cover image The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

Antonio J. Mendez. William Morrow & Company, $25 (351pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16302-0

Former CIA chief of disguise Mendez was an award-winning spy (yes, they have awards). Here, given unique permission by that agency to write about his career, he offers an entertaining and action-filled, though restrained, memoir of his Cold War clandestine service, emphasizing the gritty, complicated realities of intelligence work. Experienced as an illustrator and seeking a little excitement, in 1965 he answered a newspaper ad for navy artists to work overseas, and soon found himself signing on with ""the Company"" as a graphics specialist in the technical services division. Mendez effectively conveys the tension of forging documents on short notice and knowing that an agent's life depended on his accuracy. The ambitious Mendez quickly sought overseas transfer; this, coupled with his innovations in the then nascent fields of alias creation, countersurveillance and disguise, made him into a sought-after specialist who was brought in to numerous hot spots to perform daunting tasks. The book is packed with these stories, but the detail on espionage techniques his team developed can be excessively dry, and Mendez at times turns abruptly circumspect to avoid divulging current components of spycraft. Mendez offers a balanced and humanized portrait of life within the CIA, acknowledging the strain on agents' families, and grounds his tale in the Cold War era's historical realities, producing a volume with appeal for both spy buffs and the simply curious. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. 6-city author tour. (Nov.) FYI: Menendez will be profiled in an upcoming broadcast of 60 Minutes.