Tony Mendez the ‘Argo’ Spy Who Rescued Americans in Iran Dies at 78

MendezTony Mendez, the CIA agent portrayed by Ben Affleck in the 2012 Academy-Award winning movie “Argo,” died on Saturday, January 19, 2019. Mendez death was the result of Parkinson’s Disease which he battled for more than 10 years. He was 78 years old.

Executive Director Chris Costa, from the International Spy Museum where Mendez was a board member, said he died at an assisted living facility in Frederick, Maryland. He added that the former CIA agent was legendary.

Former CIA deputy chief Mike Morell said in a tweet on Twitter that Mendez was one of the best intelligence officers to have worked at the CIA. His work helped protect the United States.

Ben Affleck posted on Twitter that Mendez was an American hero. He had kindness, humility, decency, and grace. He never wanted the spotlight and only wanted to help the United States.

Mendez worked for the CIA for a quarter-century, spending most of his time in Asia. He was an expert in ‘expiltration,’ which is being able to slip endangered people out of the country without being noticed.

In Nov. 1979, militants took over the United States embassy in Tehran. The militants captured 66 people with six escaping taking refuge with Canadian diplomats.

Mendez masterminded a plan to create a fictitious movie called “Argo” which would be filmed in Tehran. Canada agreed to issue six passports to Mendez and other operatives.

Mendez and the other agents flew to Tehran under the cover they were a Canadian film crew scouting locations to film a science fiction movie. Mendez helped the six people who escaped the militant take over through airport’s immigration. On Jan. 28, 1980 they boarded a Swissair plane flying to the former hostages to safety in Zurich.

Mendez was awarded the Intelligence Star by President Carter which is one of the highest honors from the CIA. Everything had to be done secretly and the CIA’s role in the mission was not made public until 1997.

The 52 American hostages who were held for 444 days at the United States Embassy in Tehran were released in January 1981.

After his retirement from the CIA, Mendez ran an art studio. He told the Washington Post he considered himself to first be an artist, and for 25 years he was an average spy.

Written By Barbara Sobel

Sources:

CNN: Tony Mendez, former CIA officer portrayed by Ben Affleck in ‘Argo,’ dies
NPR: Tony Mendez, The ‘Argo’ Spy Who Rescued Americans In Iran, Dies At 78
BBC: Tony Mendez, the real CIA spy behind Argo dies aged 78

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Nico Kaiser’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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