News & Information

Rss Feed

Honoring the Legendary Tony Mendez

Argo - Rescue of the Canadian Six by Deborah Dismuke
One of our most legendary Agency officers, Antonio J. “Tony” Mendez, passed away over the weekend after a brave battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Perhaps best known for masterminding the daring 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran, an operation made famous by the film Argo, Tony will be remembered for his patriotism, ingenuity, and lifelong commitment to our Agency’s mission.

A native of Eureka, Nevada, Tony started working for the Agency in 1965 and spent 25 years as a document counterfeiter and disguise maker in what was then called the Office of Technical Services.

During the height of the Cold War, Tony painstakingly devised a number of critical deception operations in places like Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union.

In 1979, Tony and other CIA technical specialists created a dummy movie-production company in Hollywood and delivered disguises and documents that made possible the escape of six American diplomats from capture in Iran in 1980. The CIA closely held the story until revealing it to the public for the Agency’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1997. The 2012 award-winning film Argo, produced by and starring Ben Affleck, dramatized this story of deception and intrigue for the world to see.

Tony was awarded an Intelligence Star for his work on the Argo operation and later received a Trailblazer Award for his profound contributions to CIA’s mission throughout his career. He retired in 1990 as a Senior Intelligence Service officer.

In 2013, in honor of Tony’s legacy, we unveiled a painting during the Directorate of Science and Technology’s 50th anniversary celebration that depicted Tony and another unnamed officer creating the fake documents for the Argo operation.

Fittingly, it was painted by a fellow CIA DS&T officer, Deborah Dismuke: An artist representing other artists at work in pursuit of national security. Deborah was both the first female and first Agency officer to have artwork displayed in the CIA Intelligence Art Gallery.

“The visual concept of the painting came from Tony,” remembers Deborah. “I invited him to come to the Agency so that we could stage the scene. I will truly miss him.”

Tony Mendez embodied the pioneering spirit, boldness, and derring-do that have defined CIA since our founding. We’re truly grateful for his exemplary service to our country.

Posted: Jan 23, 2019 05:04 PM
Last Updated: Jan 23, 2019 05:10 PM