HomeWorldThe CIA reveals the identity of the second spy involved in operation...

The CIA reveals the identity of the second spy involved in operation ‘Argo’

In the midst of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the CIA launched what became known as one of the spy agency’s most successful and publicly known operations: the rescue of six American diplomats who had escaped from the embassy. American invaded, using a fake film as a base. cover article.

“Argo,” the 2012 real-life CIA fake movie, portrayed a single CIA officer, Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, infiltrating Tehran to rescue American diplomats in a daring operation. .

But in reality, the agency sent two agents to Tehran. For the first time on Thursday, the CIA will release the identity of that second officer, Ed Johnson, in the season finale of his new podcast, “The Langley Files.”

Johnson, a linguist, accompanied Mendez, a master of disguise and forgery, on the flight to Tehran to cajole diplomats into adopting the cover story, who were Canadians who were part of a team scouting locations for a movie. of Science fiction. movie called “Argo”. The two then helped the diplomats with forged documents and escorted them through Iranian airport security to take them home.

Although Mr. Johnson’s name was secret, the CIA had acknowledged that a second officer had been involved. Mr. Mendez, who died in 2019, He wrote about being accompanied by a second officer in his first book, but used a pseudonym, Julio. A painting depicting a scene from the operation that hangs at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, shows a second officer sitting across from Mr. Mendez in Tehran as they forge stamps on Canadian passports. But the second officer’s identity is obscured and he has his back to the viewer.

The agency began to speak publicly about his role in rescuing the diplomats 26 years ago. On the agency’s 50th anniversary in 1997, the CIA declassified the operation and allowed Mendez to tell his story, hoping to balance the books on some of the agency’s ill-fated operations around the world with one that was a clear success.

But until recently, Johnson preferred his identity to remain secret.

“He was someone who spent his entire life doing things quietly and in the shadows, without any expectation of public praise or recognition,” said Walter Trosin, a CIA spokesman and co-host of the agency’s podcast. “And he was very happy that he kept it up. But it was his family that encouraged him, later in his life, to tell his side of the story because they felt it would be valuable for the world to hear it.”

After Trosin learned that Johnson and his family were visiting CIA headquarters earlier this summer, he agreed to meet with them. At the meeting, Trosin and his podcast co-host saw how much the CIA’s recognition of Johnson’s work meant to his family and began looking for a way to tell the story on the podcast.

Johnson, 80, was not available to discuss his career on the podcast or with The New York Times due to health concerns. Undeterred, Trosin dove into the agency’s classified files.

Shortly after dangerous operations, the CIA often records secret interviews with participants, to capture so-called lessons learned for its own classified stories. Furthermore, for many famous officers, CIA records classified oral histories at the end of their careers. CIA historians had done one of those oral histories with Mr. Johnson.

“We found out there was a prior interview,” Trosin said. “And at least some parts could be made public.”

Thanks to the movie “Argo,” the CIA’s role in rescuing Canadian diplomats has become one of the agency’s best-known operations.

The CIA museum that tends to dwell on the agency’s failures, has a display about the operation. Among the artifacts is a copy of the script, or at least the treatment, for the fake film, complete with the Hollywood-style tagline “A Cosmic Conflagration.” Also shown are the fake production company’s title cards used as part of the film’s cover story and concept art, which featured drawings by Jack Kirby, the celebrated comic book artist who helped create the Marvel universe.

Like the painting, the museum exhibit did not identify Mr. Johnson.

But CIA officials said Johnson, an expert in languages ​​and extracting people from difficult places, was invaluable to the operation.

At the time of the hostage crisis, Johnson was based in Europe and focused his Cold War work on learning how to enter and exit countries that were not always hospitable to Americans.

When Iranian revolutionaries invaded the American embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage, six Americans working in the consular office escaped. They finally ended up under the protection of Kenneth D. Taylor, Canadian ambassador to Iranand the CIA began working on a plan to sneak them out of the country.

Mendez, who had worked with Hollywood experts to perfect his craft, came up with the plan to use a fake film, which he called “Argo” after the story of Jason and the Argonauts, the ancient Greek heroes who had undertaken the arduous adventure. mission to recover the Golden Fleece.

While some CIA extraction operations at the time used single officers, the agency decided that the rescue of the six diplomats would require two officers, said Brent Geary, a CIA historian who has studied the agency’s history in Iran.

Mr. Johnson was fluent in French, German, Spanish and Arabic. However, he did not speak Persian, the predominant language in Iran.

Dr. Geary said the agency had Persian speakers, but could not risk sending someone who might be known to current or former Iranian officials. It was also believed that someone fluent in the local language could ask questions, and what was critical to the mission was having people with the skills of Mr. Mendez and Mr. Johnson.

“They had trained to get in and out of tight spaces,” Dr. Geary said.

Even without Persian, Mr. Johnson’s languages ​​came into use. Shortly after arriving, Mendez and Johnson mistakenly ended up at the Swedish embassy, ​​across from the United States embassy, ​​which was occupied by Iranian revolutionaries.

Outside the embassy, ​​Johnson discovered that both he and the Iranian guard spoke German, and the two began talking. The guard then hailed a taxi, wrote the address of the Canadian embassy on a piece of paper, and dismissed the two fake movie producers.

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

In the movie “Argo,” Affleck, playing Mendez, is shown swiping the Iranian forms needed to enter and leave the country. But in reality, it was Mr. Johnson who performed the sleight of hand to steal the documents. (Affleck did not respond to a request for comment.)

In his oral history, Johnson said “the most important thing” was persuading diplomats that they could get the film crew’s cover story.

“These are rookies,” Johnson recalled in the taped session. “They were people who were not trained to lie to the authorities. “They were not trained to be clandestine, elusive.”

But Johnson said the six diplomats pulled it off, putting aside their nervousness and adopting the persona of a happy-go-lucky film crew.

The climax of the actual film (spoiler alert for a film that has been in theaters for more than a decade) involves Iranian government officials reacting skeptically to the cover story, then realizing that the “team of filming” were American diplomats and they chase the plane down the runway. . None of which happened.

In reality, there was simply one last security check as the group left the departure lounge.

“A couple of young Iranians were patting people down as they walked by,” Johnson recalled, noting that the diplomats were leaning over their sides, cracking jokes as they approached the checkpoint.

With this, the diplomats, Mr. Mendez and Mr. Johnson, finished the last checks. In oral history, Mr. Johnson recalled boarding the plane and seeing the plane’s name painted on the side. It was called Aargau and Mr Johnson thought: “What the hell?”

“After a while, I forget when I picked up The Herald Tribune and did the crossword puzzle,” Johnson said. “And one of the clues was Jason’s companions…Jason and the Argonauts.”

On the CIA podcast, Trosin said the name of the plane and the crossword puzzle were simply coincidences.

“To be clear,” Trosin said, “these are not CIA agents with excess time on their hands simply planting clues.”

Source link

- Advertisment -