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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.


“We know that everything we have done in the course of our 235-plus year history is [not] going to appeal to or be supported by everyone, and we take our history seriously. So, for example, we’ve expressed regret about what was done in 1953. We’ve had high-ranking Americans say that it was a disruption of what could have and should’ve been a natural development of democracy with Iran. At the time, it was the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union which seemed to pose an existential threat to everyone, including Iran, Turkey, Greece, you name it. So we sometimes, in retrospect, look back and say, you know, ‘Could we have done that a different way?’ And so we have regretted what happened in 1953.”

Hilary Clinton, former Secretary of State, BBC Persian interview

The 1953 Coup

A big source of contention in Iran in the mid-twentieth century was Great Britain’s control of the AIOC, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi sympathized with western ways and had a special relationship with the United States and Great Britain, envisioning a modern Iran, which angered devout Muslims, most of whom considered him a “puppet” of non-Muslim power. Mohammad Mosaddeq, a political leader with a large following committed to Shiite ideology, was elected prime minister of Iran in 1951 and had plans to nationalize the oil industry to bring the power back to its people. He submitted the bill that was passed almost immediately upon his appointment.

The nationalization of Iran’s oil was a big blow to Great Britain. The British relied heavily on the AIOC (now British Petroleum) after World War II and were adamant to control it. They felt they had two options: either pressure Mosaddeq until he conceded to their demands or remove him from office. After imposing economic sanctions, undertaking mediations through the International Court of Justice, and failed negotiations, removing Mosaddeq became top priority for Great Britain.

Great Britain recruited the United States to assist in Mosaddeq’s removal, but the Truman administration was convinced that an agreement could be reached through diplomatic means. Truman insisted that “neither the British nor the Americans should take any steps that would appear to be in opposition to the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people.”

Great Britain’s plan was put on hold until the Eisenhower administration, under the disguise of fear of communism, agreed to assist with the removal of Mosaddeq. Senior CIA official Christopher Montague Woodhouse recalls that after the coup, “Not wishing to be accused of trying to use the Americans to pull British chestnuts out of the fire, I decided to emphasize the Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry.” The coup was directed by Kermit Roosevelt and code-named Operation Ajax, or, in CIA jargon, TPAJAX. Demonstrations (some actually funded by the CIA) took place outside the prime minister’s home on August 15, 1953, in which over 200 people were killed. Mosaddeq escaped through his roof only to surrender the next day. He was tried as a traitor and forced into exile.

The coup overturned the regime and brought back foreign oil firms to Iran.

With the help of the United States and Israeli intelligence officers, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi established the SAVAK in 1957. The SAVAK was an intelligence unit with police powers meant to eliminate threats to the Shah. The CIA trained the SAVAK on domestic security and interrogation. Although there are conflicting accounts of the SAVAK, it is undisputed that the force symbolized the Shah’s rule. Time magazine states the SAVAK had “unlimited powers” and “tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah’s opponents.” According to one account, the torture practiced in this period was “crude” and involved “indiscriminate beatings, whippings of backs and limbs (but rarely of the feet), smashing of chairs on heads, breaking of fingers, and slapping of eardrums.”

Evidence suggests that without the assistance of numerous Iranians (those loyal to the Shah whom Mosaddeq replaced following his appointment), the covert operation to overthrow Mosaddeq would surely have failed.

But Mosaddeq’s exile was followed by over twenty years of the SAVAK’s brutal torture and corruption.

1979: Giving the Shah Asylum

Ultimately, political unrest transformed into a revolution that forced Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to flee Iran in January of 1979. The Iranian monarchy was formally abolished, and Iran was declared an Islamic republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

The United States said neither yes or no to the Shah’s formal request to be admitted into the United States in February of 1979 but assisted in his relocation. Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor, stated in May 1979 that the United States owed the Shah a “debt of honor”; David Rockefeller, the ever-powerful Chase Manhattan Bank Chairperson, was also adamant to provide asylum for the Shah. (Some say this is because Rockefeller loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to the Shah when he was in power and was afraid he would never get his money back.)

CIA officials were in total agreement that the danger to Americans in Tehran would be extreme if the Shah were to come to the United States. On February 14, 1979, Iranians brought the focus back to their revolution and demands by briefly seizing the American embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government was quick to respond to this first takeover, and all was thought to have been settled.

