Jonna Mendez spent many of her years living a lie.
Her best friend was an international banker, and she would tell Mendez all about her job. Mendez could only say she had a boring job with the U.S. Army, doing administrative duties and paperwork.
Except Mendez’s job was far from boring. She was an agent with the CIA.
Mendez and her late husband Tony Mendez were both CIA agents. Tony Mendez is best known for his role in rescuing American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis, portrayed in his book and the movie adaptation, “Argo.”
Both Jonna and Tony Mendez served as chief of disguise, with Tony Mendez serving about 10 years before she did, Jonna Mendez said during a book talk at the C. Burr Artz Library Sunday.
Jonna Mendez recently finished a national book tour for her latest book with Tony, called “The Moscow Rules: the secret CIA tactics that helped America win the Cold War.” The book talk was put on through a partnership between Curious Iguana and the Maryland Room.
During the talk, Jonna Mendez spoke about the various disguises she and Tony Mendez worked on, including a pop-up dummy that made it look like a person was still in the car or the ability to change appearances in 45 steps.
Those disguises were the most interesting part of the talk for Frederick resident Mary Jodon. She came to the talk because she knew the Mendez from their artwork.
“She’s a great storyteller,” Jodon said.
Jodon had not read “The Moscow Rules” yet. Like many who attended the talk, she walked away with a signed copy of the book.
“I could have sat here for a couple more hours,” she said.
The Mendezes lived near Frederick, between Brunswick and Boonsboro for many years after their CIA lives. Tony Mendez retired in 1990 and died in 2019. Jonna Mendez retired in 1993. Jonna Mendez no longer lives in Maryland, and she said the book talk was “like coming home.”
It was a bit of change going from the CIA where she could say very little about her life to national book tours. Even now, there are still some things, such as where she served, that she cannot say. “The Moscow Rules” was vetted by the CIA through its publication review board.
With the Moscow Rules, the board took its time, and Tony Mendez was getting sicker. Jonna Mendez reached out to ask if they could speed up, and a woman from the board replied saying she received the message. The book was approved the day before Tony Mendez died.
Jonna Mendez said she did not think he was holding on to hear about the book, but he did know that it would be published before his death. His death meant she went on the book tour alone, which was hard, she said. It hurt. Talking about it makes her cry.
“He was always part of it,” she said.
The book mostly focuses on the work Tony and Jonna Mendez did with other CIA agents and assets, but the book opens with a scene in June 2016 when an American diplomat was beaten nearly to death in Russia.
That is Vladimir Putin’s KGB, Jonna Mendez said. Russia has always been aggressive. CIA agents could never meet with assets face-to-face because of the danger, she said during the talk.
“So while I don’t get political, I have no problem saying Russia is not, never has been a friend of ours,” she said. “They consider the CIA an enemy, and America would be the main enemy. And we return the favor. It’s not changed.”