Tony Mendez, ‘Argo’ spy who smuggled US hostages out of Iran during crisis, dies at 78
Tony Mendez (pictured in 2012) was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Oscar-winning movie “Argo.”
By Harrison Smith WASHINGTON POST JANUARY 19, 2019
A forgery artist and master of disguise for the CIA, Tony Mendez once transformed a black agent and an Asian diplomat into a pair of white business executives, using masks that gave them an uncanny resemblance to the movie stars Victor Mature and Rex Harrison. On another occasion, he devised an oversize ‘‘jack-in-the-box’’ — a spring-loaded mannequin — that enabled a CIA source to sneak out of his car while a dummy popped up in his place.
Mr. Mendez, a 25-year veteran of the spy agency, was effectively in the business of geopolitical theater. Pulling techniques from magicians, movie makeup artists, and even the television show ‘‘Mission: Impossible,’’ he changed one person into another, transforming agents into characters with backstories, costumes, and documents that helped them evade detection and avoid capture in foreign countries.
Appropriately for a man whose career seemed drawn from a Hollywood thriller, his greatest triumph hinged on a bogus sci-fi film, a sham production office in Los Angeles, and a fake location-scouting expedition to Iran. Disguising himself as an Irish filmmaker, Mr. Mendez successfully smuggled six State Department employees out of Tehran during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, passing them off as a Canadian movie crew in a daring mission that formed the basis of the Oscar-winning movie ‘‘Argo’’ (2012).