Finally, the Carter administration allowed the Shah entry to the United States on October 23, 1979, stating that it was for humanitarian reasons only. The Shah had been quietly battling lymphoma since 1973.

Mohsen Mirdamadi, student leader and hostage-taker in 1979, said in 2009 that “when the revolution happened in Iran, young people were concerned about the intentions of the United States regarding the new regime. We believed the United States was against the revolution and that it was preparing another coup. When the Shah went to America, it was a confirmation of this belief.”

Henry Precht, Director of Iranian affairs at the State Department, said that Carter was in an “impossible situation”: do we go for a new relationship with Iran, or do we recognize the human obligation we have to the Shah? Precht said, “If we want to deal with Iran, we have to keep the Shah out of the country,” and “If the Shah is admitted, the following things might happen. . . . the embassy personnel might be taken hostage.” “It had been clear for months,” he concluded, “that we did not have adequate protection at the embassy.”

President Carter commented later: “I was told the Shah was desperately ill, at the point of death. I was told that New York was the only medical facility that was capable of possibly saving his life and reminded that the Iranian officials had promised to protect our people in Iran. When all the circumstances were described to me, I agreed.”

But twelve days later -- November 4, 1979 -- the United States embassy in Tehran was taken over for the second time. And this time, the capture would last much longer.

November 4, 1979

Ayatollah Khomeini gave a speech urging “all grade-school, university, and theological students to increase their attacks against America.” Mirdamadi addressed his fellow students at a large meeting by saying that the Shah’s admittance into the U.S. is “a new conspiracy against the Revolution. If we don’t act rapidly, if we show weakness, then a superpower like the U.S. will be able to meddle in the internal affairs of any nation in the world. . . . we’ve been under the thumb of the U.S. for more than fifty years. Now, it’s our chance to do something about it.”

On November 4, 1979, hundreds of Iranian students (although referred to as “militants” more often than not) seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took sixty-six Americans captive.

Of the sixty-six who were taken hostage, thirteen were released on November 19 and 20, 1979; one was released on July 11, 1980, and the remaining fifty-two were released on Jan. 20, 1981.

(For a more detailed analysis of November 4, 1979, please see the scene analysis of Argo’s takeover.)

The Canadian Caper and their “Houseguests”

Six Americans escaped the takeover on November 4, 1979: Robert Anders (Consular Officer), Mark J. Lijek (Consular Officer), Cora A. Lijek (Consular Assistant), Henry Lee Schatz (Agriculture Attaché), Joseph D. Stafford (Consular Officer), and Kathleen F. Stafford (Consular Assistant). Schatz was taken in by Cecilia Lithander, the Swedish consular officer. Anders, the Lijeks, and the Staffords hid in Anders’ apartment before staying at the British and New Zealand embassies for brief periods of time. With tensions escalating, Anders telephoned a good friend of his, John Sheardown (head of immigration at the Canadian embassy in Tehran), for a favor.

Sheardown was more than willing to accommodate the Americans, and Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor gave the final approval. The Swedish ambassador was becoming more and more anxious about harboring an American and, without knowing that Taylor was already housing the five Americans, asked if he would be willing to take Schatz.

Ambassador Taylor, Sheardown, and their wives, Patricia Taylor and Zena Sheardown, along with embassy staff members, took great care of the six Americans, whom they identified as “houseguests,” and did the best they could to maintain positive spirits.

The United States did not have the slightest clue where to begin with negotiations or rescue missions. Hodding Carter, State Department spokesperson, said the information the United States had regarding Iran was “crappy to nonexistent. . . . we had nobody who spoke Farsi, and what passed for our intelligence was what was given to us by SAVAK, since the Shah, paranoid as he was, had gotten an agreement from us that we would not infiltrate Iran with our own intelligence people. The Shah himself had been our chief source of information about internal dissent!”

As such, the United States relied heavily on Canadian officials. Taylor and Sheardown agreed to gather intelligence and act as channels for highly sensitive information between Tehran and Washington. Taylor and Sheardown monitored the American embassy in Tehran (to determine Iran’s military preparedness), the movement of goods (to determine the hostages’ health), and provided Canadian passports and visas for the six Americans.

Taylor began planning for the houseguests’ escape the day he took them in. He suggested to Washington that when the exfiltration was to take place was not as important as being prepared with a plan to get up and go at a moment’s notice. When it was eventually time to exfiltrate the houseguests, Taylor suggested that it would have to be out of Mehrabad Airport. He suggested that the six pose as Canadian teachers trapped in Iran by the revolution, but Antonio Mendez had another plan.

