Jonna Mendez | Former CIA Chief of Disguise, Author, Speaker

Jonna Mendez

Former CIA Chief of Disguise, Author, Speaker

Fee Range
Please contact us for pricing
Travels From
Washington, DC

Jonna Mendez

In the captivating world of intelligence, espionage, and covert operations, Jonna Hiestand Mendez’s speeches immerse audiences into the adventures of an international spy. Starting as a secretary at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Mendez eventually rose to the position of Chief of Disguise. Her path was unconventional, initially joining the CIA in Europe as a "contract wife," hired as a convenience to her husband’s career. In the best-
selling author’s next book (publication: March 2024), In True Face, A Woman’s Life in the CIA, Unmasked , she inspires with tales of intrigue. Through her experiences, Mendez witnessed firsthand the toll of a gendered culture, not only on the women working within the agency but also on its overall mission and the nation it serves. Now retired after dedicating 27 years of her life to the CIA, she emerges as a pioneer who defied the prevailing sexism of her time.

Mendez lived undercover 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 the CIA’s Ofce of Technical Service, similar to “Q” in the Bond flms. Mendez specialized in training foreign assets to gather high-priority intelligence using subminiature spy cameras and other espionage technology.

Recognized as a future leader early on, Mendez was selected for an exclusive yearlong program designed for officers with high potential before being deployed overseas. As a result, she would add disguise and identity transformation to her extensive roster of skills. Upon her return to Langley in 1986, she focused on Denied Area Operations, facing of against the KGB, the East German Stasi, and the Cuban DGI. Promoted to Chief of Disguise in 1991, she ran a global multi-million-dollar program.

Mendez retired from the government in 1993, after which she co-authored several books with her late husband Tony Mendez, including Spy Dust, ARGO , and The Moscow Rules . Over her career, Mendez 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 the CIA. She has also been featured in numerous TV documentaries and online media, one of which has been seen over 22 million times. On June 23, she received the prestigious DAR Patriot Award for “lifelong service to America in the defense of freedom.” Most recently, she spoke at Los Alamos National Laboratories.Mendez is also a founding member of the Advisory Board of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., continuing to shape and infuence the intelligence world. 

On the page and on stages, Mendez tells her riveting, courageous story of being a female spy at the CIA during the height of the Cold War. She also recounts how she navigated the general culture of sexism at the time while never wavering in her patriotism.

Jonna Mendez
Featured Videos

Current: TEDx: The Life And Death Theatre Of Espionage

Time 18:36

More Videos From Jonna Mendez

TEDx: The Life And Death Theatre Of Espionage
Time 18:36
Wired - How Spies Use Disguises
Time 09:25
Breaking Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV
Time 27:54
PBS News Hour
Time 07:30

Jonna Mendez
Featured Keynote Programs

Undercover Boss

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.

Female Spies
Clandestine Women

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.

Disguise, Deception and Illusion
Clandestine Operations Based on the Principles Of Magic

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.

The Real “Q”
Gadgets and Technologies in Espionage Operations

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.

Jonna Mendez
Featured Books

The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold Warby Jonna Mendez

The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War

by Jonna Mendez
From the spymaster and inspiration for the movie Argo: how a group of brilliant but under-supported CIA operatives developed breakthrough spy tactics that helped turn the tide of the Cold War

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.

The Moscow Rules tells the story of the intelligence breakthroughs that turned the odds in America's favor. As experts in disguise, Antonio and Jonna were instrumental in developing a series of tactics--Hollywood-inspired identity swaps, ingenious evasion techniques, and an armory of James Bond-style gadgets--that allowed CIA officers to outmaneuver the KGB.
As Russia again rises in opposition to America, this remarkable story is a tribute to those who risked everything for their country, and to the ingenuity that allowed them to succeed.
Spy Dustby Jonna Mendez

Spy Dust

by Jonna Mendez
From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominated Argo, a true-life thriller set against the backdrop of the Cold War, which unveils the life of an American spy from the inside and dramatically reveals how the CIA reestablished the upper hand over the KGB in the intelligence war.

From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Academy Award winner Argo...

Moscow, 1988. The twilight of the Cold War. The KGB is at its most ruthless, and has now indisputably gained the upper hand over the CIA in the intelligence war. But no one knows how. Ten CIA agents and double-agents have gone missing in the last three years. They have either been executed or they are unaccounted for.

At Langley, several theories circulate as to how the KGB seems suddenly to have become telepathic, predicting the CIA's every move. Some blame the defection of Edward Lee Howard three years before, and suspect that there are more high-placed moles to be unearthed. Others speculate that the KGB's surveillance successes have been heightened by the invention of an invisible electromagnetic powder that allows them to keep tabs on anyone who touches it: spy dust.

CIA officers Tony Mendez and Jonna Goeser come together to head up a team of technical wizards and operational specialists, determined to solve the mystery that threatens to overshadow the Cold War's final act. Working against known and unknown hostile forces, as well as some unfriendly elements within the CIA, they devise controversial new operational methods and techniques to foil the KGB, and show the extraordinary lengths that US intelligence is willing to go to protect a source, then rescue him when his world starts to collapse. At the same time, Tony and Jonna find themselves falling deeply in love.

During a fascinating odyssey that began in Indochina fifteen years before and ends in a breathtakingly daring operation in the heart of the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses, Spy Dust catapults the reader from the Hindu Kush to Hollywood, from Havana to Moscow, but cannot truly conclude until its protagonists are safely wedded in rural Maryland.

Argoby Jonna Mendez


by Jonna Mendez

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.

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIAby Jonna Mendez

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

by Jonna Mendez

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.

Jonna Mendez
Featured Articles & Resources

Jonna Mendez - Chief of Disguise

  Transcript. Introduction: Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord. A podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.   Brian Lord: Hi,...
Read More

Jonna Mendez | Beyond Speaking Podcast Transcript

Transcript. Introduction: Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord. A podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.   Brian Lord: Hi, I'm...
Read More
Topics:   Business ,   Story ,   Government & Politics

How Do You Choose the BEST Speaker for Your Event?

We’ve had 29 years and 35,000 events to perfect the process—and we’ll do it for free.
Get more details and availability

Jonna Mendez

Give us some basic details about you and your upcoming event, and one of our experts will be in touch with you quickly regarding pricing and availability.
Event Details
Your Details
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.