Former CIA Officers to Speak

STEUBENVILLE -Tri-state area residents will have an opportunity to get an inside look at the story behind the Academy Award-winning film “Argo” when Antonio and Jonna Mendez speak at the Steubenville High School auditorium as part of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Herald-Star Lecture Series.

The husband-and-wife team, who had combined service of more than 50 years with the Central Intelligence Agency before they retired, will bring their presentation to town at 7:30 p.m. April 9.

Tony Mendez is the CIA officer who orchestrated the rescue, or exfiltration, of six American diplomats who had escaped when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overrun by Iranian militant students on Nov. 4, 1979. Canada provided refuge to the six until late January 1980 when Mendez and another CIA officer disguised them as members of a film crew working on a fake science-fiction film – “Argo” -and took them out of Iran aboard a commercial flight that departed from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport.

Ben Affleck, who also directed the real “Argo,” portrayed Tony Mendez in the film.

“We love the movie,” Tony Mendez said during a telephone interview last week. “The film is great for getting the right tone, the right feel for what we had to deal with.”

Long kept a classified operation, Mendez described the rescue of the six in his book “The Master of Disguise, My Secret Life in the CIA,” which was written with Malcolm McConnell and first published in 1999. He tells an expanded version in the book “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” which was written with Matt Baglio and published shortly before the movie was released in October.

The book offers a detailed look at the entire process involved in the rescue of the six, from the minutes right before the embassy fell through a clandestine barbecue and reunion in the summer of 1980. The movie, on the other hand, concentrates on the the actual operation.

“When you make a movie, it’s a given that they are going to leave some things out,” Jonna Mendez said of “Argo.” “It’s also a given that they are going to add things – the bells and whistles of Hollywood.”

Affleck and George Clooney joined with Grant Heslov to produce “Argo.” Their efforts, and Affleck’s direction, helped the film win best picture when the Oscars were presented on Feb. 24. While most Hollywood observers were stunned when Affleck was not nominated for best director, “Argo” also received Oscars for editing and for best adapted screenplay, which went to Chris Terrio.

Terrio’s honor came as no surprise to Jonna Mendez.

“We had the pleasure of hosting him for about a week,” she said. “He knew the whole story.”

Reserved tickets for the April 9 presentation cost $20. General admission tickets cost $15. Tickets are available at the Herald-Star office, 401 Herald Square, Steubenville; by calling 740-283-4711; or by visiting the newspaper’s website, Copies of the book “Argo” are available for purchase at the Herald-Star during regular business hours.

A very limited number of VIP tickets remain available at a cost of $150 each. The VIP package includes a private reception with Tony and Jonna Mendez at the Garrett House on Fourth Street; a choice of either an autographed copy of the book “Argo” or a DVD copy of the film; a photograph with the couple; shuttle service to and from the high school; and premiere seating for the presentation. Information can be obtained by contacting the chamber at (740) 282-6226.

Sponsors for the evening include the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Eastern Gateway Community College.

Special support is being provided by Bayberry Bed and Breakfast, Apollo Pro Cleaning, Piergallini Catering, Steubenville City Schools, Newbrough Photography, Thrifty Car Rental and Dave D’Anniballe of D’Anniballe and Co. CPAs.

“We are inviting the public to be a part of another memorable evening. This lecture series gives everyone who attends an opportunity to hear firsthand the experiences, thoughts and accomplishments of our prestigious speakers,” said Sue Hershey, president of the chamber of commerce. “We are so fortunate to have Antonio Mendez, a highly decorated, retired CIA agent, come to our region and share his story. As a bonus, Mrs. Mendez, also an experienced and now-retired CIA agent, will complement Mr. Mendez’s presentation with some of her stories and experiences.

“With the support of our generous sponsors, the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Eastern Gateway Community College, and our media sponsor, the Herald-Star, we are able to bring speakers to our community who will enlighten, inspire and provide an entertaining evening.”