In the final scenes of the "nail-biting political thriller" Argo -- the true story of how the CIA safely whisked six U.S. Embassy staffers out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis -- a group of Americans disguised as a film crew safely survives three passport checks, the canceling and uncanceling of plane tickets, and a runway car chase by the Revolutionary Guard. But according to the insider account published in 1999 by the CIA's in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, the actual exit was much less dramatic. The Iranian customs official stamping passports at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport "could not have cared less" when he stamped the fake passports and exit visas of "six Canadians, a European, and a Latin American" as they snuck out of the country and onto Swissair Flight SR 363.
Notwithstanding this "easy exit," the account written by CIA agent Antonio J. Mendez -- who is played by Ben Affleck in the film -- still reads like le Carré. Mendez and his team began by looking for "black" smuggling routes out of Iran, even studying billionaire Ross Perot's successful exfiltration of two of his employees from Iran the year before. But Mendez concluded that "using paramilitary means" to rescue the hostages "seemed impossible." (A year later, the Operation Eagle Claw fiasco proved him correct.) As such, the CIA's Directorate of Operations decided to smuggle the employees "in plain sight."
The eight (the other CIA agent was omitted from the film) then traveled to Mehrabad International Airport in Canadian Embassy transportation (the embassy had even composed a fake cable explaining that it had advised the movie crew to film elsewhere). The refugees dressed with Hollywood flair and sauntered through the airport, each having been drilled on the dates and details of their "legend." One wore a "'mod' blow dry … tight trousers with no pockets and a blue silk shirt unbuttoned down the front with his chest hair cradling a gold chain and medallion … his topcoat resting across his shoulders like a cape." The disguises worked to a T. After their fake visas and passports were stamped by the Iranian customs agents, the eight boarded their plane, which took off after a brief mechanical delay. To be safe, they waited until they were out of Iranian airspace to order bloody marys.
One "ironic coda" from the CIA account: "By the time Studio Six folded several weeks after the rescue, we had received 26 scripts.… One was from Steven Spielberg."