The CIA has identified a second officer involved in the 'Argo' mission

The CIA has revealed the identity of Ed Johnson, a second officer who played a key role in a 1980 rescue mission in Iran that later inspired the Oscar-winning film Argo. The operation, also known as the "Canadian caper," involved the CIA smuggling six US diplomats out of Iran disguised as a film crew. With Canada's help, two CIA officers and the six diplomats boarded a flight to Zurich, slipping past Iran's revolutionary-era security services.

Until this week, only one of the officers, disguise and forgery specialist Tony Mendez, had been publicly identified. Now, the CIA has named the second officer as Ed Johnson, an expert in covert extractions. Johnson was known to Bob Mendez's wife Jonna, who rose to become the spy agency's "Chief of Disguise." Johnson was described as a "remarkably skilled linguist" and an expert in creating false documents.

On a 14 September episode of its official "Langley Files" podcast, the agency revealed previously unheard excerpts of a once-classified oral history Mr. Johnson had provided to CIA historians. In the oral history, Mr. Johnson said that the "biggest thing" in the operation was convincing the diplomats that they could successfully convince the Iranians they were members of a film crew. Doing so required changes in appearance, complete with TV props such as camera viewfinders, and intricate backstories and false personas. They were given only one day to get ready.

While Mr. Johnson had ample experience in the Middle East and was fluent in Arabic, he did not speak Farsi, Iran's primary tongue. However, he did speak German, which came in handy when he and Mr. Johnson unwittingly found themselves at the Swedish embassy, just across the street from the then-occupied US embassy where 52 US citizens had been taken hostage in 1979. A German-speaking Iranian guard helped the two officers by flagging down a taxi and sending them off to the Canadian embassy, where the six diplomats had taken refuge.

In the years and decades that followed the operation, Mr. Mendez wrote several books, served on the board of the Washington DC-based International Spy Museum, and was played by Ben Affleck in the 2012 film Argo. He died in January 2019.


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