Authors: Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio

Publisher: Viking

ISBN-10: 0670026220

ISBN-13: 978-0670026227

You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard any of the accolades for Ben Affleck's Argo. Perhaps you've also heard or read many of the analyses of the movie that correctly point out that the film has many historical inaccuracies. These include events that didn't happen, and some that did weren't part of the script. Well, that's Hollywood.

Classified for many years, the actual story of the CIA's role in freeing six escapees from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 was a secret that wasn't revealed until 17 years after the fact. Even then, the full narrative and context of the mission hadn't been fleshed out until Antonio Mendez—the man portrayed by Affleck in Argo—set out to set the record straight. That's what Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, now in paperback, is all about.

Mendez begins the story by supplying details of why hordes of Iranian students overran the American embassy after learning the deposed Shah had been given sanctuary in the U.S. He then explains how six Americans were able to escape the embassy grounds only to discover finding their own sanctuary was no easy task. Ultimately, colleagues from the Canadian diplomatic staff gave them a place to hide until the Canadians themselves determined it was time to leave Iran.

Meanwhile, back in the states, the CIA looked for what they could do to aid the hostages in the embassy and the six "house guests" of the Canadians. There was nothing to be done for the hostages, but disguise expert Mendez created the most imaginative exfiltration scenario in history to turn the six frightened Americans into a film crew scouting locations for a science-fiction thriller.

Mendez's book weaves together the events taking place in Iran and his own involvement, including considerably useful details on just what the CIA could do in terms of creating fake identities, planning and strategizing believable covers for these identities, and the international diplomacy required to pull it off. In the case of the fake "Argo" movie cover, Mendes describes how he was able to go to Hollywood and set up a fictitious production studio. He shares what he had done previously to illustrate how forging documents and inventing disguises were part of his expertise. While Affleck's Argo has been criticized for downplaying the contributions of the Canadian government, Mendez traces, step-by-step, how the officials in Ottawa and the diplomatic staff in Tehran were quick to be helpful in supplying needed documentation and supporting material to establish the cover identities for the hiding Americans.

There might be readers who might be disappointed to learn just how undramatic the final escape actually was—far less of a last-minute chase as portrayed in the movie. Instead, the real drama is the inventiveness of the scheme and how the preparation was put in place just in case anyone in Iran chose to verify the story spun by Americans who were so brazenly checking out a hostile country for a movie shoot in the middle of an international crisis. The whole story gives real meaning to the phrase, "It's so crazy, it might work." It did.

Well-written and quickly paced, Argo should interest anyone into real-world espionage, the history of America's relationship with a very troubling nation, and those who'd like the true events that were spun into an award-winning movie. In a sense, the original "Argo" plot was all about a fake movie; the real 2012 argo movie is equally as much fiction as fact. Read Argo and meet the real Tony Mendez.

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