Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War


From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominated Argo, a true-life thriller set against the backdrop of the Cold War, which unveils the life of an American spy from the inside and dramatically reveals how the CIA reestablished the upper hand over the KGB in the intelligence war.

From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Academy Award winner Argo...

Moscow, 1988. The twilight of the Cold War. The KGB is at its most ruthless, ...

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Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War

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From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominated Argo, a true-life thriller set against the backdrop of the Cold War, which unveils the life of an American spy from the inside and dramatically reveals how the CIA reestablished the upper hand over the KGB in the intelligence war.

From the author of the Golden Globe winner and Academy Award winner Argo...

Moscow, 1988. The twilight of the Cold War. The KGB is at its most ruthless, and has now indisputably gained the upper hand over the CIA in the intelligence war. But no one knows how. Ten CIA agents and double-agents have gone missing in the last three years. They have either been executed or they are unaccounted for.

At Langley, several theories circulate as to how the KGB seems suddenly to have become telepathic, predicting the CIA's every move. Some blame the defection of Edward Lee Howard three years before, and suspect that there are more high-placed moles to be unearthed. Others speculate that the KGB's surveillance successes have been heightened by the invention of an invisible electromagnetic powder that allows them to keep tabs on anyone who touches it: spy dust.

CIA officers Tony Mendez and Jonna Goeser come together to head up a team of technical wizards and operational specialists, determined to solve the mystery that threatens to overshadow the Cold War's final act. Working against known and unknown hostile forces, as well as some unfriendly elements within the CIA, they devise controversial new operational methods and techniques to foil the KGB, and show the extraordinary lengths that US intelligence is willing to go to protect a source, then rescue him when his world starts to collapse. At the same time, Tony and Jonna find themselves falling deeply in love.

During a fascinating odyssey that began in Indochina fifteen years before and ends in a breathtakingly daring operation in the heart of the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses, Spy Dust catapults the reader from the Hindu Kush to Hollywood, from Havana to Moscow, but cannot truly conclude until its protagonists are safely wedded in rural Maryland.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This exciting real-life spy story begins in 1987, when American Cold War intelligence was at its lowest ebb. Still reeling from the losses incurred by betrayal of double agents Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames and not yet aware of the treasonous operations of Robert Hanssen, the Central Intelligence Agency was rushing frantically to reestablish agency operations within the Soviet Union. Two technical operation agents, destined to become Mr. and Mrs. Mendez, tell in their own gripping words how the CIA fought its way back into Moscow.
From the Publisher
Admiral Stansfield Turner former head of the CIA A true story of spying with all the suspense and intrigue of a James Bond novel.

Publishers Weekly An entertaining thriller with the added virtue of being true.

Booklist An endlessly fascinating book, one that spy buffs will return to again and again.

Hayden B. Peake curator of the CIA's Historical Intelligence Collection For CIA staffers, the changed names will be both frustrating and challenging as they attempt to sort out individuals and operations. For those who want a sense of what really takes place in the field when magicians from the Office of Technical Services are involved, Spy Dust is a rewarding experience.

Kirkus Reviews A real-life pleasure for fans of John le Carré and Tom Clancy.

