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    A woman walking past the outer wall of the former US embassy in Tehran, which was seized by Islamists in 1980

    CIA ‘Argo’ Agent Who Rescued US Diplomats From Iran, Dies at 78

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    The secret agent pulled six US diplomats from Iran after the Islamic Revolution and received one of US intel’s highest awards, but none of this was known publicly for two decades.

    Tony Mendez, a CIA secret agent who pulled an exfiltration operation in Iran, upon which a 2012 Ben Affleck movie was based, died Saturday in an assisted-living facility outside Washington, according to a WGBH radio report.

    The agent remained in the shadows for nearly two decades after the operation in Tehran, and only became known after Ben Affleck filmed his movie Argo in 2012.

    "He was a legendary intelligence officer," said International Spy Museum executive director Chris Costa.

    In 1979, the US-backed Shah of Iran fled the country and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power. Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US embassy, taking all US citizens inside hostage.

    Six US diplomats not at the embassy at the time made it to the Canadian embassy and found shelter there.

    In January 1980, Mendez was sent to Iran to "exfiltrate" the diplomats. Exfiltration — the clandestine transportation of people from countries where they are believed to be endangered — was Mendez's specialty.

    ​He and another CIA officer — who is not shown in Affleck's movie — arranged false identities for the diplomats and posed them as a film crew doing location scouting for a sci-fi movie. All managed to successfully bypass Iran security at the Tehran airport, successfully boarding a Swissair flight to Zurich.

    While the movie portrays the scene as a last-moment takeoff with Iranian agents chasing the airplane, in reality the plane stood on the tarmac for two nerve-wracking hours as mechanics conducted repairs, WGBH reported.

    Mendez was awarded the Intelligence Star, one of the highest CIA honors, by US President Jimmy Carter. The award was done in secret and CIA's involvement in the operation was not revealed until 1997.

    Mendez was also credited with bringing Hollywood makeup techniques to intelligence agencies in order to better their disguises.

    "Not a lot of people are aware that our disguise program was informed by some of the special effects people in LA," Jonna Mendez, wife of the deceased and a former CIA officer herself, said in an interview. "Tony also wanted to know how the magicians did a lot of the things that they do, because he thought that we might like to emulate them."

    The spy couple wrote a book about their work in the Soviet Union, called Moscow Rules, set to be published in May, according to WGBH.

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    Tags:
    obituary, secret mission, diplomats, 1979 Islamic Revolution, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States, Iran
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