Unformatted text preview: The MASTER
My Secret Life in the CIA Antonio J. Mendez
with Malcolm McConnell To all the Masters of the Game; some whom I met or engaged during
the Cold War and others I came to learn about or know while writing
To all the members of our families who also served the cause. Contents Acknowledgments v Preface ix 1 A Letter Slipped in the Door 2 Border Crossings 23 3 Onto the Shadowy Battlefield 51 4 Murky Waters, Southeast Asia 78 5 Kipling’s Beat 122 6 HONOR and GAMBIT 158 7 Pinball 176 8 Moscow Rules 196 9 RAPTOR in the Dark 256 Endgame 308 Epilogue 341 Glossary 344 10 About the Author
About the Publisher 1 Acknowledgments
I UNDERTOOK THE WRITING OF THIS BOOK WITHOUT FULLY
REALIZING the complexity of such a project. Although many others have written books about their careers in intelligence
over the years and several have done so since the end of the
Cold War, none could have been so blessed with encouragement and help from colleagues, friends, and family. Also I received excellent assistance and advice from many highly
qualified and understanding people as this project unfolded.
My wife, Jonna, who was Chief of Disguise more recently
and worked at the CIA for twenty-seven years, was fully engaged in this project. I penned the first lines in November 1997
and the last change to the manuscript was made on the fifth
and final draft a year and a half later. Her writing and editorial
advice greatly enhanced the process and final product and her
creative judgment and political sense helped ease my way
more than once.
My collaborator, Malcolm McConnell, proved he has infinite
patience. He first called me about Reader’s Digest’s interest in
doing an article about my rescue of the six U.S. diplomats from
Iran, and mentioned he had always wanted to write a book
about CIA successes during the Cold War. “So do I,” I
answered, and so we did. His wife and able partner, Carol,
was also a joy to work with and proved a marvelous cook and
hostess as well. v vi / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL My agent, Andrew Wylie, and his assistant, Jeffrey
Posternak, have earned a well-deserved reputation as the top
guns of the literary trade. It is no wonder their legions of wellknown clients trust them to run interference.
My editor, Betty Kelly, and her assistant, Alice Lee, have
made this project first among many at William Morrow. Their
thoughtful review and deft editorial changes, line by line, have
added infinite value, well beyond what one might expect in
the hectic world of publishing. They also developed and spread
an interest and excitement for the book throughout their organization that bodes well for the further success of the project.
Thanks also to my friends and associates, formally or currently in the CIA, who read and made corrections on the various chapters. Everyone in this group was there in the midst of
the Cold War with me. They each appear as one of the major
players in their respective stories. All have been given pseudonyms as a matter of courtesy or good security practices. Some
are still serving in harm’s way while others are in CIA’s most
senior positions. They all took time away from busy operational
schedules to help me write this book because they believe it is
A special thanks to the reviewers of the final draft. Their
comments and suggestions helped ensure an independent
point of view, plus the historical accuracy and technical quality
of the work. This group includes: H. Keith Melton, author of
The Ultimate Spy Book, noted espionage expert, and military
historian; A. Denis Clift, president of the Department of Defense, Joint Military Intelligence College, and a senior staff officer in the National Security Council in the White House
during many years of the Cold War; John Hollister Hedley,
retired chairman of the CIA’s Publication Review Staff and
senior career intelligence officer; THE MASTER OF DISGUISE / vii Gordon E. Smith, a scholar and professor of Russian studies
who studied and did research in Moscow in the late 1960s and
early 1970s; and Catherine Eberwein, a senior staffer on the
U.S. House of Representative’s Permanent Select Committee
on Intelligence and an expert on counterintelligence and
Finally, my regards to the chairman of the CIA’s Publication
Review Board, Scott Koch, and his staff, who led me through
the wilderness of the review process. Also my regards to the
members of the board who have a tough job and little time to
do it. By federal statute they have only thirty days to complete
their review of sensitive material. The month they reviewed
my final manuscript, they completed their review on over four
thousand pages of material.
The board obliges me to include a disclaimer stating that
“CIA’s Publication Review Board has reviewed the manuscript
for this book to assist the author in eliminating classified information, and poses no security objection to its publication.
