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Jonna Mendez headshot

Jonna Mendez

Keynote Speaker, National Youth Leadership Forum: National Security

Former Chief of Disguise in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Jonna Mendez is a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) intelligence officer who served for over 25 years. She retired from the Chief of Disguise position in 1993.


Jonna Mendez attended college at Wichita State before the CIA recruited her in Europe in 1966. She lived undercover and served tours of duty in Europe, the Far East, and the Subcontinent. Jonna joined the Office of Technical Service in the 1970s, and within a few years, she was back overseas as a technical operations officer with a specialty in clandestine photography.

Early on, OTS management recognized Jonna’s potential as a future senior officer and selected her for several extensive training programs given to the future leaders of the CIA. She began as a woman in a man’s world and watched that change during her career. At the end of a year-long, exclusive training program, Jonna was given her choice of several assignments and decided to work in technical operations as a generalist in disguise, identity transformation, and clandestine imaging throughout southern Asia.

Upon returning to Headquarters, Jonna was assigned to Denied Area Operations for disguise. In this role, she went to some of the world’s most hostile operating areas, where she and her colleagues matched their wits with the overwhelming forces of the KGB in Moscow, the Stasi in East Germany, and the Cuban DGI. Meanwhile, Jonna was continually selected for the most prestigious training and career development assignments. She was promoted to Deputy Chief of Disguise Division, then Chief of Disguise three years later, running a multi-million-dollar program with a globally positioned staff. Upon her retirement, she was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal.

Jonna continues to act as a consultant to the U.S. intelligence community. She lectured with her late husband/co-author Antonio Mendez at various World Affairs Councils, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency at the Joint Military Intelligence College, as well as colleges and universities. Together, they participated in two Discovery Channel programs. These programs document the espionage exploits of Jonna and Tony, who also served as Chief of Disguise for the CIA.

Jonna is a founding member of the Board of Advisors at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. She and her husband additionally co-authored several books. Spy Dust, a book about their work against the Soviets in Moscow during the last decade of the Cold War, was their first joint venture. Spy Dust is recommended reading for new recruits in the U.S. intelligence community and often part of the curriculum for would-be officers in intelligence agencies.

Jonna and Tony also wrote Argo, the story of Tony’s rescue of six American diplomats from Tehran during the Iranian revolution. Argo was made into an Academy Award-winning movie, awarded “Best Picture” in 2013. Additionally, they co-wrote The Moscow Rules, a book about their experiences working for the CIA in Moscow during the Cold War.