Retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers Jonna Mendez and her husband Tony – decorated heroes with more than 50 years of combined service to the United States – joined the Foundation’s Council in February 2014. Before Tony’s unfortunate passing earlier this year due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, he wrote several books including The Master of Disguise, a groundbreaking memoir that looked at the inner workings of the CIA, and three that he co-wrote with Jonna: Spy Dust about their work against the Soviets in Moscow during the Cold War; the autobiographical ARGO, the story of how the CIA used a fake science-fiction movie to rescue Americans from Iran, which became an Academy Award-winning movie (starring Ben Affleck as Tony); and their most recent book just released in May, The Moscow Rules.
The Foundation was pleased to be able to talk to Jonna recently to learn more about her and Tony’s interest in the Foundation and her hopes for the future of focused ultrasound.
How did you first hear about the Foundation, and what moved you to get involved?
I first met Neal and heard about focused ultrasound through Princess Cecilia de Medici. Neal was on her board for the La Gesse Foundation, as were we. We later became interested in focused ultrasound when Tony was diagnosed with Parkinson’s; the potential for focused ultrasound to treat Parkinson’s was what initially interested us, and Neal’s dynamic leadership to advance this new technology was exciting to us. Neal’s ability to draw others into its orbit was extraordinary. We have both also had a strong interest in technology and were fascinated by focused ultrasound and its potential to literally revolutionize medicine and improve the lives of millions. We hoped to be able to participate in his efforts through donations, and through promoting focused ultrasound in our activities with The Michael J. Fox Foundation, where we were members of their Patient Advisory Board.
What can you tell us about The Moscow Rules?
Our new book is being well received. It builds on our experience working with CIA operations in the Soviet Union and the elaborate lengths that our office would go to in order to create deceptions for the KGB’s enjoyment. Both Tony and I provided technical support to Moscow Station on behalf of the Agency. As in the movie ARGO, we used the technology and methods of Hollywood, and the magic community there, to buy our officers some time and space in which to carry out their operations.
What other books and projects have you and Tony collaborated on?
Tony wrote four books; I participated in three of them: Spy Dust, ARGO, and The Moscow Rules. In addition, we have spoken broadly, both inside and outside of the intelligence community (IC). We have taught numerous intelligence courses to the IC. We are founding board members of The International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, which has just opened in a new, purpose-built site that more than doubled its original size. Tony and I also worked for more than 20 years with the Princess in presenting classic American pianists in Europe and at Carnegie Hall in the US.
What do you tell others about the Foundation?
I promote focused ultrasound at every opportunity, whether a friend or a new acquaintance who has Parkinson’s, or someone with a stake in the Parkinson’s community. We have involved our doctors at Johns Hopkins’ Movement Disorder Clinic in Baltimore. We point to the Foundation as a model for others to follow in terms of bringing a new technology online.
You and Tony gave the proceeds of a screening of the film ARGO to the Foundation. What would you tell someone who is considering making a gift to the Foundation?
I would tell anybody considering gifting the Foundation to dig deeply. Why not do something worth doing? Why not actually help to make a difference?
The couple spoke publicly about Tony’s diagnosis for the first time at the Foundation’s 2014 Symposium.