Iran, evil, the CIA & why “Argo” matters.

argoCongratulations to Ben Affleck and the cast and crew and producers of Argo, which deservedly won three Oscars last night, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

I loved Lincoln and was grateful that Daniel Day Lewis won Best Actor for his stunning portrayal of our greatest American president (and who knew Daniel was so funny?).  Despite some of Lincoln’s historical flaws (which should be corrected before being released on DVD), I thought Steven Spielberg should have won Best Director.

That said, I believed Argo was going to win the big prize and was thrilled to see it happen. The film has its own flaws, some historical, and not the least of which was the foul language which earned it an “R” rating. But as I Tweeted out last night, it’s an important film. It is the first serious major motion picture to take Americans and the world inside the fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It is the first serious film to show how badly the Carter White House and the CIA leadership misunderstood the nature and threat of the evil that was unfolding in Iran at the time. It effectively portrays how terrifying it is to see a Middle Eastern nation implode and how scary it can be for us and our allies when the American government looks or acts weak and/or indecisive. What’s more, it shows the heroism of a CIA agent and his team as they seek to do the impossible, and it honors our dear friends in Canada who are some of the biggest heroes of the story.

Indeed, the story of what happened in 1979 in Iran is so fascinating and important that I sought to portray it in my novel series that begins with, The Twelfth Imam, which begins with the violent takeover of the Embassy and even weaves the Argo story into the tale.

Indeed, here are a few excerpts from that novel I thought you might find interesting in the aftermath of the Oscars.


“David, I need you to tell me the story of our parents,” Marseille whispered. “Please. Don’t say no.”

He couldn’t refuse her now.

So with mesmerizing detail, David Shirazi explained how Marseille’s mother had vetoed at least three plans the CIA and the State Department had drawn up, schemes—in her view—ranging from impracticable to suicidal. Then he explained how Marseille’s father had devised the plan that was finally accepted and executed. The Harpers, the Shirazis, and the other American FSOs would be given false Canadian passports. This, however, would take a special, secret act of the parliament in Ottawa, since the use of false passports for espionage was expressly forbidden by Canadian law. They would also be given false papers that identified them as film producers from Toronto working on a new big-budget motion picture titled, Argo, set in the Middle East, in conjunction with a major Hollywood studio. Their cover story would be that they were in Iran scouting locations. The CIA would set up a front company in Los Angeles called Studio Six, complete with fully operational offices, working phone lines, and notices in the trade papers announcing casting calls and other elements of preproduction. The Americans and the Shirazis would then further develop and refine all the details of their cover stories, commit them to memory, and rehearse them continually. Eventually, the CIA would send in an operative named Jack Zalinsky to go over the final details and to see if they were ready for any interrogation they might encounter. When the time was right, Zalinsky would take the team to the airport and try to get them through passport control without getting caught—and hanged.”

“You’re saying my father came up with this idea?” Marseille asked when David was finished.

“Actually, your mom helped quite a bit,” David replied.

“That doesn’t make sense,” she protested. “How would my parents even know . . . ?”

Her voice trailed off. The wind rustled through the pines. Once again, dark clouds were gathering overhead. Another storm front seemed to be brewing, and it was getting colder. David glanced at his watch. They needed to get back to the camp before people got worried about them.

But Marseille urged him not to leave. “Just a few minutes more,” she said, taking his hand and squeezing it gently. “I want to know the rest of the story.”

“Marseille, it’s getting late.”

“I’ll make it worth your while,” she smiled….

“Okay,” he said. “D-day was set for January 28, 1980. There were a bunch of regional elections going on. Ayatollah Khomeini’s people were trying to maintain control. The secret police had their hands full murdering dissidents and killing the opposition, so this Zalinsky guy believed they might have a window where the police might be distracted somewhat. It was a long shot, but it was the best they could do. So Zalinsky got the team to the main airport in Tehran. They were going through passport control, and my parents were absolutely terrified. Your parents were cool as cucumbers, but my parents—not so much. They don’t exactly look Canadian, after all, and they were never convinced your parents’ plan was going to work. But your father and Mr. Zalinsky kept insisting that if the tickets and passports said they were Canadians, then the guards at the airport would accept it. And they did.”

“That’s amazing,” Marseille said.

“So before Khomeini’s thugs knew what was happening, your parents, mine, and the others were taking their seats on board Swissair flight 363, heading for Toronto via Geneva. As soon as they cleared out of Iranian airspace, Mr. Zalinsky ordered champagne for the whole team.”

“But my parents don’t drink,” Marseille said.

“Neither do mine!” David said. “But believe me, they did that day. From what I hear, they finished off two bottles while Mr. Zalinsky toasted them and asked what they were going to do with their newfound freedom.”


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