The New Yorker
Assigned to a remote outpost of the Asian subcontinent in the spring of 1987, Jonna Goeser, an expert in clandestine photography, disguise, and false documentation -- she can facilitate a "quick ethnic change" on demand -- finds herself entangled in some dangerous business. Spy Dust, the memoir she wrote with Antonio J. Mendez -- first her boss in Technical Operations, then her husband -- details the Russians' latest anti-espionage technologies, including a mysterious light-sensitive tracking powder, insect sex pheromones, and clairvoyants, and double agents like Robert Hanssen and Edward Lee Howard. (The Mendezes were helped by the true-crime writer Bruce Henderson.) Officially, Jonna's mission is a "smoking-bolt operation" designed to relieve the K.G.B. of an important communications device, but it's actually a ruse to distract attention from the agency's exfiltration of a K.G.B. officer about to be unmasked as a spy for the Americans. The book, which passed the C.I.A.'s publication-review board, makes a post-September-11th case for spooks -- reminding us that the most successful operations are the ones we never hear about. With her black beret, bright lipstick, and cum-laude Barnard-girl-next-door persona, Judith Coplon was a celebrity from the moment of her highly controversial arrest on espionage charges in 1949. Was she the next Mata Hari? If so, some reporters found her disappointingly unexotic: "about as sinister as Louisa May Alcott," one wrote. Or was she just an industrious Department of Justice employee working on a novel about her experiences? The Spy Who Seduced America, by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, examines both the farcical and disturbing aspects of Coplon's case. (Dana Goodyear)
Publishers Weekly
Retired CIA disguise expert Antonio Mendez (The Master of Disguise) teams up with his wife, also a former agent, to reveal how they fell in love during a highly critical mission in the waning years of the Cold War. Antonio and Jonna shift back and forth in their account as separate assignments eventually converge in the extrication from Moscow of a high-ranking KGB mole, jeopardized by the traitorous dealings of men like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. Fans of Alan Furst's WWII espionage novels will appreciate the subdued nature of this thriller, where the stakes are always high but the individual actions are usually low-key, as well as the details the Mendezes provide on the art of eluding surveillance. The title is a red herring although "spy dust" was a real element of the KGB's operations against foreigners in Moscow, its role in this story is of a background nature. The climax hinges on a much more old-fashioned game of cat and mouse. There are a few weak spots in the narrative, where the authors (or their collaborator, true-crime scribe Henderson) try to recreate scenes at which they weren't present, but for the most part this is an entertaining thriller with the added virtue of being true. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Christy Fletcher, Carlisle & Co. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Spy dust" is a chemical marking compound developed by the KGB (Soviet secret police) to help track targeted individuals. It is just one of the tools and techniques discussed by the authors, who headed up the Disguise and Documents Division of the CIA's Office of Technical Service and are now consultants for the CBS TV drama series The Agency. The authors met in the mid-1980s while helping to rebuild U.S. intelligence operations in the USSR, which had been severely crippled by American traitors selling secret information to the Soviets. Included here are fascinating tales of clandestine meetings, narrow escapes, missed clues, ingenious equipment, and various successes and failures, and the reader soon comes to realize that a lot of professional brain power goes into planning and carrying out this deadly game with the highest stakes imaginable. There is a glossary of spy terms at the end of the book, but a map of Moscow would have helped. This interesting and easy-to-read tale complements Antonio Mendez's The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA and is suitable for the espionage sections of both public and academic libraries. [Index not seen; Atria Books is the new name for the hardcover division of Pocket, a division of S. & S. Ed.] Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fascinating memoir from a husband-and-wife team of spooky gamesmanship in the Cold War’s deadly back alleys. Writing with the Agency’s blessing, retired CIA spymaster Antonio Mendez (The Master of Disguise, 1999) and agent Jonna Mendez offer a surprisingly open account of the intelligence community’s long, often deadly engagement with its counterparts in Russia, China, and Cuba. As their narrative opens, things have gone badly awry with American spying activities inside the Soviet Union; deep-cover double agents are being executed right and left, hapless Marine guards are letting secrets out of the embassy, and somehow the KGB is always a step ahead of the CIA, thanks in part to near-invisible "spy dust" that enables the Reds to track the movements of our men and women in blue. After the Mendezes learn that they’re being betrayed by Aldrich Ames and other turncoats within the agency, they put that knowledge to work concocting elaborate countermeasures and devious switcheroos. Avoiding the noir clichés of the spy genre, the Mendezes offer an eye-opening look at the complex business of gathering intelligence and spreading a few lies to disrupt the opposition, recounting rules that are "dead simple, and full of common sense: Never make surveillance mad or embarrassed—they will shut you down. Never look over your shoulder or steal free looks in store windows when on the street. Make them think it was their fault that they had lost you, not vice versa, because KGB officers know better than to report their own mistakes." In the end, they argue, the CIA’s work was more often successful than not, citing no less an authority than former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who reckoned, "In the finalanalysis, the score would be five to one in favor of the United States on counterintelligence issues." Solid storytelling brought to bear on engaging material: a real-life pleasure for fans of John le Carré and Tom Clancy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743428538
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 481,526
  • Product dimensions: 0.76 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Antonio Mendez is the former chief of disguise for the CIA. A recipient of the CIA's Intelligence Star of Valor and the Trailblazer Award, he is the author of Argo and The Master of Disguise. Visit his website at TheMasterofDisguise.com.

