Book review: 'Argo' tells story of daring rescue in Iran

By Connie Lewis

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

"ARGO: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History," by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio, Viking, $26.95, 310 pages (nf)

One of the darkest days for the United States came on Nov. 4, 1979, when the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, was taken. The Americans working inside were held hostage under brutal circumstances for 444 days. A parallel story, not often remembered, was that six people escaped during the early chaos and took refuge with the Canadian embassy. “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History” is the story behind the story.

Authors Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio collaborated to bring this tale to light. Security and secrecy issues kept the story under wraps for many years. While it was publicized that six people made it out safely, the details of the rescue were kept confidential.

Mendez, a lead operator in the CIA and chief of its disguise operation, came up with the plan to extricate the six diplomats who were in hiding with people from the Canadian Embassy by going undercover as Hollywood representatives looking scouting for a location for a movie titled "Argo."

The plan had to provide a foolproof cover that the paranoid Iranian rebels in charge of the airports and other areas would not question. Mendez used all the skills he had from years working in the CIA to spirit people out of dangerous situations. He also called on some Hollywood friends to make his plan even more believable.

This fascinating story looks behind the scenes of a CIA operation and the details and planning involved. It shatters myths about spy stereotypes picked up from movies and TV shows. These CIA operatives are efficient and calm, never missing a detail as they plan and carry out a complicated mission.

The most dangerous part was that they were dealing with an unstable government. Mendez writes, “I turned off the radio and the lights and stood for a moment in the darkness, looking out the window and through the night to the glow of the chandelier in the greenhouse. Espionage is an instrument of statecraft, I mused. If conducted properly and professionally, there are international rules of engagement. In the case of the revolutionary government of Iran, however, the only rule was that there weren’t any.”

This book is an exciting read. While showing intense planning on the part of the CIA it also shows the trials of the six diplomats as they wait — not knowing if or when help will arrive and their fear for their Canadian hosts if they were discovered.

"Argo" contains some swearing and alcohol use. A movie, based on the book, will be in theaters on Oct. 12.

After attending BYU and the University of Utah for five years and not being able to settle on just one major, Connie Lewis decided to be a writer so she could keep studying all things wonderful and new.

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