Journalist discusses details of real life story behind new movie 'Argo'
In the wake of the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979, six Americans managed to take refuge with Canadian diplomats. The Canadians and the CIA worked together to create a fake movie that would provide cover for them to leave the country. The whole matter is the plot for a new movie, out this week.
In 1979, as the Iranian Revolution was in high gear, militants took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 52 Americans hostage.
While the United States negotiated the release of the 52 hostages, an entirely different rescue mission was being planned for six other Americans who’d managed to escape and were hiding out in the Canadian ambassador's home in Tehran. The latter mission was so strange, it reads like a superhero movie.
It's the basic plot line of a movie, hitting theaters Friday, called “Argo.”
"Argo" is based on a 2007 Wired article called "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran," written by Joshuah Bearman.
Bearman said because the takeover of the embassy happened slowly, some employees managed to escape. Stranded in an already hostile city, they turned to Canada for help. With the assistance of the CIA's Tony Mendez, an entire movie plot was created so the six Americans — Robert Anders, Mark J. Lijek, Cora A. Lijek, Henry L. Schatz, Joseph D. Stafford and Kathleen F. Stafford — could leave the country under Canadian passports, having posed as an advance film crew, scouting locations.
Mendez, Bearman said, was known as the master of disguise.
"He was quite experienced at stuff like this," Bearman said.
Mendez took the role of an Irish film director and went to Iran to help get the six American diplomats out.
"In order to create that cover story, he actually went to Hollywood, created a fake production company with the assistance of a long-time CIA asset in the movie business ... and they created all the trappings of this film project, so they could believe in it," he said.
When Mendez went to Iran, he carried along important documents that were needed for the exfiltration, not the least of which were the Canadian passports the Americans would use to board an international flight out of the country. The passports themselves were real, having been issued by the Canadian government after an extraordinary meeting of the government gave its explicit approval to an Order in Council allowing the fakes to be used, but doctored by the CIA to include the appropriate entry visas that would be needed in order to leave.
Mendez' character is the primary figure in the movie Argo.
Not to spoil the movie, but, the plot worked. After Mendez spent some time with the diplomats, training them on their cover, they went to the airport and flew away without trouble.
"Then, as now, everyone does love Hollywood. It transcends all political divisions," Bearman said. "The country needed hard current assets, so the business-oriented ministries were trying to get people to come to Iran, even at this time."
The Canadian Embassy closed immediately after the six Americans left. While word of the evacuation quickly leaked, the role of the CIA remained unknown until Bearman's 2007 article exposed their participation.
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