One evening in August 1997, when Tony Mandez, 57, and his wife returned to their home in Maryland, they found a letter stuck in the door.
”Where did it come from?” the wife asked.
”The Director of the CIA,” Mandez replied while reading the letter. “It was unexpected.”
Mandez learned from the letter that on the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the CIA, he would be awarded the “Pioneer” honorary award. He was too excited to fall asleep, staying in the study and staring at the various medals that the CIA had awarded him over the years.
In the eyes of neighbors, Mandez is an elegant retired government official and an art worker who has won the competition prize. And now, the CIA finally lifted his veil and announced the true identity of his 25-year secret agent.
Mandez picked up a bronze medal and remembered the daunting January of 1980 in his mind.
In November 1979, more than 60 American diplomats became hostages in the occupied embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran. At the same time, six American diplomats escaped from the embassy and hid in the Canadian embassy in Iran.
In late December, the CIA’s first day in charge of Iranian intelligence, Norbert Garrett called to summon Mandez. “The situation is very critical,” Caletti said. Although the press has not stabbed out the news of the six “guests” staying in the Canadian embassy, this situation may be exposed at any time. In that case, the six Americans and the Canadians who helped them hide will be in a more dangerous situation.
Mandez is the CIA’s master of camouflage technology. In 1965, Mandez, who lived in Denver, was a young designer and an aspiring artist. In order to earn money to support his family, he applied for a “Navy” advertisement in the newspaper that recruited art workers to work overseas, and he was sent to a CIA base in Asia. There, with his artistic talents and practical skills, he assisted the base’s camouflage laboratory to modernize technology. The job of the camouflage technologist is to make fake latex noses, ears and even the entire face shape for CIA agents who perform spy missions abroad.
In early 1979, after the deposed king of Iran, Mandez went to Tehran to rescue a lurking agent codenamed “Bird of Prey”. Mandez disguised the “Raptor” to make him look exactly like the photo on the fake passport, and then escorted him to Tehran’s Mylabad International Airport.
Now, the CIA assigns Mandez to rescue six diplomats, but they are not secret agents and have not received escape training. The six diplomats are: the officer of the consular office, 54-year-old Robert Anders, 29-year-old Mark Lijiek, Mark’s wife, 25-year-old koala, agricultural service attaché, 31-year-old Henry Lee. Shatz, 30-year-old Consul Joseph Staford and his 28-year-old wife Catherine. Except for the Consul Stafford and his wife hiding in the official residence of Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, the other four people are hiding in the villa of a famous person in the suburbs. The US Embassy was considered a “spy den” at this time, and all hostages must be formally identified as spies before they can be released.
Mandez flew to Canada to discuss countermeasures with relevant parties. He studied many “legendary” operations carried out to rescue diplomats, trying to find a way to withstand the interrogation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The U.S. State Department wanted to treat them as American teachers looking for jobs in Iran, but Mandez disagrees with this idea.
Ottawa proposed to treat them as Canadian nutritionists conducting investigations in villages in Iran. But why choose this cold winter to go to Iran? It seems difficult to hide. But Mandez favors the use of Canadian passports and wants to find a reason for six so-called Canadians to enter Tehran.
Suddenly, Mandez thought of John Chambers, a Hollywood master of make-up who had helped him with make-up techniques. But how can we make up the story of letting a group enter Iran?
Mandez called Chambers and asked: “How many people do the filming team usually choose?”
”About six people.” Chambers replied.
What a coincidence. Mandez thought about it and wrote down the position that Chambers proposed: “Location manager, set designer, script writer, transportation manager…”
Mandez put forward the plan of dispatching a “film crew” in the action plan. , And suggested that the CIA “start” a film company. So, after the proposal was approved, he set up an office in the Colombian production company’s factory area and decided to name the “future film” “Argo”. What is the name of the film crew? “It’s called the sixth film crew.” Chambers said.
On January 6, 1980, “Variety” and “The Hollywood Reporter” published a full-page ad for the new film “Argo” and stated that the film would start shooting in March. The news soon became a topic of discussion in Beverly Hills.
The then Prime Minister of Canada, Joe Clark, quickly approved the order to issue six Canadian passports. CIA technicians faked Iranian visas, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police authorities produced driving licenses with fake names and fake addresses. Mandez’s team also prepared a lot of Canadian matchboxes, expired checks and club membership cards and other “covers in the pocket.”
The CIA’s technical room also produced a business card for the “Sixth Film Crew”, fabricated the script of the film “Argo” and the selection and performance of the production leader’s works. “It’s like a hodgepodge based on “Star Wars” and “One Zero One Night.” Mandez used sketches to explain his plan of action to his boss.
The Canadian ambassador to Iran, Taylor Fu, was reading a top-secret telegram from Ottawa at his desk. The telegram informed him that a CIA team would arrive in Tehran in a week. Therefore, according to the pre-planned plan, on January 28, 1980, the famous man who hid the 4 Americans and his wife will leave the villa and let Roger Rousey, the assistant of Ambassador Taylor, and his American guests Stay together to coordinate actions.
