Tony Mendez Biography

Tony Mendez is a CIA officer best known for overseeing the rescue of six American diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, inspiring the 2012 film Argo.


Tony Mendez was born in Eureka, Nevada, in 1940. Mendez spent 25 years as a CIA a technical operations officer. In 1979, Mendez devised and oversaw the "Canadian caper," a plan to liberate six American diplomats from Iran. The 2012 movie Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is loosely based on the "Canadian caper." Mendez has written three memoirs about his experiences in the CIA.

Early Life

Tony Mendez was born Antonio Joseph Mendez in 1940 in Eureka, Nevada. The Mendez family moved to Colorado when Tony was in high school. After graduating, he attended the University of Colorado.


Mendez developed a strong interest in art during his high school and college years. He supported himself by working as an illustrator and designer until, after answering an advertisement for a graphic artist, he was recruited by the CIA. At that point, Mendez became an espionage artist, employed by the CIA's Technical Services Division.

Mendez worked with the CIA for 25 years. His geographic areas spanned South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Middle East. As a Technical Services specialist, Mendez regularly forged documents, created disguises, and conducted “exfiltration” missions to remove individuals from hostile countries.

'Canadian Caper' and 'Argo'

In 1979, Mendez put his skills to work in an operation known as the "Canadian caper," conducted during the Iran hostage crisis. His mission was to extricate six American diplomats from Tehran, where they were hiding out in the homes of Canadian allies. Mendez managed and participated in the CIA operation that sent operatives into Iran, posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie. The group, including Mendez, successfully exited Iran with the American diplomats, who were carrying Canadian passports. The CIA awarded Mendez the Intelligence Star for his contributions to the mission.

The full details of this dramatic rescue were remained classified until the late 1990s. After his retirement, Mendez published two books recounting his experiences in the CIA. These books, Master of Disguise (2000) and Spy Dust (2003), were published with the encouragement of the CIA.

In 2007, Joshuah Berman published the full details of the operation in a Wired magazine article. This story was subsequently adapted for the screen. In 2012, director Ben Affleck directed and starred in Argo, the film adaptation of Mendez’s experiences in Iran. The film received largely positive reviews from critics, audiences and Mendez himself. Mendez and his colleagues, as well as some of the diplomats they helped to rescue, appeared at Argo screenings and participated in press junkets for the movie.

Mendez has published two books on the Canadian caper in conjunction with the release of Argo. In 2012, he published A Classic Case of Deception, produced in cooperation with the CIA, and Argo, a lengthier account of the operation intended for popular audiences.

Later Years

Since his retirement in 1990, Mendez has continued to pursue his artistic ambitions. He lives on a 40-acre farm in Washington County, Maryland, where he maintains an artist’s studio and gallery.

Mendez is married to Jonna Goeser, another CIA officer he met while working in Russia in the 1980s. They have a son. He is the father of three children from his first marriage. His son Toby Mendez, is a noted sculptor. Mendez and Goeser serve on the Board of Directors for the International Spy Museum.

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