This review, however, should not be construed as an official
release of information, confirmation of its accuracy, or an endorsement of the author’s views.”
The entire experience of preparing this collection of Cold
War tales, while often harrowing, in the final analysis turned
out to be as smooth as silk; not unlike my twenty-five-year
career in the CIA.
Antonio J. Mendez Preface
I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS MEMOIR IN SEPTEMBER 1997, WHEN THE Central Intelligence Agency publicly celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. During three of the Agency’s five decades, which
spanned the Cold War years, I served as a professional intelligence officer, creating and deploying many of the most innovative techniques of the espionage trade.
My purpose in writing this book, however, is not to bring
credit to myself. I have already received ample recognition in
the intelligence community. Vanity is not at stake in this project. Rather, I want this book to describe as accurately as
memory permits a few of the operations my colleagues and I
conducted. The reader can judge for himself the quality of our
service in the cause of freedom.
Some of those we worked with are no longer alive. Others
prefer to celebrate their achievements privately. Others are
still actively engaged and must remain in the shadows. I have
changed certain details of their identities so that they can remain anonymous. But, willing to err on the side of openness,
I chose the potential risks of telling our story. I trust that doing
so will also serve the cause of freedom.
Almost since its inception, the American intelligence effort
has been either vilified by the world’s news media—sometimes
as part of Soviet disinformation operations—or romanticized
by spy novelists with only vague notions of the nature of espionage operations. Yet for more than ix x / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL fifty years, Americans have been asked to support—both
morally and financially—a large and active intelligence effort
of which they have had little concrete knowledge. Several
Directors of Central Intelligence and many of my colleagues
have concluded that it is time to share more details of the
earnest endeavor we made in the name of the American people.
I realize that my decision alarms certain intelligence professionals who see no need to breach the principles of silent service that I and others instilled in them during their training.
But 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.
Secrecy, of course, is the lifeblood of espionage. I am not a
reckless renegade intent on exploiting clandestine operational
methods to promote a book, nor do I feel it necessary to apologize for the U.S. government or the CIA’s past errors or excesses. In telling my story, I intend to help redefine the CIA’s
traditionally stringent disclosure position. Although I will reveal much of what I know to be the Agency’s ongoing contribution to preserving the world’s peace and democracy, I intend
to be consistent with sound security practices.
I must also adhere to the spirit of the law. Anything I write
or say for public consumption is subject to scrutiny by the
CIA’s Publications Review Board. Further, I must consider the
needs of intelligence professionals who continue to uphold the
integrity of the service.
Publication review does not mean censorship. I have the
same First Amendment right as any American citizen to express
my opinion, positive or negative, about declassified details of
our business. The review process is designed to determine
whether any present or former Agency officers have violated
the trust placed in them. We must all protect the THE MASTER OF DISGUISE / xi appropriately classified aspects of the procedures and individuals used to collect intelligence vital to our country’s security.
The secrecy agreement we signed represents this contract of
trust. We all signed it willingly, fully realizing that we would
never be able to divulge certain details of our profession.
But attendant to this lofty obligation is a more practical
concern, first expressed by veteran American intelligence officer
Sherman Kent in 1955. He was proud of his leadership position
but ambivalent as a scholar. Writing in the first issue of Studies
in Intelligence, then a classified Agency in-house publication,
Our profession, like older ones, has its own rigid entrance
requirements and, like others, offers areas of general
competence and areas of intense specialization. People
work at it until they are numb because they love it, and
because the rewards are the rewards of professional accomplishment.
Intelligence today is not merely a profession, but like
most professions it has taken on the aspects of a discipline:
It has a recognized methodology; it has developed a
vocabulary; it has developed a body of theory and doctrine; it has elaborate and refined techniques. It now has
a large professional following. What it lacks is a literature.
From my point of view this is a matter of greatest importance.
