Jonna Hiestand Mendez is a retired CIA intelligence officer with 27 years of service. She joined the Central Intelligence Agency in Europe in 1966 and lived under cover for several decades, serving tours of duty in Europe, the Far East, and the Subcontinent, as well as at CIA Headquarters. In 1970 she joined CIA’s Office of Technical Service, which closely resembled “Q” in the Bond films. Her duties included preparing the agency’s most highly placed foreign assets to gather high priority intelligence using subminiature spy cameras and other espionage technology and techniques.
Recognized as a future leader early on, Jonna was selected for an exclusive yearlong program designed for officers with high potential. She took these skills overseas, adding disguise and identity transformation to her extensive roster of skills. Returning to Langley in 1986, she was assigned to Denied Area Operations for disguise, focusing her efforts on the most difficult and hostile areas where she and her colleagues matched wits with the KGB, the East German Stasi and the Cuban DGI. She was promoted to Chief of Disguise in 1991 where she ran a multi-million-dollar program with staff positioned around the world. She retired from the government in 1993.
Since retirement Jonna and her husband have written several books, to include Spy Dust, ARGO, and The Moscow Rules. During the pandemic she began her next book, In True Face, A Woman’s Life in the CIA, Undisguised, that will be published in March 2024 during Women’s History Month.
Over her career, Jonna has briefed Presidents and Prime Ministers and lectured extensively at colleges and universities, ranging from WestPoint to the Sorbonne in Paris, and multiple US intelligence agencies, including CIA. She has also been featured in numerous TV documentaries and on-line media, one of which has been seen over 22 million times. In June 23 she received the prestigious DAR Patriot Award for “lifelong service to America in the defense of freedom.” Most recently she spoke at Las Alamos National Laboratories.
Jonna is also a founding member of the Advisory board of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Jonna Mendez has fabricated disguises around the world, in the most hostile cities in the world. She is able to take a well-known figure and quickly disguise them to the level that they basically disappear and their colleagues would not be able to recognize them. This has proven to be an excellent way to bring her talks home to her audience, and she can combine the fascinating clandestine disguise of an “Undercover Boss” with any of her presentation topics below.
Jonna Mendez served 27 years undercover with the CIA, retiring as Chief of Disguise. She relates spy tales about a number of effective and not so effective female spies, and also discusses her own experiences, living and traveling around the world, operating in the alleyways of Europe, the Far East and the Subcontinent, in alias identities, participating in classic espionage operations.
From Sun Tzu to the present, warfare has been conducted by the use of deception and illusion. Jonna Mendez, former Chief of Disguise for the CIA, reviews some of the most important deception operations throughout history. With the use of the art of magic, illusion and misdirection many enemies have been defeated without taking the field of battle. Jonna will recount stories of deception as used by the Allies in the Battle of El Alamein and “D” Day. From Hollywood she learned how to manage the “stage” on the streets of Moscow, delivering “performances” that helped win the Cold War. She also gives examples of how the “stage” of battle could be better managed today in the war against terrorism.
Jonna served 27 years in the Office of Technical Service, the technical arm of the CIA’s operations directorate. She gives an overview of technical operations and the spy gear that made them unique. These gadgets were designed to keep foreign agents in place in hostile environments and to get them out of harm’s way when it was time. She finishes with an in-depth review of operational disguise and identity transformations operations where she tells stories of some of her life and death operations designed to elude surveillance and move intelligence agents and officers clandestinely around the world.
Antonio Mendez and his future wife Jonna were CIA operatives working to spy on Moscow in the late 1970s, at one of the most dangerous moments in the Cold War. Soviets kept files on all foreigners, studied their patterns, and tapped their phones. Intelligence work was effectively impossible. The Soviet threat loomed larger than ever.
A dramatic account of a lesser-known aspect of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis recalls how six of the intended American hostages escaped from Iranian militants and were rescued by the co-author and his unlikely team of CIA agents and Hollywood insiders during a high-risk mission in Tehran conducted in the guise of a movie scouting expedition.
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.