LBW Foundation to host ‘Argo’ mastermind

Published 12:02 am Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tony Mendez, retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative and mastermind behind “Argo,” one of the most creative and daring rescue operations in history and the basis for the award-winning movie, will be in Andalusia on June 20 for the LBW Community College Foundation’s annual scholarship benefit dinner.

“The movie depicts his heroic efforts to develop an elaborate rescue plan in a hostile country,” said LBWCC Foundation President Kim Carter. “On June 20th in Andalusia, Mendez will share his own, personal insights of the operation that successfully saved six American lives.”

Since Andalusia is within driving distance of several military installations, the foundation is offering a military discount.

“We are in a very patriotic area of Alabama and the country,” Carter said. “Because of his personal connection to this courageous rescue and his 25 years working around the world to keep America safe, we feel many people will want to hear his remarks.”

Mendez was recruited by the CIA’s Technical Services Division in 1965, and from then until retirement, he lived two lives. For 25 years, he worked undercover, 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. To the CIA, he was their disguise master. From Wild West adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow, he was there.

He moved into the CIA’s executive rank over the course of his career. Mendez 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 a fake 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, in September 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the CIA, he was one of 50 officers chosen from tens of thousands to be 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.”

He published his first book, The Master of Disguise, in November 1999. Since then, Mendez has appeared in various national media to include 22 documentaries. He published his second book in September 2002 with his wife, Jonna, entitled “Spy Dust.”

Warner Brothers made a feature film based on the rescue of hostages out of the Canadian embassy in Tehran. The film “Argo” stars and was directed by Ben Affleck and opened nationally in October 2012. It since won three Academy awards including Best Picture.

“Sponsorships are available and will include a certain amount of VIP tickets that will allow holders to personally meet Mendez,” said Carter.

The event begins with a silent auction at 5:45 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m., followed by a book-signing opportunity on June 20 at the Kiwanis Community Center in Andalusia. Individual tickets are $50, or $45 each with a valid military I.D. All proceeds to benefit scholarships and programs of the LBWCC Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  For more information, call (334) 881-2306.

Tickets are available from any board member or at the college’s student center.