HomeWorldCIA identifies second 'Argo' spy behind Iran mission - BBC News World

CIA identifies second ‘Argo’ spy behind Iran mission – BBC News World

Image source, fake images


Supporters of the Iranian revolution stormed the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979.

For the first time, the CIA has revealed the identity of a second officer who played a key role in a 1980 rescue mission in Iran that later inspired the Oscar-winning film Argo.

Also known as the “Canadian trap”, in the risky and complex operation the CIA smuggled six American diplomats out of Iran disguised as a film crew.

With Canada’s help, two CIA officers and six diplomats boarded a flight to Zurich, escaping the watchful eyes of Iran’s revolutionary-era security services.

To do this, the group posed as filmmakers on a trip in search of locations to shoot a science fiction film, Argo.

Until this week, only one of the agents, disguise and forgery specialist Tony Méndez, had been publicly identified.

Now, the CIA has named the second officer as Ed Johnson, an expert in covert extractions.

Among those who knew him at the CIA was Bob Mendez’s wife Jonna, a 27-year veteran who rose to become the spy agency’s “Chief of Disguise.”

Speaking to the BBC, Mendez described Johnson as a “remarkably skilled linguist” who was also an expert in creating fake documents.

“He seemed perfectly suited to the job he was doing,” he said.

Image source, fake images


For years, Tony Mendez was the only CIA officer involved in the ‘Argo’ mission to be publicly identified.

In a Sept. 14 episode of its official “Langley Files” podcast, the agency revealed never-before-heard excerpts from a once-classified oral history that Mr. Johnson had provided to CIA historians.

In the oral history, Johnson said that “the most important thing” about the operation was convincing the diplomats that they could convince the Iranians that they were members of a film crew.

Doing so required changes in appearance, complete with television props like camera viewfinders and intricate backstories and fake characters. They were only given one day to prepare.

“They (the diplomats) were people who were not trained to lie to the authorities,” he said. “They were not trained to be clandestine, elusive.”

While Johnson had extensive experience in the Middle East and was fluent in Arabic, he did not speak Farsi, Iran’s primary language.

However, he spoke German, a language that came in handy when he and Johnson inadvertently found themselves in the Swedish embassy, ​​just across the street from the then-occupied U.S. embassy, ​​where 52 American citizens had been taken hostage in 1979.

There, a German-speaking Iranian guard helped the two officers, hailing a taxi and sending them to the Canadian embassy, ​​where the six diplomats had taken refuge.

“I have to thank the Iranians for being the beacon that led us to the right place,” Johnson said in the CIA interview.

In the 2012 film, the team’s eventual departure from Iran is described as a harrowing incident that ended with Iranian troops attempting to pursue the plane.

The reality, Johnson recalled, was much less hectic, with the diplomats relaxed and “confident” as they went through the final stages of the mission.

“They were carefree,” he said. “This continued even at the airport.”

Image source, International Spy Museum


The ‘Canadian trap’ has one of the CIA’s best-known successes

In the years and decades following the operation, Méndez wrote several books, served on the board of directors of the Washington, DC-based International Spy Museum, and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the 2012 film. He died in January 2019.

Johnson, however, preferred to live quietly in the shadows and until recently preferred that his identity and role in the operation remain secret. Due to health problems, he was unable to give another interview to the CIA podcast.

Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator at the International Spy Museum, told the BBC that making his name public 42 years after the operations sheds rare public attention on a successful CIA mission.

The “trap,” he added, came at a turbulent time for the CIA, just years after hundreds of intelligence agents and officials were fired as part of an unpopular downsizing by then-CIA chief Stansfield Turner.

The US government had also been struggling to find ways to secure the release of dozens of Americans taken hostage when the US embassy was seized in September 1979. The hostages would ultimately spend 444 days in captivity before being freed in January. of 1981.

“It’s an incredible story and you can’t make this all up,” Mr Hammond said.

“Any intelligence agency would be proud of what they have done,” he added. “It was bold, ambitious and had a lot of moving parts, and they managed to pull it off.”

Mick Mulroy, a former CIA paramilitary officer and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, told the BBC that, by being revealed publicly, Johnson could serve as a lesson for current CIA personnel as well as future American spies. .

“Many, if not most, of the CIA’s successful operations go unnoticed publicly. That is understood and accepted by those who serve it,” he said.

“But it’s really good to see the heroes who carried out those operations get the recognition they deserve.”

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