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R.I.P. Ken Taylor, rescuer of 6 US embassy staff in Iran, and the real hero of “Argo”

ken taylor

One of the events of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the storming of the US embassy in Iran by students and the taking of the people within as hostages. Six Americans managed to escape in the confusion and managed to stay hidden for four days until they made their way to the Canadian embassy. There, they met Ken Taylor, then the Canadian ambassador to Iran, who worked out a way to safely exfiltrate them from Iran, an event that would later be known as “The Canadian Caper”.

Taylor and Canadian immigration officer John Sheardown, at great personal risk, took the six Americans into their private residences and came up with a plan to sneak them out of the country with Canadian passports, which also contained forged Iranian visas created by the CIA. They also received assistance from CIA disguise and exfiltration expert Tony Mendez, who came up with the cover story of filming a science fiction film, which the Canadians criticized as too “Hollywood”, “cowboy”, and over-the-top. “Whether they were purported to be petroleum engineers, nutritionists, agronomists — instead of film-makers — probably didn’t much matter,” Taylor said. This became the basis of Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo (in which Taylor’s and Canada’s roles were criminally downplayed).

Taylor ran the operation expertly, sending his embassy’s staff on fake errands to establish erratic patterns to fool Iranian operatives and to observe airport procedures, and coordinating the operation with Canadian and American leaders and intelligence. Even his staff were sharp: one of them caught a mistake made by the CIA in the fake visas they provided: they didn’t account for the fact that the Iranian year begins on the first day of spring, but an eagle-eyed member of Taylor’s team caught the mistake and fixed it before it became a problem.

On Sunday, January 27, 1980, the Americans boarded Swissair flight 363 bound for Zurich with their Canadian passports and flew to safety. I remember seeing stories of the Canadian flag flying across the US, along with “Thank You” billboards.

jimmy carter on argo

When Argo came out, here’s what Jimmy Carter had to say:

90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck’s character in the film was… only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.

Taylor died yesterday. He was diagnosed with colon concern August, but his son told CBC news that he “took full advantage of the time he had left.”

US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman posted these on Twitter:

 

If you’d like to know more about the true story of the events of the Canadian Caper, toss aside that copy of Argo and watch Our Man in Tehran instead. Not only does it tell the true story of how the Canadians rescued the Americans, but a lot of things about the situation leading the Iranian Revolution.

Here’s the trailer for Our Man in Tehran:

…and here’s the full film, which someone’s posted on YouTube, for however long it stays up there:

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