Antonio Mendez originally planned to be an artist. He put his skill to work at the CIA where he became Chief of Disguise, worldwide, at the age of 33, and shortly after, he was promoted to Chief of Authentication. He used his skills to exfiltrate compromised agents, informers and operatives. He created scenarios, new identities and documents, for people in desperate need of rescue. He was good at what he did. He was good at most everything he tried. He built a home, created paintings, and was a family man, while at the same time he was an excellent undercover agent within the system.
When the American Embassy in Teheran was overrun by militant students and hostages were taken, six employees were able to sneak out and get away before they could be captured. They wandered around seeking refuge and finally were given safe harbor by the Canadians. After being hidden for three months in the Ambassador’s home, time was running out. News of their escape was out and it was only a matter of time until it would be made public, possibly making their capture imminent, the treatment of the other hostages worse and creating an international incident for Canada.
Mendez was in charge of the mission to rescue the Americans. They needed a cover story in order to be able to fly out of Iran without being recognized and detained. He originated the idea of making the movie, Argo, in Iran, in order to smuggle them out. Credible personas and plausible disguises had to be invented for all of them. He had to change mild mannered diplomats into flashy Hollywood personalities and himself into a Hollywood producer.
When Mendez arrived in Iran to meet them, he had no idea if he could pull it off. He had no idea if they would be able to accomplish all they had to in order to escape, but he laid out the plan and helped to train them in their new incarnations as brash, outgoing Hollywood personalities. They had to look and carry themselves differently, and they had to really become that person in only a matter of hours, playing the part realistically in order to pass the checkpoints and be able to board the plane that would take them to freedom and safety.
After the rescue, Mendez was promoted to full colonel and over the years, he received many additional honors, even though they were not made public because operations of the CIA are clandestine and kept secret. There are many unsung heroes working there. Until the 50th anniversary of the CIA, when it became public, no one really knew the truth about what took place or who was really responsible for the success of the operation to free the Americans in hiding. It was not easy to come up with a plan that would work, but ultimately, Mendez did and he pulled it off..
The book is really exciting. Mendez has smuggled out other operatives and defectors, and he describes several of these missions. They were dangerous and harrowing. When he left his family for a mission, it was a wrenching moment. He never knew if he would return safely. Mendez, a mild mannered and rather ordinary looking man, was a courageous and dedicated secret agent, not in the manner of James Bond, but in the manner of an operative who had to fade into the crowd so as not to be noticed, an operative dedicated and loyal to his country. Mendez was a highly successful secret agent.