Erfan Fard

Jonna Mendez at Hayden Center: A Legacy of Disguise

Jonna Mendez / Picture : CIA

In the veiled corridors of international espionage, few stories resonate with the vibrancy and visceral detail of Jonna Mendez’s tenure at the CIA. Her forthcoming autobiography, In True Face, peels back the curtain on a 27-year career that spanned the globe and the shadows of the Cold War, offering us a rare glimpse into the life of a master of disguise whose work extended from the streets of Havana to the corridors of the Oval Office.

Jonna Mendez , Personal Archive.

A Life Disguised in Service
Jonna Mendez, a former Chief of Disguise in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service, stands out not merely for her technical expertise but for her pioneering role in a field often dominated by men. Her journey began in an era when women in the CIA were relegated to the background, their potential stifled by the heavy hand of institutional misogyny. Yet, Mendez transcended these barriers with the poise and tenacity of a seasoned operative, eventually earning the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for her operational disguise work in some of the most challenging theaters of espionage.

Her story is not just one of personal triumph but also a testament to the silent battles fought against the pervasive gender biases within the agency. Mendez’s narrative weaves through her early days as a “contract wife,” a role that saw her supporting her husband’s assignments, to her rise as the CIA’s chief of disguise. This trajectory was punctuated by moments of profound insight and innovation, as she transformed the art of disguise into a pivotal tool of espionage.

Unmasking the Realities of Espionage
Mendez’s autobiography delves into the intricacies of her craft, from developing new disguise techniques to training operatives in the use of clandestine photography. Her work had her brushing shoulders with historical figures and diving into the heart of pivotal events that shaped the geopolitical landscape of her time. Through her lens, we see not just the glamor and thrill of spy work but also its profound implications on international relations.

What makes Mendez’s account truly captivating is her ability to contextualize her experiences within the broader narrative of CIA operations. Her involvement in critical missions, such as the Argo operation and other less publicized yet equally significant operations, showcases her pivotal role in the complex tapestry of U.S. intelligence efforts during tumultuous times.

Book – Picture of Publisher – Free for all platforms

The Legacy of a Trailblazer
In True Face not only chronicles Jonna Mendez’s professional accomplishments but also reflects on the personal costs of a life in disguise. The sacrifices made by intelligence officers like Mendez often go unrecognized by the public, obscured by the very nature of their secretive work. Her story is a poignant reminder of the human elements behind the mask of espionage, offering an introspective look at the emotional and ethical dilemmas faced by those in the intelligence community.

Moreover, Mendez’s narrative contributes significantly to the understanding of the CIA’s evolution, particularly in its treatment of women and its adaptation to changing global dynamics. Her insights help demystify the agency’s operations and the crucial yet often misunderstood role of disguise and deception in intelligence gathering.

Jonna Mendez’s In True Face is more than just an autobiography; it is an essential piece of intelligence literature that provides a nuanced view of CIA operations through the eyes of one of its most innovative officers. As we turn the pages of her life story, we are reminded of the enduring impact of those who operate in the shadows, their legacies shaping not just the history of espionage but also the very fabric of international politics.

Her forthcoming publication promises to be an enlightening addition to the canon of works on intelligence, shedding light on the challenges and triumphs of a woman who reshaped the contours of modern espionage. As Mendez prepares to share her journey with the world, both the intelligence community and the public at large await a story that is sure to redefine our understanding of what it means to live a life undercover.

My view: In True Face by Jonna Mendez offers a riveting glimpse into the clandestine world of espionage, celebrated for demystifying the CIA’s portrayal in popular culture while revealing the nuanced challenges of navigating this secretive world as a pioneering woman. The memoir intertwines tales of daring and deception, providing enlightening insights into the complexities of intelligence work and the enduring battle against institutional misogyny.

Dr. David Priess, Erfan Fard and Elena McCloy – Hayden Center , George Mason University , Washington DC

At the end, I have seen Dr. David Priess numerous times at George Mason University. Sometimes he is the program director at the Hayden Center. He has a witty tongue, a gentle spirit, a sharp mind, and speaks quickly and incisively. Whenever I say goodbye to him at the Hayden Center, he jokes, ‘I know you’ve come from California, take care of your flight.‘ But I really enjoy his sense of humor, and he is also a capable and experienced writer. I have his insightful book.

David Priess’s “The President’s Book of Secrets” offers a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) and its pivotal role in U.S. national security. Through engaging narratives and detailed research, Priess explores how this top-level intelligence document shapes presidential decisions, revealing the complex interplay of policy, personalities, and power within the highest echelons of government.

Undoubtedly, his program in Hayden Center is also worth watching and educational, but unfortunately, this time I cannot attend due to interview commitments at the university. In this session, he will sit and talk with Jonna.

About the Author
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, DC. He is in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran, Counter terrorism, IRGC, MOIS and Ethnic conflicts in MENA. \He graduated in International Security Studies (London M. University, UK), and in International Relations (CSU-LA), and is fluent in Persian, Kurdish, Arabic and English. Follow him in this twitter account @EQFARD