CIA spymaster, 'Argo' mastermind speaks at NGA headquarters

Tony & Jonna Mendez

Tony & Jonna Mendez

Author and Subject of Oscar Best Picture "Argo", retired CIA Officer

Written by Jason Moll

Antonio “Tony” Mendez, retired Central Intelligence Agency officer and mastermind of the caper that brought six American diplomats out of Iran following the 1979 embassy takeover, addressed National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency employees and Commonwealth partners at NGA headquarters in Springfield, Virginia, June 9.

Tony and his wife Jonna, who also served as a CIA officer, used film clips to explain the genesis and planning of the ruse that served as the basis for the hit Hollywood movie called “Argo.”

In her introduction, NGA Director Letitia A. Long mentioned the legendary status Tony Mendez and the Argo operation have within the intelligence community.

“Not many people in the intelligence business can say that their lives were the basis for a big-budget Hollywood movie,” said Long. “Fewer can say that the movie won the Academy Award (in 2013) for Best Picture. And fewer can say that Ben Affleck portrayed them on the big screen.”

While serving as a high-level officer in CIA’s Office of Technical Service, which created the gadgets and disguises used by officers and agents alike, Tony Mendez conceived and planned the operation to free the diplomats.

A clandestine operation was required to free the six Americans who found refuge among their Canadian peers in Tehran, said Tony Mendez. Dozens of hostages spent 444 days in captivity following the Nov. 4, 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy. The major impediment to their release, as well as the six who escaped, was the total breakdown in governing structures that followed Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

The extreme circumstances fuelled Tony Mendez’s creativity as he plotted the operation that led the six cloistered Americans to safety.

“Desperation is the mother of invention,” said Tony Mendez.

As portrayed by the movie, Tony Mendez and others created a cover story in which he and the six Americans portrayed themselves as members of a film crew that had flown to Iran to scout filming locations. The ruse allowed them to fly out of Tehran under the watchful eye of the revolutionary guards and their supporters.

Jonna and Tony Mendez also discussed parts of the film that did not exactly coincide with the reality.

Acknowledging the movie “has stirred up a hornet’s nest,” Jonna Mendez said the film provided an inaccurate account of the role played by Commonwealth partners – such as the role New Zealanders had in planning the operation, the role of the British in hiding the Americans and the larger overall role the Canadians actually played in the rescue.

“The movie is what it is, the book is the truth,” said Jonna Mendez.

Paraphrasing the acknowledgments section of the “Argo” book, Jonna Mendez added, “What a great neighbor (in the) North we have. Thank you Canada.”

For information on how to book Tony Mendez for your next event, visit

Source: Belvoir Eagle

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