Jonna Hiestand Mendez is a retired CIA intelligence officer with over 25 years of service. When she retired in 1993 she had risen to the position of Chief of Disguise at the CIA. Since that time she has continued her career as a photographer, a consultant/lecturer and an author. She lives with her family and works in her photo studio and the family gallery on their forty-acre farm in rural Maryland. She and her husband, also a retired intelligence officer, are authors of “Spy Dust“, a book about their work against the Soviets in Moscow during the last decade of the Cold War. “Spy Dust” is recommended reading for new recruits in the US Intelligence Community and are part of the curriculum for the Intelligence Community as well as several colleges and universities.
Jonna was born in 1945 in Kentucky where her family dates back six generations in Taylor County. She graduated from high school in Wichita, Kansas in 1963, attended college at Wichita State and found her way to Germany where she lived for several years, working for Chase Manhattan Bank in Frankfurt. She was recruited into the Central Intelligence Agency in Europe in 1966.
For many years she lived under cover and served tours of duty in Europe, the Far East, and the Subcontinent, as well as at CIA Headquarters. She joined the Office of Technical Service in early 1970 and within a few years she was back overseas as a Technical Operations Officer with a specialty in clandestine photography. Her duties included the preparation of the CIA’s most highly placed foreign assets in the use of spy cameras and the processing of the intelligence gathered by them. It was during these years abroad that she began developing her creative photography skills as well.
By 1982 Jonna’s potential as a future leader and senior officer was well recognized by OTS management and she was selected for a year long program designed for only a few officers with high potential. At the end of this tenure she was given her pick of several assignments and chose to go overseas once again to work in technical operations throughout a broad area of South and Southeast Asia as a generalist in Disguise, Identity Transformation and Clandestine Imaging.
Upon returning to Headquarters in 1986 she was assigned to Denied Area Operations for disguise. This took her to the most difficult and hostile operating areas in the world where she and her colleagues matched wits with the overwhelming forces of the KGB, the Stasi and the DGI. Meanwhile she continued to be selected for the most prestigious training and career development assignments and was promoted to Deputy Chief of Disguise Division in 1988 and Chief of Disguise in 1991. As Chief of Disguise Jonna ran a multi-million dollar program with a staff positioned around the world. She retired from the government in 1993, earning the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal.
Jonna continues to act as a consultant to the U.S. Intelligence community. She has lectured with her author/husband Antonio Mendez to various World Affairs Councils, colleges and universities and at the US Defense Intelligence Agency at the Joint Military Intelligence College. Together they have participated in two Discovery Channel programs, the second featuring them exclusively. These programs document the espionage exploits of Jonna and her husband, who was also CIA’s Chief of Disguise. She is on the Board of Advisors of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Recently Jonna and her husband were honored with the IMOS Inter-Allied Distinguished Service Cross, Order of The Sphinx, presented by the Legion of Frontiersmen.
Jonna continues with her photography. She has recently had her images marketed by the La Madeleine Restaurant chain nationwide. She has also had a one-woman show at Hood College and at other galleries and an exhibition of French images on display in New York City at La Bonne Soupe restaurant. Her work is available at galleries and shops in Virginia and Maryland and at annual exhibitions at Pleasant Valley Studios at her home in Maryland. Jonna has completed her novel “The Silk Merchant” which is currently under negotiation with publishers.
Jonna serves on the Board of Directors of La Gesse Foundation, a non-profit organization that partners with Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory in presenting American pianists in Europe every summer. The musicians are also presented at Carnegie Hall in December.
Jonna is married to fellow Spy Dust writer, Antonio J. Mendez and they have one child.
Jonna , an expert in clandestine photography, disguise, and false documentation, can create a quick ethnic change on demand. Here Jonna removes her “Dagger” disguise in the Oval Office.
Jonna in Havana, Cuba
Jonna on safari