There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1997, the Central Intelligence Agency established the Trailblazer Award. Antonio J. Mendez was one of 50 people commended as “CIA officers who by their actions, example, or initiative helped shape the history of the first half of the century of this Agency.” The retired agent’s hometown newspaper, the Morning Herald of Hagerstown, Md., headlined the event: “‘James Bond’ of County Honored.” Although clearly meant as a compliment, nothing could be further from the truth. The central absurdity of the James Bond series is that everyone knows who “Bond, James Bond” is. He is hardly a secret agent. A real spy must be self-effacing—like Mendez, who earned his title of “the Master of Disguise.” He began his career in the CIA working in “authentication and validation.” In other words, Mendez was a forger for our government, manufacturing false documents and identities for operatives around the world. He eventually became a highly successful operative himself. In one of his most famous exploits, Mendez spirited six hostages out of Tehran by posing as part of a fake Hollywood film crew. The cliche for spies used to be: “Sure, I could tell you what I do, but then I’d have to kill you.” The CIA allowed Mendez to tell his story. And why not? It’s great PR. Tales of derring-do are the stuff of adventure fiction—only these stories are true. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at the National Museum of American History’s Baird Auditorium, 10th and Constitution Avenue NW. $13. (202) 357-3030. (Mark W. Sullivan)