Tony Mendez and Operation Hollywood

Antonio “Tony” Mendez was chief of authentication in the U.S. Graphics and Authentication Division of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services. Mendez had operational responsibility worldwide for “disguise, false documentation, and forensic monitoring of questioned documents for counterterrorism or counterintelligence purposes.” Mendez recognized potential issues with exfiltrating six Americans through the Mehrabad airport but was prepared to collaborate with Canada and consult Hollywood for what Mendez likes to call the execution of “the most audacious rescue in history.”

This is the small piece of history that Argo highlights: a crew and its fake studio, Studio Six Productions, on a location scout for a science-fiction flick based on the award-winning science-fiction novel Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny in the midst of the Iranian revolution. The other options on the table were a group of food economists who might be seen traveling to various places in the Third World and unemployed schoolteachers looking for work in the international market. The use of paramilitary means was nearly impossible given Tehran’s geographic location. But Mendez said that “because movie-making is widely known as an unusual business, most people would not be surprised that a Hollywood production company would travel around the world looking for the right street or hillside to shoot a particular scene.” Still, the six houseguests were to have the final say.

Each houseguest had his or her own cover identity to learn inside and out. After securing visas, Mendez and his assistant “Julio” (a Latin American OTS authentication officer with considerable exfiltration experience) flew into Mehrabad airport twenty four hours apart from one another so that if anything happened to one of them en route, the other might still get through.

Mendez and Julio met the six Americans at the Canadian Embassy and presented the three options. The six decided to go as a group using the Studio Six cover. SwissAir flights were booked, visas and passports were secured, and cover identities perfected. Mendez states the entire operation on January 28, 1980, ran “as smooth as silk,” and “some of the six dropped down and kissed the tarmac of the Zurich runway after they came down the ramp.”

This covert operation was top-secret until declassified by former President Bill Clinton on the 50th anniversary of the Agency in 1997.

(Please view the documentary Argo: Declassified for coverage of the events of the exfiltration contextualized by scenes in the film and interviews by those involved in the 2012 film and the exfiltration in 1979.)

Operation Eagle Claw and October Surprise

On April 24, 1980, President Carter decided to launch a risky military rescue mission code-named Operation Eagle Claw for the remaining fifty-two hostages. The operation was led by Zbigniew Brzezinski and meant to send a team into the compound, coordinate with agents in Tehran, and extract the hostages. A storm on the day of the mission caused several helicopters to malfunction, including one that collided and exploded into another plane. Eight Americans were killed and their bodies were displayed by the Iranian government, tied to the back of a vehicle, and dragged through the streets of Tehran. Hostages were then strategically relocated throughout Tehran to prevent any additional rescue attempts.

President Carter continued to attempt to secure the hostages' release before the end of his term. Despite last-minute negotiations, he failed. On January 20, 1981, however, mere minutes after Carter's term ended, the fifty-two U.S. captives held in Iran were released. The October Surprise conspiracy theory claims that the incoming Reagan administration worked with Iran to delay the release of the hostages until after Reagan became president. Many claim that to reward Iran for its participation, Reagan unfroze the assets that Carter had frozen as a response to the hostage crisis a few years prior. Others claim that claim groundless.

The Media

The television series Nightline began as a nightly news report on the hostage crisis (its original title was “The Iran Crisis – America Held Hostage”). American reporters went so far as tying themselves to chairs to convey the emotions that the hostages were facing. According to Mendez:

News coverage of the crisis was relentless. From day one, the event had become a media circus, with hundreds of journalists from all over the world descending on the U.S. embassy in Tehran to point their cameras and pontificate on the nightly news. It’s clear that early on the militants viewed the media as an ally and counted on them to beam their message into America’s living rooms. This, of course, led to an odd situation in which American journalists roamed freely about the city while sixty-six of their fellow countrymen were being held hostage.
Hodding Carter said the “The fundamental error was keeping this story on the front burner day in and day out. We talked about it every goddamn day.”

