The CIA has revealed the name of the second officer involved in the daring rescue of six American diplomats from Tehran amid the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, made famous in the 2012 Ben Affleck film Argo.
Ed Johnson, a skilled linguist fluent in five languages, was identified as the second officer who helped the diplomats walk free through Iranian customs disguised as a Canadian film crew.
His name was released on Thursday in an episode of the intelligence agency’s podcast, The Langley Files, resolving the longstanding mystery of the officer who joined CIA disguise and forgery expert Tony Mendez on the mission.
Known unofficially as the ‘Canadian Caper,’ the mission is one of the CIA’s biggest successes — but in the Hollywood version, Affleck played Mendez as a solo officer pulling off the rescue.
Though the CIA has long acknowledged a second officer was vital to the mission, his identity was cloaked in secrecy at the request of Johnson, who never sought public recognition for his role, according to the New York Times.
Ben Affleck (left) is seen with Tony Mendez, the CIA officer he portrayed in Argo. The identity of the second CIA officer who was on the rescue mission has been revealed
Ed Johnson, a skilled linguist fluent in five languages, was identified as the second officer who helped the diplomats walk free amid the Iran hostage crisis. Pictured: Students burn an American flag after storming the US embassy in Tehran in 1979
‘He was someone who spent his whole life doing things quietly and in the shadows, without any expectation of praise or public recognition,’ Walter Trosin, a CIA spokesman and co-host of the agency’s podcast, told the Times.
‘And he was very much happy to keep it that way. But it was his family that encouraged him, later in life, to tell his side of the story because they felt there would be value to the world in hearing it.’
Johnson, now 80, has medical issues that prevented him from appearing on the podcast or granting interviews.
The now-declassified rescue mission unfolded after Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of Americanshostage.
In the chaos, six diplomats escaped and took refuge in the homes of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and another Canadian official, hiding out of sight for more than two months.
In a daring rescue mission, Canada and the United States worked together on a plan to smuggle the six out ofTehran on genuine Canadian passports with forged Iranian visas indicating they’d been in Iran for just a few days.
The group pretended to be a Hollywood crew who had beenscouting locations for a science fiction movie called Argo. They successfully passed through Iranian border control and boarded a plane to Switzerland in January 1980.
The story of the escape was retold in the 2012 movie Argo featuring actor Affleck in the role of CIA operative Mendez, who helped concoctthe cover story and provide disguises for the diplomats.
The story of the escape was retold in the 2012 movie Argo featuring actor Ben Affleck (left) in the role of CIA operative Mendez
Tony Menendez’s book and memorabilia for the fake movie Argo, a fake science fiction film that was used as a cover story in the rescue mission
Now, new details have emerged about the role played by Johnson, a skilled linguist who was fluent in French, German, Spanish and Arabic.
However, he did not speak Persian, the main language in Iran, because the CIA feared its officers who were proficient in Persian would be known to Tehran’s intelligence services.
Still, Johnson’s language skills proved invaluable, including soon after he and Mendez arrived in Tehran and mistakenly navigated to the Swedish Embassy, which was directly across the street from the occupied US Embassy.
One of the revolutionaries guarding the US Embassy confronted them. It turned out the guard spoke German, allowing Johnson to lay down the cover story and get directions to the Canadian embassy.
Suddenly turning friendly, the Iranian guard cheerfully provided directions to the Canadian embassy, Johnson recalled in a CIA oral history interview included in the new podcast.
After rendezvousing with the stranded US diplomats, Johnson and Mendez provided them with disguises, Canadian passports, and the Hollywood cover story.
A file photo taken on November 4, 1979 shows Iranian revolutionary students climbing the US embassy’s gate in Tehran. It took a full 444 days for the crisis to end with the release of 52 Americans, but the US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 and ties have been frozen ever since
They also coached the diplomats on how to act, maintaining a light demeanor and cracking jokes when passing though border control.
‘These are rookies,’ Johnson recalled in oral history. ‘They were people who were not trained to lie to authorities. They weren’t trained to be clandestine, elusive.’
The mission culminated on January 27, 1980 when the two CIA officers and six diplomats successfully passed through passport control at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran and boarded a flight to Zurich.
Johnson recalled in the oral history that he was shocked to see the plane was named Aargau, after a Swiss canton of the same name. It was merely a coincidence.
It took 444 days for the embassy hostage crisis to end with the release of 52 Americans on January 20, 1981.
The US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 and ties have remained frozen ever since.