In 1979 the Iranian monarchy was topped by revolution to become an Islamic Republic ruled by Islamic religious law. As that year drew to a close, protests by Iranians denouncing the United States for protecting the deposed Shah (emperor) led to the Iranian hostage crisis, where Iranian militants held diplomats of the US embassy for over a year. During that period, several embassy diplomats who escaped the compound during the takeover were rescued by a joint CIA-Canada operation under the cover of a bogus film project. This “caper” was fictionalized in 2012 Warner Bros. film “Argo” starring Ben Affleck as CIA “disguise master” Tony Mendez, who has recently passed away.
USA Today reports that retired Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez, whose exploit in the Canadian caper during the Iran crisis was dramatized in Warner Bros.’ “Argo” with his character played by Ben Affleck, died Saturday, January 19, at the age of 78. A statement released by his family revealed that Mendez spent his last years in an assisted-living center in Frederick, Maryland on account of his worsening condition due to Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by two sons – one from his first wife who passed in 1986 – and his second wife who had also been a fellow CIA agent.
During the Iranian crisis, regarding the exfiltration of the hidden US embassy escapees from the country, Mendez conceptualized the idea of creating a fictional movie, and issuing the diplomats, sheltered by friendly embassies, with the identities of a Canadian film crew, including a cover story involving them scouting Iran for shooting locations. The ruse enabled Mendez to escort the escapees on a flight to Switzerland, with operational credit being given to Canada to cover US involvement, which would have spurred the hostage takers to take revenge on the embassy captives.
On a Twitter post with his condolences, Ben Affleck described Tony Mendez as a “true American hero” who did not seek recognition for his actions on behalf of his country. “I’m so proud to have worked for him and to have told one of his stories,” the actor said. The film dramatization “Argo” was based on Mendez’ own published memoirs of the caper, though the movie, which won the 2013 Best Picture Oscar, had its conflict and dramatic tension intensified for more suspense. In real life, Iranian authorities never discovered the caper until the embassy diplomats were out of Iran.
According to the Mendez family, Tony Mendez will be laid to rest at their family graveyard in Nevada, following a private ceremony with only relatives.
Image courtesy of BBC