Official documents released after eighteen years by the CIA contain the plans of a military project to extract the six refugees residing within the Canadian Ambassador’s residences during the American Embassy’s hostage crisis in Iran. The hostage crisis and the plans described in the documents lead to an Academy Award winning film and the situation as a whole explains how the use of a simulation can actually save human life from a detrimental fate.
Some background for those who didn’t spend as much time as they would have liked studying in American History class: The crisis began on November 4, 1979 and lasted 444 days ending on January 20, 1981; Three-hundred to five-hundred Iranian students, known now as the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, and supporters of the Iranian Revolution stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran; fifty-two Americans were taken hostage; the event was politically and judicially motivated stemming from the immigration of former Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi into the U.S. for medical treatment and asylum. The students wanted the U.S. to cooperate with the new leadership and extradite the former dictator back to Iran for crimes against their populace performed by secret police known as the SAVAK. Sitting president at that time, Jimmy Carter, took a firm standpoint against what the media portrayed as an act of terrorism during his State of the Union address in 1980: “The United States will not yield to blackmail.”
So now that the depressing history lesson is over there is one revolutionary inter-governmental projects birthed from the crisis known as the “Canadian Caper.” Six Americans, known as the Agricultural Attache, escaped the initial takeover of the embassy and were harbored in the Canadian consulate by diplomats Ken Taylor and John Sheardown for seventy-nine days. Their exfiltration (a military extraction) from Tehran can go down in history as one of the most fantastical productions of simulation in contemporary politics.
The CIA worked with officials in the Canadian capital to forge passports and documents that would allow the six Americans to board a plane and escape the country embedded in internal unrest and Western distaste. How they would do so would be a grand simulation that might have seemed so ridiculous at first it might just work. The cover story extraction expert Tony Mendez came up with sounds could have been straight out of a cinematic film. In fact, the backstory was that the six were scouting Middle Eastern scenery for a theatrical film named Argo. Mendez teamed up with make-up artist John Chambers to establish a believable ‘front’ in Hollywood to fill in the cracks they expected the Iranian government to double check. Together they printed movie posters, made business cards and even held a film party in a Los Angeles nightclub to promote the faux-film.
How will this event go down in history? I believe the hyperreal version, Ben Affleck’s directorial premier will leave a longer lasting impression by cinema patrons long before the real, actual storyline of the Canadian Caper will have any effect on political dialogue. I found an article on The “Real” World Flipbook written by Maureen Dowd for the New York Times commenting on the authenticity of Argo in her article titled “The Oscar for Best Fabrication.” Dowd remarks “my pet peeve about filmmakers who make up facts in stories about real people to add ‘drama,’ rather than just writing the real facts better.” A very strange comment indeed, write the real facts better? How does one go about making something real ‘better’ any different from filmmakers adding “drama.” Dowd clarifies her opinion stating filmmaker’s fabrication of real details “makes viewers think that realism is just is just another style in art, so that no movie, no matter realistic it looks, is believable.” Although Dowd was sitting next to Jerry Rafshoon, a top aide to Jimmy Carter during the crisis, her sentiments about believability were probably squandered by the aging man talking throughout the movie when the fabrications were apparent, leaving the theater with her head spinning. Dowd’s frustration with Hollywood revolves around their justification of fabrications as a way to exaggerate excitement audiences crave by always having “Hey, its just a movie,” defense.