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Tony Mendez, Former CIA Agent and Inspiration for the Film “Argo,” to Speak at W&L

Washington and Lee’s Contact Committee will present “An Evening with Former CIA Agent Tony Mendez” on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. in Lee Chapel.

The event is free and open to the public.  Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and seating is provided on a first come, first serve basis.

Mendez is a retired CIA officer, an author and an award-winning painter with an international reputation. He lives and works in his studios and gallery on his 40-acre farm in rural Maryland.

In 1965, he was recruited by CIA’s Technical Services Division. Born in Eureka, Nev., Mendez led two lives. For 25 years he worked under cover, often overseas, participating in some of the most important operations of the Cold War. To his friends he was a quiet bureaucrat working for the U.S. military.

Mendez moved into the CIA’s executive rank over the course of his career. He and his subordinates were responsible for changing the identity and appearance of thousands of clandestine operatives, allowing them to move securely around the world.

In January 1980, he was awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor for engineering and conducting the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the hostage crisis. This rescue operation involved creating an ostensible Hollywood film production company, complete with personnel, scripts, publicity and real estate in Los Angeles.

When Mendez retired in November 1990 he had earned the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit and two Certificates of Distinction. Seven years later, on the 50th anniversary of the CIA, he was one of 50 officers chosen from the tens of thousands who had worked at CIA over its first 50 years awarded the Trailblazer Medallion. This honor recognized him as an “officer who by his actions, example or initiative…helped shape the history of the CIA.”

Mendez published his first book, “The Master of Disguise,” in November 1999.  In September 2002, he published his second book with his wife Jonna, entitled “Spy Dust.”

Warner Brothers has made a feature film based on the rescue of the hostages out of the Canadian embassy in Tehran. The film, called “Argo,” which stars and was directed by Ben Affleck, opened nationally in October 2012 and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Mendez’s new book, “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” was published prior to the film’s release.