Within the midst of the 1979 Iran hostage disaster, the C.I.A. started what got here to be famous as one of many spy company’s most profitable publicly recognized operations: the rescue of six American diplomats who had escaped the overrun U.S. Embassy — utilizing a pretend film as the quilt story.
“Argo,” the real-life 2012 film in regards to the C.I.A.’s pretend film, portrayed a single C.I.A. officer, Tony Mendez, performed by Ben Affleck, sneaking into Tehran to rescue the American diplomats in a daring operation.
However in actuality, the company despatched two officers into Tehran. For the primary time on Thursday, the C.I.A. is releasing the id of that second officer, Ed Johnson, within the season finale of its new podcast, “The Langley Files.”
Mr. Johnson, a linguist, accompanied Mr. Mendez, a grasp of disguise and forgery, on the flight to Tehran to persuade the diplomats into adopting the quilt story, that they have been Canadians who have been a part of a crew scouting areas for a science fiction film referred to as “Argo.” The 2 then helped the diplomats with solid paperwork and escorted them via Iranian airport safety to fly them house.
Though Mr. Johnson’s title was categorised, the C.I.A. had acknowledged a second officer had been concerned. Mr. Mendez, who died in 2019, wrote about being accompanied by a second officer in his first guide, however used a pseudonym, Julio. A portray that depicts a scene from the operation and hangs within the C.I.A.’s Langley, Va., headquarters, reveals a second officer sitting throughout from Mr. Mendez in Tehran as they forge stamps in Canadian passports. However the second officer’s id is obscured, his again turned to the viewer.
The company started publicly speaking about its function in rescuing the diplomats 26 years in the past. On the company’s fiftieth anniversary, in 1997, the C.I.A. declassified the operation, and allowed Mr. Mendez to inform his story, hoping to steadiness accounts of among the company’s ill-fated operations all over the world with one which was a transparent success.
However till just lately, Mr. Johnson most popular that his id stay secret.
“He was somebody who spent his complete life doing issues quietly and within the shadows, with none expectation of reward or public recognition,” mentioned Walter Trosin, a C.I.A. spokesman and co-host of the company’s podcast. “And he was very a lot glad to maintain it that manner. However it was his household that inspired him, later in life, to inform his facet of the story as a result of they felt there could be worth to the world in listening to it.”
After Mr. Trosin heard Mr. Johnson and his household have been visiting C.I.A. headquarters early this summer time, he organized to satisfy them. On the assembly, Mr. Trosin and his podcast co-host noticed how a lot the C.I.A.’s recognition of Mr. Johnson’s work meant to his household and began on the lookout for a technique to inform the story on the podcast.
Mr. Johnson, 80, was unavailable to debate his profession on the podcast or with The New York Instances due to well being points. Undeterred, Mr. Trosin dived into the company’s categorised archives.
Quickly after harmful operations, the C.I.A. usually information secret interviews with the individuals, to seize so-called classes discovered for its personal, categorised histories. As well as, for a lot of storied officers, the C.I.A. information categorised oral histories on the finish of their careers. C.I.A. historians had completed one such oral historical past with Mr. Johnson.
“We discovered there was this prior interview,” Mr. Trosin mentioned. “And no less than parts of which may very well be made public.”
Due to the “Argo” film, the C.I.A.’s function within the rescue of the diplomats, who have been being sheltered by the Canadians, has turn out to be one of many company’s best-known operations.
The C.I.A. museum, which has a tendency to dwell on the agency’s failures, incorporates a show on the operation. Among the many artifacts is a duplicate of the script — or no less than remedy — of the pretend film full with the Hollywood-esque tagline “A Cosmic Conflagration.” Additionally displayed are the enterprise playing cards of the pretend manufacturing firm used as a part of the quilt story and the idea artwork for the film, which featured drawings from Jack Kirby, the celebrated comedian guide artist who helped create the Marvel universe.
Just like the portray, the museum show didn’t determine Mr. Johnson.
However C.I.A. officers mentioned Mr. Johnson, an knowledgeable in languages and extracting folks from difficult locations, was invaluable to the operation.
