A Role Model for Crime Writers… The Real ARGO Guy!

One man stands out in the shadow world of spy trade. Antonio Joseph Mendez.

Tony led two lives. A gentle, soft-spoken guy, a born artist, now retired and doing his painting in the Maryland Blue Ridge Mountains, he became THE master of disguise.

You may know of him now as the real life engineer of the escape of six fellow Americans from Tehran in 1980.

Partly because of the Oscars, America has been gaga over the word ARGO in 2013. It all began with a modest, talented man born in 1940 in Eureka, an old mining town in the Diamond Mountains of central Nevada.

Quiet. Gentle. But things are seldom what they seem…

Tony worked the night shift at Martin Marietta as an artist/illustrator. This job led him to the Technical Services Division of the CIA. And the rest is history!

At the CIA he was known as the undisputed master of disguises, who was both magician and psychologist. History knows him as the engineer of the masterful escape in 1980 of six brave American citizens from Tehran via Swissair Flight 363, a DC-8 named " ARGAU".

In 1979 Tony had been named Chief of Authentication for the Graphics and Authentication Division of the Office of Technical Services. He was responsible for disguise, false documentation and counterintelligence forensic examination of questioned (possibly forged) documents and materials. Where his friends saw him as a soft-spoken, nondescript bureaucrat, the top guns at Langley HQ saw him as their master of disguise, an "undisputed genius who could create and entirely new ID for anybody, anywhere, anytime."

He was a magician with the analytical insight of a shrink. Bob Gates, the former head of CIA, said of him," He was one of the most imaginative and courageous unsung heroes..." A former chair of the CIA Publications Review Board said of him, "Tom Clancy would be hard-pressed to envision what Tony Mendez has done…"

In his own words, Tony wrote, "I served as professional intelligence officer, creating and deploying many of the most innovative techniques of the espionage trade…. Those who know me best will realize that I would never knowingly betray a trust or reveal a secret that would jeopardize a comrade, a source, or my country's interests."

I became interested in the story of Tony Mendez 13 years ago, never thinking he would be the hero of an Oscar film award today! He was one of many "creative problem solvers", one of my heroes, whose careers inspired me to try my hand at spy novels.

I read all I could find on Tony, and recently I found a little niche for this guy in my WIP, as a close friend of POTUS, the President of the United States, who finds the White House upstairs too confining, and asks his old pal, Tony Mendez, to create a disguise for him to get outside the walls of the big house occasionally, to breathe fresh air and go among the real people! (Ah, the glorious liberties fiction gives the crime writer, provided you play fair!)

After decades of imaginative jobs, Tony was assigned the job that brought him into the 2013 spotlight, the chaos of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, triggered by the Islamist fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers.

The valued Iranian agent named "Raptor" was key to a rescue situation of American diplomats that years later would be the topic of worldwide cinema with our friend Tony as the mastermind of the historic rescue.

The name of the venture was to be ARGO, a contraction of " Ah, go f*** yourself!" We'll never know the real story, I feel, but Tony gives us a good yarn that will keep us intrigued for many decades.

My own feeling about this charming, gifted man, is that with so much bubbling in the world's cauldron, it is quite possible he'll be called back for duty. The world could use his gifts once more!!!

Thelma Straw