Since the media was so invested in the hostage crisis, some found it strange that the exact number of hostages was never reported. Canadian reporter from La Presse Jean Pelletier first pieced together the houseguest situation on December 11, 1979. Pelletier’s editor wanted to run the story immediately, but Pelletier refused: “You can imagine what the consequences would be for the Canadians in Tehran, not to mention the houseguests. I wouldn’t put my byline in the story. No way.” On the contrary, showing how unreliable media accounts are even in the present day, Mendez claims that “just when [he, Mendez] thought it couldn’t get any more complicated, [he] learned that a Canadian journalist in Washington was onto the story and wanted to go public” and that when Peter Towe, Canadian ambassador to the United States, asked Pelletier to “sit on the story until the Americans got out,” Pelletier agreed -- “much,” according Mendez, “to the relief of Washington and Ottawa.” Robert Wright states that Peter Towe “called Pelletier later the same day to commend him for holding off on the story.” This conflicting account of the same event, almost thirty years later, is a testament to the problematic nature of media, especially as it relates to international communication.

(For a more detailed analysis of the media’s role and power in times of political crisis as it pertains to Argo, please see the issue essay.)

The Aftermath

Stephen Kinzer states that “we Americans have been asking ourselves now for some time why people in many parts of the Middle East react so negatively toward us and what we consider to be our democratic project for the world. The more we look into history, the more answers we find.”

One of the most touching passages in Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men is an interview with Abolfathi Takrousta, a man who remembered Mosaddeq and lived in the village to which he was exiled. Takrousta spoke of Mosaddeq very fondly: Mosaddeq “ran his estate like a charity” and “most of what he grew, he gave back to the workers. Everyone here loved him. Any kind of a problem you had, you would go to him and he would take care of it. From the highest official to the poorest worker, he treated everyone the same.”

Takrousta also told Kinzer that a peasant came to Mosaddeq one day to complain that he had been abused and beaten by the SAVAK. They wanted answers about Mosaddeq. Takrousta said:

It was the only time I ever saw him get angry. He called the police chief and shouted at him to come to the house immediately. When he got to the house, Mosaddeq pushed him against a wall, held his cane against the guy’s throat and shouted: “You are here to watch me, and you have no right to abuse anyone else. If you have a problem, you come to me and only me! Don’t ever, ever lay a finger on one of my people again!”

Takrousta said that “it’s really a shame that they destroyed his government.” When Kinzer asked who “they” are, Takrouta said that he is “a simple, uneducated villager” and does not know who they are. “But whoever they are, they don’t want our people to be free and raise ourselves up.”

In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke briefly of the 1953 coup. “The coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development, and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.” President Barack Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream addresses the “seismic repercussions” of “U.S. covert operations . . . that haunt us to this day.”

Resentment and repercussions toward the United States are only one piece of the larger story. Mostafa T. Zahrani addresses the larger implications of the coup this way: "So traumatic was the coup’s legacy that when the Shah finally departed in 1979, many Iranians feared a repetition of 1953, which was one of the motivations for the student seizure of the U.S. embassy. The hostage crisis, in turn, precipitated the Iraqi invasion of Iran, while the [Islamic] revolution itself played a part in the Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan. A lot of history, in short, flowed from a single week in Tehran.”

And to think that Mosaddeq was Time magazine’s 1951 Man of the Year -- ahead of Truman, Eisenhower, and Churchill.

