Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Recommendation: Go see ARGO.

I've got deeply personal reasons for my fascination with covert operations and trade craft (Dad,who unfortunately has Alzheimer's now, was a proud member of AFIO. A few years ago I started playing around with an idea for a middle grade spy novel but I was approaching it from the wrong angle and it went nowhere.

In the course of my research, though, I read Ted Gup's The Book of Honor, The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives, which made me appreciate how the clandestine services risk their lives in the shadows, often pulling off heroic acts which can never be recognized by the public because they are classified.

In light of the recent controversies about the "truth" of the Osama Bin Laden operation and the current politicking about the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and others in Benghaz it's important to remember that while obtaining information is a critical part of espionage,its counterpart is disinformation.

Which brings me to ARGO, a movie I've been desperate to see ever since I first read about it. My only regret is that my father isn't compos mentis enough to have seen the film with us, because he would have loved it.

ARGO is loosely based on the Canadian Caper, a true life covert operation between the CIA and the Canadian Government to exfiltrate six American diplomats who escaped from the Consulate building in Teheran when the Embassy next door was seized and the entire staff taken hostage on November 4th, 1979.

The result is a suspenseful, pulse-pounding, my-boyfriend's-hand-has-nail-marks-in-it-from-the-airport-scene film that does not disappoint. Terrific performances by Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman.

Two important takeaways from the film, IMHO:

1. Disinformation and classified information: The CIA's role in the exfiltration of the six diplomats, particularly the part played by Tony Mendez, wasn't known until 18 years after the fact when the operation was declassified by President Clinton. Knowledge of CIA involvement might well have jeopardized the safety of the Embassy hostages, so full credit for the operation was given to the Canadian Government - which deserved a LOT of credit, don't get me wrong. But this is why I get SERIOUSLY pissed off when certain Presidential candidates try to make political capital out of inflamed situations. And even more pissed off when, in trying to make even more political capital out of that situation, Congressmen blow CIA cover on CSPAN. We don't want to have to add more black stars to the wall at Langley, dammit!

2. Pay attention, really close attention, to the intro, before the movie starts. The history of US involvement in Iran isn't pretty. In 1953, the US staged a coup to overthrow the government of democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Mossadeq pissed off the Brits when he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil company (these days known as BP, Gulf polluter), prompting the US and UK to oust him (OIL, $$$, OIL, $$$, sense a theme here?)leaving the Iranian people under the repressive dictatorship of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi for twenty years.

Here's a link to an interesting Canadian Broadcasting piece about Tony Mendez that gives background on the real Canadian Caper.