Jonna Mendez is a twenty-seven year veteran of the CIA who served as a technical operations officer and chief of disguise. She and her husband Tony live in Maryland with their son, Jesse. Learn more at TheMasterofDisguise.com.

Bruce Henderson is the author of Fatal North and the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell. He lives in California.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Winter 1973

Tony Mendez

CIA Technical Operations Officer

Specialties: Disguise and false documentation

I was being buffeted around in the backseat of a dilapidated gray Austin as Jack Maxwell drove quickly through the pitch black night. He spun the steering wheel back and forth with one beefy hand, and with the other deftly shifted gears like a race car driver as we sped down the narrow, winding streets of this moldering tropical city.

I knew that even though we couldn't see them in the dark, every structure we passed was mildewed and slowly crumbling back into the black loam and teeming vegetation from where it had come long before the British carved out their colonial outpost here more than a century ago.

Maxwell, a large man with sloping shoulders, was slouched against the right-hand door, on the driver's side of the old car. He had borrowed this wreck from one of the office secretaries for his nighttime forays. He was wearing a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, a Band-Aid mustache, and a floppy hat, one of the many quick-change disguises that I had devised for him and his intelligence sources to use for their meetings after dark. Such subterfuge was the only way CIA officers could meet their assets — locals recruited by U.S. intelligence — in this hostile environment.

Maxwell would sometimes have eight or nine operational meetings a night, which pushed the bounds of good security practices. Most meetings took place in the old car while he drove his asset around on the back streets, debriefing them while continuing to run surveillance-detection runs — SDRs, as they are known in the spy trade — to ensure they weren't being followed.

Tonight was a special trip. We would be breaking new ground on this case, and thanks to my disguises, Maxwell would be bringing his best agent home for a sit-down meeting in the civilized surroundings of his house, an almost unheard of luxury.

We were approaching a double corner as we passed the swimming club where Maxwell would execute a rolling car pickup. He slowed down, pressed on the brake pedal long enough for the forward motion of the car to be interrupted for half a heartbeat. He timed this stop to occur just as he passed behind the hedge on our left, next to the corner of the club building.

A dark figure moved out from behind the hedge at the same instant and entered the left front passenger door as I opened and closed it in one motion. The dome light had not come on.

The figure crouched safely on the floorboard of the car as Maxwell released his pressure on the brake pedal and our momentum carried us forward again. He pressed smoothly on the accelerator, and we continued on a circuitous route to the residential district out by the lake to our first destination.

The top-secret GAMBIT disguise was positioned on my lap. I had created it for the man at an earlier meeting, and I hoped to conduct a final fitting tonight. I planned to do this in the dark car as we moved along, in case we passed someone who knew him.

We started down a deserted stretch, and the man code-named SAPPHIRE had crawled up off the floor and was now sitting up directly in front of me. He knew what to expect as I reached over to show him how to put on the disguise. By the time Maxwell arrived at his cover stop, I had made final adjustments to SAPPHIRE's new persona and was handing him a small leather-bound credential, which he reviewed, then slipped into his pocket.