And where is that literature? In 1998, forty years later, CIA
director George J. Tenet announced that because of “current
budgetary limitations,” plans to declassify records on significant Cold War covert actions conducted from the 1940s through
the 1960s would have to be shelved indefinitely. His announcement caused both academics and the CIA’s history staff to express their deep disappointment. Tenet, however, conceded
that the CIA still has “responsibility to the American people,
and xii / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL to history, to account for our actions and the quality of our
work.” He added that the public needs the Agency’s histories
“to judge for itself the contribution made by the Intelligence
Community to the successful conduct of the Cold War.”
This sentiment is central to my decision to write a memoir.
Many intelligence officers did not live to see the end of the
Cold War. The efforts of those who fought in the shadow world
of the espionage wars, from the torrid backwaters of the Congo
to the spy capitals of Vienna, Moscow, and Berlin, were never
acknowledged in a parade or public memorial.
There are a few dozen stars carved in the white marble wall
in the lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters
that serve as mute tribute to staff officers who died in the line
of duty. But like the countless documents awaiting declassification, this stone memorial gives the American public no opportunity to celebrate the sacrifice these men and women made
Perhaps this book will help honor the memory of their service. 1
A Letter Slipped in the Door
Delicate indeed, truly delicate. There is no place
where espionage is not used.
The Blue Ridge Mountains, Maryland, August 21, 1997 • The
anxious memories returned to haunt me that summer night,
keeping me from sleep once more…
It is past midnight near the time of the monsoon. I wait
tensely on the concrete observation deck of the sweltering airport terminal, peering down at the tarmac through a thickening
haze. The TWA flight from Bangkok is already two hours late.
I have watched Swissair arrive from Riyadh, Lufthansa from
Bangkok. An Aeroflot IL-62 arrives from Tashkent and lumbers
up to the gate directly below.
My pulse suddenly surges. The appearance of the Aeroflot
is an ominous sign. The operations plan called for the subject
and his CIA escort 1 2 / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL to have left on the continuation of the delayed TWA flight at
least an hour ago, for a very good reason. We wanted them
out of here before the Aeroflot landed, with its inevitable
ground retinue of KGB gumshoes.
The subject is a KGB defector who simply walked into our
Station ten days earlier. Now, waiting down in the steamy,
crowded departure hall, will he panic and run when he hears
the Soviet flight announced?
I glance over the mildewed cement barrier. All the gates are
full, but there is no American plane. Then, out of the gloom,
the TWA Boeing 707 materializes. It lands, taxis down the
runway, and finally stops at the far end of the poorly lit parking
The haze thickens—“smit,” the old Asian hands call it,
ground-hugging “smoke from shit” from the millions of cow
dung cooking fires burning in villages across the subcontinent.
I squint, but the TWA plane is hard to distinguish. I wait.
The disembarking TWA passengers grope their way through
the murk and stumble into the terminal, where the humidity
and stench of clogged W.C.s will certainly overpower the smit.
I cannot leave the platform. My task is to confirm that our
subject and his escort officer “Jacob,” my partner in this operation, safely board the continuation of the TWA flight. But in
this miasma, how can I see whether they reach the plane? If I
don’t catch sight of them coming out of the terminal with the
other passengers booked for the same flight, it could mean
they have run into trouble at passport control. That is where
the alias documents and disguise I’ve helped create will be
Passengers emerge from the terminal, headed for the TWA
plane, but I still don’t see the subject and his escort. Is it possible that they have already bolted to the two getaway cars
sitting at the dark end of the parking lot with their engines
running? THE MASTER OF DISGUISE / 3 Whatever the outcome of the exfiltration operation, I have
to pass a signal from the phone booth at the bottom of the
stairway. Tonight, we will use an open code with an ostensible
wrong number. Is Suzy there? (They made it.) May I speak to
George? (Something went wrong.) The rest of the plan will
unfold based on which of these two things happens…
Finally, I sleep, but I have no rest. Even in my dream, my
mind cannot let go of the scene at the airport. I find myself
descending the stairs with their chipped paint and wedging
myself into the oven of the phone booth. I lift the receiver of
the clumsy red Bakelite phone, put a brown coin in the slot,
strike the cradle bar and release it. No dial tone. No coin drop.
Damned colonial phone, a legacy of British rule that probably
hasn’t been maintained since the King folded the Union Jack.
