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Mission Accomplished

Local couple worked on museum project for three years

Local couple worked on museum project for three years

July 25, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

"This museum is a destination," said Jonna Mendez, Washington County resident and a member of the advisory council of the International Spy Museum.

Mendez, a fine arts photographer, lecturer and consultant on intelligence matters, is a former Central Intelligence Agency Chief of Disguise.

She and her husband, Antonio Mendez, who also served the CIA as Chief of Disguise and Chief of the Graphics and Authentication Division, have been involved with the museum - brainstorming and planning - for three years.

"I think it's important that this museum be done right," she said.

Jonna Mendez credits her husband with coming up with the museum's exhibit-organizing principals, four "buckets" or categories: "Cloak," "Dagger," "Ninja" and "Shadow."

Antonio Mendez knows whereof he organizes. He conducted the secret rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, disguising them as a Canadian film crew. His skills are on display at the museum - in fake passports and documentation. The people pictured actually are his daughter and son-in-law, Jonna Mendez whispered.

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He also created the interactive display which has visitors test their skills in recognizing suspects, and it includes another touch of home.

Mendez disguised Barbara Spicher, executive director of the Washington County Arts Council, and her husband, Martin Burke. Spicher, a blue-eyed blonde, underwent eight hours of makeup - a bald cap, and wig, latex wrinkles, mustache and glasses - to become an old man. Burke, was disguised with, among other things, a goatee, for his "before" persona.

In the museum video, Spicher walks through a hotel lobby with an assortment of actors. The visitor's assignment is to find her disguised - stopping the action by touching the screen when she's spotted.

The action was filmed in Boston, and Spicher said none of the actors recognized her when they saw her undisguised. The makeup was uncomfortable, but the experience was "great fun," she said. She gained a real respect for the CIA and the work the agency does.

"I think it's important that people understand how espionage works. It's a major component of the government. The museum gives people a glimpse of what's going on behind the headlines. They're paying for it," Jonna Mendez said.

Antonio Mendez is a landscape painter, author, lecturer as well as intelligence consultant. His book, "The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA" was published in November 2000.

The couple's new book, "Spy Dust: A True Story of Espionage and Romance," is scheduled for release in September.

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