Print Resources

Bowden, Mark. Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006.
Each chapter tells a different perspective of the crisis in a newsreel-type fashion, weaving together the most comprehensive account of the Iran Hostage Crisis to date. After five years of research, trips to and from Iran, and countless interviews with all "sides" of the Revolution, Bowden takes us inside the cells of the hostages, the minds of the captors, and invites us to listen in on the top-secret conversations of the CIA. The takeover of the American embassy is laid out in surprisingly remarkable detail. Bowden relies on the individual stories to tell the larger picture. Once you read this, you'll see Argo in a completely different light.
Brooks, Xan, and Saeed Kamali Dehghan. "Alter Argo: Iranian film to tell other side of hostage crisis." Guardian 11 January 2013.
Argo was met with outrage by many Iranians; the country's minister of culture and Islamic guidance calls Argo an "offensive act" with "evil intentions." A film called The General Staff will be directed by Tehran filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian and focus on the same material as Argo but from an Iranian perspective. Salmanian said the film will be "an appropriate response to the ahistoric film."
Farber, David R. Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005.
Farber's book begins very slowly but picks up momentum with each page. This is one of the best reads in terms of thinking about the Revolution and its key players in today's context: "Then as now, Farber demonstrates, politicians failed to grasp the depth of anger that Islamic fundamentalists harbored toward the United States, and Americans dismissed threats from terrorist groups as the crusades of ineffectual madmen. Taken Hostage is a timely and revealing history of America's first engagement with terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, one that provides a chilling reminder that the past is only prologue."
Hruby, Patrick. "Tony Mendez, clandestine CIA hero of Ben Affleck's ‘Argo,' reveals the real story behind film smash." Washington Times 10 October 2012.
Hruby reiterates how the perceived ignorance and "cluelessness" of Hollywood made the location scout cover all the more believable. Mendez divulges his reactions to and involvement with Argo. Hruby says that "Argo's release has served as a kind of belated victory lap: After a recent preview screening in Los Angeles, Mr. Affleck addressed the audience and dedicated the film to Mr. Mendez."
Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.
Discusses the Iran hostage crisis and the events leading up to it in storybook form; it's an easy read with a conversational tone that fleshes out the implications of the United States' involvement.
Lijek, Mark J. The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012
From acknowledgements: "In particular, I was concerned the actions of the Canadians were being relegated to a secondary status they did not deserve. Still, it took the production of the film Argo to convince me it was necessary to have a factual account of the rescue to help insure Hollywood fiction, no matter how well done, did not become a substitute for fact."
McTighe, Kristen. "Years of Torture in Iran Comes to Light." New York Times 21 November 2012.
An example of the Savak's brutal torture in the mid-1970s.
Mendez, Antonio J, and Malcolm McConnell. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA. New York: William Morrow & Co, 1999.
"In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations… The Master of Disguise gives us a privileged look at what really happens at the highest levels of international espionage: in the field, undercover, and behind closed doors."
Mendez, Antonio J., and Matt Baglio. Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History. New York: Viking, 2012.
Mendez's second book focuses on the preparation and execution of the exfiltration in a very thorough, clear, and straightforward way. It's a quick read and good complement to Argo if you find yourself interested in the way the CIA operate, the thought process behind the Hollywood option, and the specific steps taken to rescue the six Americans.
Nacos, Brigitte. Terrorism and the Media: From the Iran Hostage Crisis to the World Trade Center Bombing. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
"This book examines the response of the U.S. media, public, and decision makers to major acts of anti-American terrorism during the period from 1979-1994. Focusing on events abroad, such as the Iranian hostage crisis and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, Nacos describes how terrorists successfully manipulate the linkages between the news media, public opinion, and presidential decision making through the staging of violent spectaculars."
Ortiz, Erik. "Former Canadian official John Sheardown, who helped Americans during Iran hostage crisis, basis of movie 'Argo,' dies at age 88." (New York) Daily News 1 January 2013.
Sheardown had a significant role in the rescue of the six Americans and is most well-known for responding with "What took you so long?" when Bob Anders asked if Sheardown would be willing to house them after violence and tension escalated in Iran. Affleck's decision to remove Sheardown from Argo raised some questions. John's wife, Zena, said that he "had that type of personality -- someone you can lean on in tough times. He wouldn't let you down. I [Zena] think the Americans called him ‘big daddy' because he was the one we all counted on." Sheardown passed away on December 30, 2012, after suffering from Alzheimer's and colon and prostate cancer.
Pelletier, Jean. Canadian Caper. New York: W. Morrow, 1981.
Washington correspondent of Montreal's La Presse, Jean Pelletier, was the first to discover the six Americans' situation in Iran. Rather than run the story as his boss urged him to, he said: "You can't just simply apply your principle of publish-and-be-damned to each and every situation . . . regardless of circumstance." Another behind-the-scenes story of the exfiltration is told in The Canadian Caper.
Penn, Nate. "444 Days in the Dark: An Oral History of the Iran Hostage Crisis." GQ Magazine 3 November 2009.
"Thirty years ago this month, sixty-six Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Over the next year, misguided foreign policy and disastrous intelligence would take eight American lives, cost Jimmy Carter the presidency, and introduce a different kind of enemy that we've failed to understand ever since."
Wright, Robert A. Our Man in Tehran: The Truth Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring Them Home. New York: Other Press, 2011.
Wright's book does more than focus on the well-known facts about Ken Taylor and Canada's harboring of six Americans: it digs deeper to highlight the forces that lead to Shah's downfall and the Iranian revolution and fleshes out the mistakes of the Carter administration. By the end of the book, you'll wonder if Wright's Canada is the same Canada as Affleck's.
Zelazny, Roger. Lord of Light. Garden City: Doubleday, 1967.
Science fiction/fantasy novel awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novel and also nominated for a Nebula Award that served as the basis for the fake script for the movie Argo that was used for the cover identity for the exfiltration.

