, supported by a clever disguise, actually could transform one person into another. But, as I would later teach hundreds of CIA case officers, disguise was more than a matter of putting on a dress and renting a wig.

You had to live the deception. Every aspect of the altered persona—the walk, the voice, the posture, and the mannerisms—was essential. They all combined to make a convincing whole. There was a building boom under way in Denver. The Cold War was heating up again after the cease-fire in Korea. Engineers and skilled craftsmen were pouring into Denver from around the country. One night in June at a swimming pool, I met a pretty girl with auburn hair named Karen Smith.

A junior at Englewood High, she was about to turn sixteen. The news from home that winter got worse. Money was so tight that there were times the utilities were shut off and the kids had to stay in bed, bundled under blankets, instead of going to school. I decided to take a semester off to help them out. We had some serious fights, and I was soon living in my own apartment and working again as a plumber. This gave me more time alone with Karen.

We planned to get married when she graduated from high school. Karen and I had three children, Amanda, Toby, and Ian. The work at the Martin Marietta plant was neither exciting nor challenging. Defense work was a roller coaster. I got advance word of my layoff a month before the hammer fell in Still on the Martin payroll, I qualified for a mortgage. I planned to make my way in the world as a painter and run the art and design business as sole owner. But I soon found out that trying to live on a fifty-dollar-aweek unemployment check while hoping to sell landscapes to other unemployed aerospace workers was not a winning proposition.

We had a couple of rough years during which I hustled for any kind of fabrication or store-decoration job, and even worked as a process-server for my lawyer uncle, Robert Tognoni. For a while, it looked as if my own kids were destined to live through the financial instability that had plagued my own childhood. My job took me into vast sheds where prototypes of the missile lay in cradles wider and longer than the huge Ute dump trucks in the Nevada mines or the gondola cars that used to rattle through Caliente.

The first time I actually touched the smooth titanium skin of the massive rocket, I felt a twinge of excitement mixed with dread. This missile might actually be fired in wartime, and I knew the possibility was not so remote. The Cold War was no longer a nagging geopolitical dispute; it was a smoldering potential holocaust that could easily destroy human civilization, not simply individual nations. None of us would ever forget the tense October days of the Cuban missile standoff. Now an arms race of unprecedented magnitude had begun.

Here in the plant, the blunt gray nose cones were mock-ups, but we all realized the Titan IIIC was meant to deliver halfway around the world a thermonuclear warhead yielding the equivalent of millions of tons of TNT. Just as the atomic bomb had made World War II blockbusters seem like firecrackers, the H-bomb, driven by the fusion process that fueled the sun, had turned fission weapons into toys. Navy Civilians. I studied the ad. Ten days later, a man called and asked that I appear for an interview at a motel on West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood.

A shaded bulb hung low above us, illuminating my chair, while Ryman remained in the shadows. The scene reminded me of a Sam Spade movie. Ryman was in his forties, tall and rangy with blond hair going to gray. He wore a snap-brim hat and no suit coat. Ryman placed an open bottle of Jim Beam and two motel glasses on the table. This was unusual behavior for someone recruiting a civilian Navy artist. But I tried to be friendly. As we sipped our bourbon straight, he slid a thick black ring binder into the light. For the next twenty minutes, Ryman sat silently, nursing nips of bourbon as I rattled on, showing prints of portraits, landscapes, specialty design projects, draftsman and architectural drawings, and the covers of Martin proposal brochures.

Finally, I ran out of samples and sat down. Ryman knocked back the last of his drink and opened the ring binder to a page he had marked. Here, you read this. Then my eye moved down the page. Half an hour later, I left the meeting with Ryman, a sixteenpage application form tucked inside my portfolio. At the door, Ryman touched my arm. You just have to level with us. The curtain was firmly closed, betraying no hint of the person inside. Stimson, c. I paused for a moment on the curb, a pilgrim in his mid-twenties, trying to absorb what had been a memorable day.

The sun was warm and trees were budding. Until that moment, they had only existed in my mind as images from magazines and television. But I felt a sense of duty. It was the first time I had ever encountered an African. We cut onto Constitution Avenue and rolled along the Mall with the rush hour commuters streaming toward the Virginia suburbs.

To me, this was infinitely more exciting than diagramming circuits at the Martin plant in Denver. But as the taxi weaved among the commuters crawling on the George Washington Parkway on the other side of the Potomac, the mundane returned to quash my sense of adventure.

I assumed we were in Langley, but there was nothing but miles of newly budded oaks, maples, and sycamores. I could barely make out what appeared to be a high security gate and a white concrete-block guardhouse, half-hidden by tree trunks, about three hundred yards down a curving, two-lane road.

I was suddenly shaken by uncertainty. Had all this business—the mysterious ad, the bizarre interview with Ryman, and now this taxi ride to nowhere—been a hoax? We were a good five miles from the entrance of CIA Headquarters. Could I get a cab in the morning, or would I have to hitchhike? I paid my Ghanaian driver a generous ten dollars for his trouble and unpacked the suitcase in my temporary base of operations, a second-floor bedroom shielded from the street in a quiet neighborhood—my gullible idea of the operational security this first visit to Agency Headquarters required.

The municipal bus was crowded with commuters. At the CIA stop, I got off with about a dozen people, some carrying brown-paper lunch bags, and trudged along toward the security hut. I noticed that nobody looked like James Bond. The shapely Miss Moneypenny was also nowhere to be found. I had no reason to doubt that this massive, seven-floor structure dominating a green campus, although invisible from the surrounding roads, was in fact 1,, square feet.

The clean sweep of the roof was broken by clumps of antennae. An enormous fiberglass igloo, which I guessed must have sheltered satellite dishes, stood to the right of the building.


Suddenly, I forgot about the brownbaggers and thought about the cryptic messages streaming to and from this building. As I waited in line at the uniformedsecurity guard station, my sense of awe and excitement returned. The people in line flashed blue laminated badges, and the guards waved them through. I had my interview letter open like an eager scholarship boy on the first day of school. He glanced at the letter, then directed me to the swooping glass-and-marble front portico.

This mental Ping-Pong match between the exotic and the workaday existence of bureaucracy had only just begun. Standing on the polished gray granite floor of the vaulted marble lobby, I gazed at the imposing seal, thirty feet in diameter. admin