How Did CIA's Former Chief Of Disguise Trick President George HW Bush? Jonna Mendez Reveals

CIA agent Jonna Mendez and her husband, Tony Mendez, were known for their innovative work in espionage. Their story is chronicled in a new memoir as we explore how they stunned the then President.

Published on Feb 24, 2024  |  03:54 PM IST |  50.8K
Jonna Mendez describes how she surprised the President with her disguise
Jonna Mendez describes how she surprised the President with her disguise ( Twitter )
Key Highlight
  • Jonna Mendez and her husband, Tony Mendez, were pioneers in the field of disguise
  • Mendez's legacy lives on in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jonna Mendez, a former CIA officer, and her husband, Tony Mendez, were known for their innovative and daring work in espionage. They were pioneers in the field of disguise, developing techniques and technologies that allowed them to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. Their work was so successful that they were able to outfox the KGB in Moscow and help rescue six U.S. diplomats from Tehran in 1980.

A whirlwind romance

Mendez's career in espionage began with a whirlwind romance in the mid-1960s. Born Jonna Hiestand in Campbellsville, Ky., she visited Germany at age 20 and decided to start a new life far from home. 

While working in Frankfurt, she met American John Goeser, who she thought worked as an Army civilian. They became engaged a year later, and Goeser confessed he worked for the CIA. If she married him, their lives would be full of secrets.


The day they dazzled President Bush

In the early 1990s, Jonna Mendez, the CIA's chief of disguise, had a pivotal moment in her career. She was tasked with briefing President George H.W. Bush about the agency's new mask technology. The goal was to impress the President and secure more funding for their operations.

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Mendez, now 78, knew that the masks her team created were expensive. They were also incredibly effective at helping agents evade detection by the KGB, Russia's intelligence agency at the time.

When she met with Bush in the Oval Office, Mendez was disguised as a Latina woman with black curly hair. She explained the remarkable results her team had achieved using the new technology. 

Bush was intrigued and looked around, perhaps expecting to see a briefcase containing the disguise. Mendez surprised him by revealing that she was wearing the mask. "Wait, don't take it off yet," Bush said. He got up and took a closer look at Mendez. Then he said, "Okay, do it."

Mendez slowly removed the mask, revealing her true appearance: blue eyes, fair skin, and short, dark blonde hair. The President and his advisers were amazed by the lifelike mask and the skill of the CIA's disguise team.

In the end, Mendez's presentation was a success. The President and his team were impressed, and the CIA received the funding they needed to continue their important work.

A legacy of innovation

Mendez's legacy lives on in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where her Bush-era mask and that lifesaving can of foot powder are displayed. Now a museum board member and lecturer, she hopes to inspire a new generation to serve. 

“At the CIA, if you have a great idea, you can get it to the President,” Mendez says. “That felt like a special power because we knew that there always was the opportunity to save the world.”

ALSO READ: Who was Harmony Montgomery? Exploring 2019 murder case as 5-year-old's father found guilty of beating her to death

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FAQ

What is Jonna Mendez's background?
Jonna Mendez, a former CIA officer, and her husband, Tony Mendez, were known for their innovative work in espionage. Their story is chronicled in a new memoir.

What is Jonna Mendez doing now?
Mendez's legacy lives on in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where her Bush-era mask and that lifesaving can of foot powder are displayed.

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About The Author

Shovan has a Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism degree from Calcutta University. He loves to live in the

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