See Also

Abrahamian, Ervand. Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999.

Bowden, Mark. "Among the Hostage-Takers." The Atlantic 1 December 2004.

Bremer, L. Paul. Terrorism and the Media. United States Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. June 25, 1987.

Ebtekar, Massoumeh. Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 U.S. Embassy Capture. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2001.

Hampson, Rick. "U.S. captives in Tehran got first taste of terror." USA Today. November 2004.

Jordan, Hamilton. Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.

Stempel, John D. Inside the Iranian Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.

"Stephen Kinzer, Author of 'All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror'." Buzzflash 29 July 2003.

Whitaker, Brian. "Why do the US media believe the worst about Iran?" The Guardian. 9 November 2011.

Zahrani, Mostafa T. "The Coup that Changed the Middle East: Mosaddeq v. the CIA in Retrospect." World Policy Journal 19.2 (2002): 93-99.

Video/Audio Resources

Argo: Declassified
Promotional documentary. Very interesting.
Declassified: Ayatollah Khomeini. Distributed by A&E Television Networks. 2006.
"Before the world heard of Osama bin Laden, there was Ayatollah Khomeini. This program tracks the trajectory of Khomeini's influence on the Islamic revolution he was instrumental in launching."
Deghati, Reza. Photojournalist. Images Of The Iranian Revolution.
"Photojournalist Reza Deghati, known internationally simply as 'Reza,' captured iconic images of the Iranian Revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979."
Escape from Iran: The Inside Story. Les Harris. Toronto: Canamedia Productions, 1981.
This documentary provides a visual representation of how the Iranians took over the embassy and where the six Americans managed to escape, interviewing a few of the house guests, the Taylor's, Canadian officials, other hostages, and American journalists who tell the story from the day of the takeover to takeoff. (Available on YouTube as "Canadian Caper: 6 Americans escape from Iran with the help from the CIA and the Canadian Embassy.")
Iran and the West: The Man Who Changed The World. London: BBC2, 1992.
Part 1 of the series.
Iran and the West: The Pariah State. London: BBC2, 1992.
Part 2 of the series.
Iran and the West: Nuclear Confrontation. London: BBC2, 1992.
Part 3 of the series.
Iran and the West. London: BBC2, 1992.
Three-part British documentary series shown in February 2009 on BBC Two to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution: "First in a new documentary series marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Militant Islam enjoyed its first modern triumph with the arrival in power of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979. Ex-US president Jimmy Carter talks about the episode that, more than any other, led voters to eject him from the presidency: Iran's seizure of the US embassy in Tehran...."

