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October 17, 2012

Maryland Man Is Real Hero Behind 'Argo'

by Penelope Poulou

"Argo," an espionage drama directed by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, tells the story of former CIA officer Antonio Mendez and his daring plan to free six American diplomats hiding in Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis.

On Nov. 4, 1979, U.S. diplomats did not anticipate the takeover of their embassy, but 52 of them were taken hostage. Six escaped.

"Argo" focuses on the clandestine CIA operation to rescue those six diplomats.

While the Americans hid in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, Mendez, a CIA officer based in the United States, hatched the plot to get them out.

With the help of a Hollywood producer and a makeup artist, Mendez concocted a fake movie and a trip to scout out locations in Tehran. The Americans-in-hiding had 72 hours to memorize everything about their new identities, including their biographies and supposed jobs in the film.

"Argo," the film, is fascinating because it really happened.

It’s hard to imagine that the real Tony Mendez, a subdued gentleman living a quiet life in rural Maryland, was the CIA officer who pulled off stunts like this throughout his career. 

“Overall some of the best ideas you see in fiction, in film, are based on real operations," Mendez says. "Bond is very much alive in clandestine operations, in real situations.”

For his services, Mendez received a top CIA award. But that information was classified until the early 1990s.

“You may have saved the world, but you have to sit there and sort of smile and ‘Well, we did it again and no one will know,’” Mendez says.

After all these years of secrecy, Mendez is star struck that Ben Affleck now portraying him onscreen.

However,  watching the movie, the viewer is awed by the former spy's resolve to do his duty, however dangerous it might be.