On the time of the hostage disaster, Mr. Johnson was primarily based in Europe, focusing his Chilly Warfare work on studying how you can get out and in of nations that weren’t at all times hospitable to People.
When Iranian revolutionaries overran the American Embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage, six People working within the consular workplace escaped. They finally ended up below the safety of Kenneth D. Taylor, Canada’s ambassador to Iran, and the C.I.A. started engaged on a plan to sneak them overseas.
Mr. Mendez, who had labored with Hollywood specialists to hone his tradecraft, got here up with the plan to make use of a pretend film, which he named “Argo” after the story of Jason and the Argonauts, the traditional Greek heroes who had undertaken the arduous mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Whereas some C.I.A. extraction operations on the time used single officers, the company determined that for the rescue of the six diplomats, two officers could be wanted, mentioned Brent Geary, a C.I.A. historian who has studied the company’s historical past in Iran.
Mr. Johnson was fluent in French, German, Spanish and Arabic. He didn’t, nonetheless, communicate Persian, the predominant language in Iran.
Dr. Geary mentioned the company had Persian audio system, however couldn’t threat sending in somebody who is perhaps recognized to present or former Iranian officers. The assumption was additionally that somebody fluent within the native language may draw questions, and what was vital to the mission was having folks with Mr. Mendez’s and Mr. Johnson’s ability units.
“That they had skilled to get out and in of tight spots,” Dr. Geary mentioned.
Even with out Persian, Mr. Johnson’s languages got here into use. Quickly after arriving, Mr. Mendez and Mr. Johnson mistakenly ended up on the Swedish Embassy, throughout the road from the U.S. Embassy, which was occupied by the Iranian revolutionaries.
Outdoors the embassy, Mr. Johnson found that each he and the Iranian guard spoke German, and the 2 started speaking. The guard then hailed a taxi and wrote the deal with of the Canadian Embassy on a chunk of paper and despatched the 2 pretend film producers off.
“I’ve to thank the Iranians for being the beacon who acquired us to the correct place,” Mr. Johnson mentioned in his oral historical past.
Within the “Argo” film, Mr. Affleck, portraying Mr. Mendez, is proven swiping Iranian kinds that have been wanted to enter and exit the nation. However in actuality, it was Mr. Johnson who carried out the sleight of hand to steal the paperwork. (Mr. Affleck didn’t reply to a request to remark.)
In his oral historical past, Mr. Johnson mentioned the “largest factor” was to influence the diplomats that they might pull off the film staff cowl story.
“These are rookies,” Mr. Johnson recalled within the recorded session. “They have been individuals who weren’t skilled to deceive authorities. They weren’t skilled to be clandestine, elusive.”
However Mr. Johnson recounted that the six diplomats pulled it off, placing apart their nervousness and adopting the persona of a happy-go-lucky movie crew.
The climax of the actual film — spoiler alert for a movie that has been out for greater than a decade — entails Iranian authorities officers reacting skeptically to the quilt story, then realizing the “movie crew” have been American diplomats and chasing the airplane down the runway. None of which occurred.
In actuality, there was merely one final safety examine because the group left the departure lounge.
“A few younger Iranians, they’re patting folks down as they went via,” Mr. Johnson recalled, noting that the diplomats have been leaning into their elements, cracking jokes as they approached the checkpoint.
With that, the diplomats, Mr. Mendez and Mr. Johnson have been via the final checks. Within the oral historical past, Mr. Johnson recalled boarding and seeing the airplane’s title painted on the facet. It was named Aargau, and Mr. Johnson thought to himself, “What the hell?”
“After a bit, I overlook when, I picked up The Herald Tribune and did the crossword puzzle,” Mr. Johnson mentioned. “And one of many one of many clues was Jason’s companions … Jason and the Argonauts.”
Within the C.I.A. podcast, Mr. Trosin mentioned the title of the airplane and the crossword have been merely coincidences.
“To be clear,” Mr. Trosin mentioned, “this isn’t C.I.A. officers with extra free time simply planting clues.”