Online Resources

Bearman, Joshuah. "Flight from Iran: 27 years on, we asked key players to recall the operation. This is what they said." Wired 27 April 2007.
Bob Anders, Bob Sidell, Mark Lijek, Tony Mendez, and Ken Taylor are interviewed. Alan Golacinski, a security officer of the embassy who was taken hostage, asked Robert Anders what the lessons were. Anders replied: "Wherever you go in the world, if you're going to be there awhile, be sure to make friends with the Canadians."
Bearman, Joshuah. "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran." Wired 24 April 2007.
A lengthy article from before Argo's time, painting in wonderful detail the events of the 1979 sit-in and rescue mission thereafter. Bearman provides historical perspectives, introduces the major players -- the six houseguests and Mendez -- surprising details on the houseguests' stay with Canadian diplomats, describes the way the CIA work and the initiative that the six houseguests took to be rescued. The details of the escape attempt are laid out down to what the houseguests wore to transform themselves into a film crew. A must-read.
"Blackmailing the U.S." Time 1979.
Time magazine cover subtitled with a quote from Ayatullah Khomeini: "America is the great Satan."
Byrne, Malcolm, ed. 20 Years after the Hostages: Declassified Documents on Iran and the United States. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 21. November 5, 1999.
"The National Security Archive in 1998 initiated a project on the history of U.S.-Iran relations. Its aim is to expand both sides' understanding of the experiences and perspectives of the other, and in the process help to dissolve some of the myths that have built up in the wake of contentious historical events ranging from the 1953 CIA-assisted coup to the 1978-79 revolution itself. . . . The following selection of documents is a sample of American sources on U.S.-Iran relations since World War II currently available at the National Security Archive."
Carter on the Iran hostage crisis
Date uncertain, but early in the crisis. Two-minute speech by President Jimmy Carter on the hostage crisis: "We're using every available channel to protect the safety of the hostages and to secure their release." Announces oil embargo.
Dagres, Holly. "Watching 'Argo' as an Iranian-American." Muftah 8 March 2013.
"My reaction to last year's blockbuster hit, and now multiple Oscar-winner, Argo was probably different than most people. Among many things, it made me nostalgic. Watching those Americans trapped in Tehran, bizarrely enough, evoked memories of my adolescence. While the film did not portray the Iran I knew, it reminded me of the overwhelming, irrational, and hypersensitive feelings I had while living in the country as an teenager."
Daugherty, William J. "Jimmy Carter and the 1979 Decision to Admit the Shah into the United States." American Diplomacy. U of North Carolina: April 2003 .
"The author brings unique qualifications to this study. Now a political science professor, in 1979 he was assigned to the U. S. embassy in Tehran and was taken captive when Iranian militants, reacting to the news that the shah had been admitted to the United States, overran the embassy. He and his colleagues then spent 444 days as a hostages."
Dowd, Vincent. "Argo: The True Story behind Ben Affleck's Globe-winning Film." BBC World Service. January 2013.
Interview with hostage Mark Lijek.
"Historical inaccuracies." Argo (2012 film). Wikipedia.
Sub-topics include Canadian versus CIA roles, British and New Zealand roles, Imminent danger to the group, and Other.
In pictures: Iran hostage crisis. BBC.
Nice collection of images.
Iran Hostage Crisis 1979. ABC News Report, 11/11/1979.
U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed by students, protesters on November 4, 1979, trapping and holding dozens of people inside. ABC news covers the crisis on the 6th day of captivity with an interview with an Iranian interpreter, Fereshteh Emamy, who studied in the US and recalls what happened the day the American embassy fell. She stresses that it was nonviolent, "calm," and that the Iranian students only wanted to stage a sit-in.
Iran Hostage Crisis 1979. ABC News Report, 12/3/1979.
Thirty days into the hostage crisis, the United States tries to get the Shah out of America as told by ABC news.
Iran Hostage Crisis: Release of 52 Hostages in 1981. ABC News Report, 1/20/1981.
During the power exchange from President Jimmy Carter to President Ronald Reagan, Iran releases 52 American hostages: ABC News covers day one of Ronald Reagan's presidency and day one of the hostages' release. Coverage includes an American reporter in Germany and Algiers, an Australian reporter in Tehran, and a wife of a schoolteacher held hostage, among others.
Iran Hostage's Diary / Robert C. Ode. Jimmy Carter Library.
"Robert C. Ode was one of the fifty-two American citizens taken hostage by Iranian students in November 1979 at the American embassy in Tehran. They were held for a total of 444 days and finally released, after lengthy negotiations, on January 20, 1981. Ode (pronounced Odee) was the oldest of the hostages and was in fact retired from diplomatic service. He had taken a special assignment to go to Tehran and expected to be there only a few months when taken with the other embassy staff. He was allowed to keep a diary after a few months as captive, when conditions under which the hostages lived were loosened, although the conditions were never good."
Iranians unimpressed by Affleck's Argo: Oscar nominated movie slammed as 'misleading'. 23 February 2013