The houseboy and gate man at the cover stop didn't give us a second look as we waited in the car chatting while Maxwell made his phantom delivery to a friend, the cover reason for this trip.

Shortly, we were headed back to Maxwell's house, where I had been staying since my arrival from Washington, D.C. We had rounded a corner and were proceeding down a side street behind an enormous golden stupa, a Buddhist shrine, that marked the center of town.

Suddenly we were caught in the high beams of a vehicle blocking the center of the road. There were two uniformed and armed soldiers standing in front of the headlights of a camouflaged scout car. They signaled us to halt.

Maxwell stood on the brakes, and the ancient car lurched to a stop.

One of the military men approached the car on the passenger side and rapped on the glass with his swagger stick. SAPPHIRE rolled down the window, and the officer leaned his head so far into the car I was sure they would touch noses.

But he was not looking at SAPPHIRE at all. Instead, his gaze was focused on Maxwell.

"Evening, sir. May I see your papers?"

Maxwell presented his credential, handing it over in front of SAPPHIRE.

The officer shined his light on it, and then returned it. "Very good, sir. And what about these two gentlemen?"

Both SAPPHIRE and I were ready with our documents as well. His were in the credential case that I had given him minutes earlier.

After a quick look, the officer handed both of them back to SAPPHIRE and snapped to attention. "Thank you, Excellency," he said.

SAPPHIRE saluted back, and we were soon on our way.

A little later, we were relaxing over drinks at Maxwell's place, reliving the events of the evening. Maxwell suddenly turned to me. "By the way," he said, "that officer was awfully impressed with SAPPHIRE. What was that all about?"

"I knew the disguise would make him look older and distinguished," I said, "so I made him an attaché from an Eastern European country — with the rank of general."

SAPPHIRE smiled, enjoying the promotion that he had carried off perfectly.

The young Russian KGB officer already had a distinct military bearing.

Copyright © 2002 by Antonio J. Mendez and Jonna Mendez

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A glimpse into the world of spies.

    This is one of my favorite books, for I loved the stories of changing identities. Not merely costumes, but entire personnas must be crafted to keep some people alive - and the skill and artistry is clearly displayed in this book. I simply could not put it down at times.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2002

    True story written like a great spy novel

    This book hit me in so many ways-- first, how interesting it is to get a behind-the-scenes look at U.S. intelligence, particularly after 9-11. Even though this is a Cold War setting, the same stuff goes on-- that much is clear. Also, I love the two voices: man and woman (later husband and wife), alternating chapters from each's perspective. Whoever came up with this way of telling/writing the story is a genius! I want to meet these two authors who lived the life of working for the CIA. I'm hoping to find them at a local signing. Buy this book-- you will not put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent true spy tale

    Spy star retired CIA agent Antonio Mendez and his wife Jonna (also a retired CIA agent) provide an intriguing look at a key mission during the last years of the Cold War. The couple explains in alternating chapters how their separate missions starting in the mid-1980s converge into saving the lives of American moles inside the KGB. If nothing was done, the plants would have eventually fallen victim to the danger caused by the actions of Soviet moles (American traitors) inside the CIA. <P>What makes this spy chiller even more exciting besides the true espionage thriller angle is that it reads like the spy duo falls in love with one another as their two projects commingle. Their feelings add depth to a true adventure that already feels more exciting than most espionage novels. The spots where the writing team conjecture and fill the gap of someone else¿s efforts seem weaker than the insider thrill when the writers talk directly about themselves. This book is a winner for the genre audience and will do a lot more to sell clandestine operations than donning the cone of secrecy demanded under the guise of homeland security by the Attorney General. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2009

    Pretty good Spy Book.

    Tells the story of two disguise masters who tell us the tools and how they disguised themselves. Somewhat interesting, got a little boring at some points but still intellectually stimulating and gives an insight into government officials who must disguise themselves and spy in foreign countries.

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    Posted June 3, 2012

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    Posted August 24, 2011

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