Again I jiggle the cradle. The fat copper disk drops into the
coin return slot. I jam the coin back in. A hiss, a click, a weak
dial tone. Receiver held between ear and shoulder, I dial
quickly, scanning the number scrawled on the hotel matchbook
in my other hand. Clicks and pops, finally a coherent double
whir. The phone is ringing at the other end. I press the receiver
tightly against my ear. Four rings…five…Pick it up, Raymond.
I slam the phone down after ten rings.
Why doesn’t he answer? I look at my watch: 3:07, an hour
past my scheduled call time. I know he’s still at the safe house.
They’re expecting me to pass the signal. I suck in a deep breath
of humid air and release it slowly to ease the tight band across
my shoulders and the drumming in my ears. I have to call. I
insert another fat copper coin and dial. A pause. A click…the
coin drops through again. The phone is dead.
I open my eyes to the wispy dawn
spreading over South Mountain. The August sun brushes the
treetops behind our
BLINKING AWAY SLEEP, 4 / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL garden teahouse. I blink again. Is that smit swirling among the
azaleas? No, only mist.
The intensity of the dream dissolves slowly. I’m not in South
Asia on an operation twenty-seven years in the past, but in the
master bedroom of our house in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Still, as the cardinals start to sing, I am gripped by an anxious
lethargy, the helplessness of the dream. Unable to return to
sleep, I watch the colors in the garden change with the sunrise
and quietly reflect on my life.
I’ve considered myself an artist since childhood. For a long
time, I also saw myself as a competent spy. Since 1990, when
I retired after a twenty-five-year espionage career in the CIA,
I have once again been painting full time.
During these seven years of normal life, the recurrent dreams
of the world I inhabited for so long have only slowly subsided.
But one day, a totally unexpected event occurred that unleashed an avalanche of long-suppressed memories.
I LIVE, WORK, and show my paintings on forty acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Maryland. Our post-and-beam
house, and the surrounding studios on this lushly wooded
property create a harmonious atmosphere similar to that found
on a New England farm. A hundred feet down the grassy slope
from the house stands a two-story studio, a red saltbox carriage
house, and several sheds. Dominating the studio and stretching
back toward the house is a large enclosed pavilion with a thirdstory tower perched in the center of the roof. The pavilion’s
second floor is a main exhibit area above a large office at
ground level. My writing studio is now in the tower. This
complex of wooden buildings is my personal work in progress,
built by the hands of family, friends, and myself over the years
since 1974. THE MASTER OF DISGUISE / 5 Surrounding the studios and house are terraced gardens
that my wife, Jonna, claimed as her personal domain when we
married in 1991. Maple and oak trees cover most of our rolling
property, on the base of a Blue Ridge summit west of South
Late on Thursday, August 21, 1997, Jonna and I drove up
the winding gravel track with our four-year-old, Jesse, asleep
in the backseat of the red Pathfinder. From the garage bay beneath the studio, we passed the door of the office. A white
envelope had been slipped into the screen door.
“What’s that?” Jonna asked.
I got out and retrieved the envelope. “FedEx letter,” I replied.
While Jonna tucked Jesse into bed, I examined the contents,
a single-page letter on heavy bond stationery bearing an official
THE DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
WASHINGTON D.C. 20505 The letter was addressed to me and signed by George J.
Tenet, the newly appointed and just confirmed Director of the
CIA. Its purpose was to inform me that I had been selected by
my peers as a “CIA Trailblazer.”
The Agency had established the Trailblazer Award as part
of its fiftieth anniversary celebration. Fifty Trailblazers or their
survivors would receive commemorative medallions during
a closed ceremony at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia,
scheduled for the anniversary date, September 18, 1997. I would
be among the “CIA officers who by their actions, example or
initiative helped shape the history of the first half century of
Tenet noted that veterans of the Office of Strategic Services
(OSS), 6 / ANTONIO J. MENDEZWITH MALCOLM MCCONNELL the Agency’s World War II predecessor, as well as former CIA
employees, had nominated three hundred candidates to be
honored. A select panel had “worked very hard” to narrow
the list down to the present fifty.
I read the letter again slowly, finding it hard to grasp that I
was one of those selected.
View Full Document