On January 23, Mandez sat at the CIA office in Europe waiting for Washington’s final instructions on the action plan. Not long after, a telegram came: “The President has approved your action. Good luck.” The
next night, Mandez, as a European member of the film crew, flew to Tehran with one of his assistant Ed. Ed’s disguised identity is the financial manager of the film crew. A guard at the Canadian Embassy drove them to the suburbs. They met the six American diplomats there. “Well, guys,” Mandez said and spread all kinds of forged documents on the table, “Look at what I have prepared for you.”
Mandez explained the escape plan to all the staff. “The film was written by Tan Lisha Harris.” He smiled at Mark’s wife Koala and said, “You are Tan Lisha.” A photo of her was posted on a Canadian passport. “If someone calls the 6th film crew to ask about Tan Lisha Harris’ whereabouts, they will be told that she has gone to the Middle East for the film “Argo” and will return in a week.”
Throughout the weekend, six diplomats have been studying the personal experiences fabricated for them, and filling in the fake names and fake addresses used by the people on the Iranian border inspection forms that Taylor obtained for them. Ding Ye, the American consular officer Robert Anders transformed into a Canadian Robert Lee Baker, and his position was the location manager. And the koala became the screenwriter Tan Lisha Harris…
Mendez reminded everyone that assuming the white page of entry had been collected by the border control officers when they entered Iran, only the yellow secondary page was left in the passport. He immediately burned the entry white page.
”What if they want to find the original white page to check our supplementary page during exit check at the airport?” someone asked. “Just pretend to be stupid,” Mandez said, “how do you know where the Iranian border inspectors got those white pages?”
Roger Rousey, assistant to the Canadian ambassador, wore civilian clothes from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Sternly questioned these “Canadians” one by one. “Where did you get the visa? When?” He yelled in an Iranian accent, “Mother’s name, father’s birthday, you lied, you are a spy!”
Several people who could not pass the interrogation had to face Lu again. West, re-exercise until the two CIA agents are satisfied.
On Sunday afternoon, Mandez shifted his focus to “plastic surgery” for them. He dyed Mark Lijek’s yellow beard dark with eyebrow oil, helped Catherine curl her long hair, and sent her a pair of wide-brimmed glasses.
Many people in Tehran know Anders, so it is very difficult to pretend to be invisible. But when Anders walked into the living room, Mandez couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that Anders was wearing a blue silk shirt with a wide open neckline and a large gold medallion hanging on his chest, gray and white. His hair is combed into a tall, big back, looking like a Hollywood dandy. “You are a born actor.” Mandez commented.
At 3 o’clock in the morning the next day, Mandez came to the airport for a reconnaissance. The Swiss Airline flight they had booked had arrived. So they signaled the six American diplomats hiding in the car behind. Six people hurried out carrying their travel bags. “Get started.” Anders said. He dressed as a arrogant film crew leader, with a rain coat on his shoulders, and led the group to the airport departure hall. Mandez and Ed trailed behind, looking around.
Even at this moment, the airport hall is full of Iranians. Koala felt suspiciously that these people seemed to be staring at her.
Catherine looked around, trying to make her move more natural. She was worried that she would encounter Iranians who had applied to her for US visas while working in the consular office.
Mandez watched as Shatz passed through the airline counters and customs, and walked along the corridor towards the vital border check counter.
Shazi put his passport on the border check counter. The border check officer in the Revolutionary Guard uniform checked the passport for a while, and then asked coldly: “Is this picture of you?”
”Yes… …Of course it’s me.” Shatz replied a bit stuttered. The border officer got up and disappeared into the room. “It’s over,” Shazi’s mind was blurred, “He went to find my white page for entry.” After a while, the border officer appeared, waving the opened passport in his hand. “The picture looks different.”
Shatz hurriedly pulled his mustache, explaining that he had trimmed his beard after taking the picture. The border inspection officer seemed to believe his statement, stamped the exit stamp on the passport and threw it on the counter.
When several other people from Mandez and his party came to the border control counter, the Iranian border prosecutor walked away again. Finally, he took a cup of tea and regained his stomach. Catherine closed her eyes nervously when he scrutinized the Iranian family ahead of her. Fortunately, perhaps because of the time and effort spent investigating the Iranian family, the border officer just mechanically stamped Catherine’s Canadian passport.
All the 6 diplomats including Mandhuo and Eddy passed the border check and entered the boarding hall before proceeding with customs clearance procedures.
Koala was nervous again in the boarding hall. “We are not out of danger.” She watched her surroundings vigilantly, thinking about countermeasures. There must be Iranian police searching for fugitives around here. At this time, another diplomat somehow called her real name, making her face flushed with fright, and quickly turned her eyes away. “You should be notified of boarding.” She pondered. The loudspeaker suddenly rang: “Swiss Airways Flight 363 was delayed due to a mechanical failure.” Koala thought, would this be a trap?
The flight delay made the boarding hall crowded with passengers. Revolutionary Guard soldiers came to the hall and ordered people to show their passports. Koala tried to chat with her husband to make her look more natural. But he grabbed a newspaper and buried his head. Oh, God! Koala discovered that he was holding an Iranian newspaper, which was not something a Canadian film crew could understand.
While waiting for the news of the flight, Mandez watched the soldiers sideways, hoping that they were just people searching for gold smugglers… At this time, the loudspeakers sent the “gospel” they expected: “Take Swiss Air Flight 363 Passengers please board the plane.”