For the first time, the CIA has authorized a top-level operative to tell all in an unforgettable behind-the-scenes look at espionage in action. an undisputed genius who could create an entirely new identity for anybody, anywhere, anytime, Antonio J. Mendez combined the cunning tricks of a magician with the analytical insight of a psychologist to help hundreds of people escape potentially fatal situations. From "Wild West" adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow and helping six Americans escape revolutionary Tehran in 1980, Mendez was on the scene. Here he gives us a privileged look at what really happens in the field and behind closed doors at the highest levels of international espionage, some of it shocking, frightening, and wildly inventive--all of it unforgettable.
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William Morrow Paperbacks
November 07, 2000
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Excerpt from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez
A Letter Slipped in the Door
Delicate indeed, truly delicate. There is no place where espionage is not used. --Sun Tzu
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 watches 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 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 apron.
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 tested.
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?
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 Raj 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.