'A Story Worthy of a Movie Thriller': U.S. News's Take on Argo-Inspired Events

When U.S. News covered the 'Canada Caper' in 1980, it foresaw a future Oscar frontrunner.

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Armed Iranian rebels search Americans who were living in the U.S. Embassy compound in Teheran on Feb., 14, 1979. During the takeover of the embassy the group was taken from their living quarters, brought into the courtyard and searched. Later they were taken to another building while the attackers occupied the compound.

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and Ben Affleck's thriller Argo garnered seven nominations. The film documents the nearly three-month-long ordeal of six American diplomats trapped in Iran from November 1979 to January 1980.

[PHOTOS: The 2013 Oscar Nominees]

At the time of the hostages' release 33 years ago, the world was told that the rescue was fully organized by Canada (with no U.S. involvement), so U.S. News & World Report and other publications covered the story accordingly. The full details of the top-secret CIA operation—the conception of a fake film with a real script, actual movie posters, and even a staffed office in Hollywood—would not be made public until 1997.

A poster for the movie 'Argo' as created by the CIA. The fictitious film was part of an elaborate back-story used in the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Teheran during the Iranian hostage crisis.

(CIA Photo)

The 52 remaining hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981, after 444 days in captivity.


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This story originally appeared in the Feb. 11, 1980, issue of U.S. News & World Report.


Canada: A Good Neighbor Proves Itself

At a time when America was searching the world for allies, it found one strong and true—next door in Canada.

It was a story worthy of a movie thriller: For 12 weeks, Canadian diplomats in Teheran secretly provided refuge for six Americans who had eluded capture in the November 4 seizure of the U.S. Embassy. Then, on January 28, the Americans were spirited out of Iran carrying Canadian passports.

Canadian diplomats in Teheran, who used their residences to shelter the Americans, risked the same fate experienced by the 50 U.S. hostages held in the American Embassy.

That is why the Canadian Embassy in Teheran was closed—and its personnel flown to safety—the same day that Canada helped the Americans get out of Iran.

The U.S. reacted with an outpouring of gratitude. Congress swiftly passed what officials termed the first congressional resolution ever expressing appreciation to another government. President Carter made a thank you, Joe phone call to Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark.

On a more personal basis, Americans flooded the Canadian Embassy in Washington with telephone calls, telegrams, letters, flowers—even a cake. Several state legislatures adopted resolutions of thanks. In Lansing, Mich., the Canadian flag was ordered flown alongside the American emblem at the State Capitol.

At a February 1 news conference in Washington, the six escapees expressed their appreciation to their Canadian hosts, who made us feel a part of their families, especially at times such as Christmas when our spirits needed a boost. We thank them for their brave support.

Delighted Canadians dubbed the escape the Canada Caper. Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, on the other hand, branded it a flagrant violation of international law. Sooner or later, he vowed, Canada will pay for this duplicity and cheating.

A mass of Iranian protesters is held back from the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 5, 1979. Iranian students stormed the embassy Sunday, taking scores of American and other nationals as hostages.

(AP Photo)

The Iranian's threat hardly bothered Canada's leaders. Flora MacDonald, Minister of External Affairs, said relations between Canada and Iran already had dwindled to almost nothing. Canada quit buying Iranian oil once the U.S. Embassy was seized.

The escape gave a boost to Prime Minister Clark's election campaign. Even former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Clark's Liberal Party opponent in the February 18 voting, praised Clark's Conservative government for this brave work. Clark earlier backed the U.S. on the grain embargo against the Soviet Union and on boycotting the Moscow Olympics.

But it was the harboring of the Americans that drew applause from the Yukon to Newfoundland. Said one Canadian to Clark: Thank God Canada has shown some spine in this whole affair.

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