Looks like a clip from an interview on Jewish News One. Dr. Massoumeh Ebtekar, one of the Iranian student's spokespeople for the 444-day takeover, discusses the takeover scenes in Argo.
Jimmy Carter and the Iranian Hostage Crisis
"Jimmy Carter would say later, 'No matter who was with me, we watched the big grandfather clock by the door.' Time was running out, for it was Tuesday, January 20, 1981. The scene was the Oval Office. In just hours this president would leave it for good, and a new leader, Ronald Reagan, would move in. As the clock ticked the time away, Carter tried to resolve a crisis that had almost destroyed his presidency. He was close, very close, and as he said, 'At stake were the lives of 52 precious human beings who had been imprisoned in Iran for 444 days–and almost 12 billion dollars of Iranian assets.'"
Jimmy Carter: 'Argo' a great drama. CNN 21 February 2013.
In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, former President Jimmy Carter calls Argo a great drama. "Jimmy Carter shares his knowledge of Argo, and how accurate the film was in comparison to the incident it was based on.
Kottor, Naveena. "Tony Mendez, The Real CIA Spy in Argo." BBC News 19 February 2013.
Touching a bit on Hollywood's involvement in the clandestine mission, Mendez says that "everyone knows that people from Hollywood go where they want to go, never mind the time in history. They forget about the fact that there is politics and danger in the world." On Ben Affleck: "Ben is a lot more than a Hollywood guy. He is genuine and a sensitive father. It has been a joy to be associated with the film."
Lawrence, Jill. "'Argo' Is Great, but 52 Former American Hostages Are Still Looking for Justice." National Journal 28 February 2013.
Lawrence introduces readers to the fifty-two hostages not as lucky as the six who escaped the American embassy in Tehran. The "first victims of Islamic terrorism" recount their feelings of terror, loneliness, helplessness, and isolation as they struggled through 444 days of half-day inquisitions, physical, mental, and emotional abuse and torture, and mock executions. Former hostages address the ongoing, thirty-three-year legal battle for retribution. An attorney said of a former hostage who took his own life: "In reality his life was taken from him 33 years ago in Tehran, Iran." After September 11th and the episode in Benghazi, German, a State Department Budget Officer and former hostage, said "nothing's changed after all these years." Includes videos.
Lord of Light. 2006.!
"A clip from First Person directed by Errol Morris of Ex-CIA operative Antonio Mendez explaining how hostages were smuggled out of Iran under the guise of a location scout for a movie based on Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light."
Mendez, Antonio J. "A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood." Central Intelligence Agency.
Mendez's own detailed "recollections of the long national emergency."
Mendez, Antonio, and Matt Baglio. "The True Story Behind Operation ‘Argo' to Rescue Americans From Iran." The Daily Beast 17 September 2012.
"The true story behind the new movie Argo about how CIA operatives posing as a Hollywood production team rescued six Americans hiding in Iran during the 1979 embassy crisis. An excerpt from Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio's new book, Argo."
Milani, Mohsen. "Scholar of Iran Hostage Crisis Puts ‘Argo' in Historical Context." Al-Monitor 2 November 2012.
"Professor Mohsen Milani, an expert on Iran, explains how some misguided radical Islamists terminated Iran's strategic alliance with the United States and hijacked the revolution."
Ode, Robert C. "Excerpts from an Iran Hostage's Diary." Digital History, 1979
About two-dozen diary entries between November 4, 1979, and January 19, 1981.
Old Newspapers: The End of the Iran Hostage Crisis in Headlines.
Stories in Kansas City newspapers January 20, 1981, the day the hostages were freed.
Reactions to the Hostage Crisis. PBS.
"During their long ordeal, the hostages became a national obsession. Revisit four days from the crisis: view news footage and read individual reactions to see how Americans voiced their anger, despair, and faith."
Salami, Dr. Ismail. Argo: From Hollywoodism to Iranophobia. Press TV, 2013 February.
"Along the recent Iranophobic attempts comes Argo (2012), a ‘nail-biting thriller' which according to David Haglund, takes a few liberties with the history. A few liberties, indeed! The false façade of the movie and the glorification of CIA agent Antonio Mendez (the hero, played by Ben Affleck) in particular and the intelligence apparat in general in smuggling the escapees out of Tehran gives a flimsily larger-than-life flair to the movie on the one hand and a too-good-to-be-true feeling to the multitude of audience whose minds have already been hijacked by Western media about Iran."
Time magazine covers spanning the hostage crisis
Twenty-eight covers conveniently clustered tell a history of the crisis.
Wald, Matthew. "Halting a Slow Fade to History: ‘Argo,' as Seen by the Iran Hostage Crisis Survivors." New York Times 16 October 2012.
"The off-center focus of the movie "Argo," which opened on Friday, turns out to be fine with many of the former hostages, because their day in the limelight (or more properly, their 444 days) is on the edge of memory now, or, for younger Americans, too long ago to be part of any memory at all. And they are mostly happy to be remembered, even as the backdrop for someone else's story."
Zakaria, Fareed. "The real ‘Argo'." CNN
Zakaria interviews Tony Mendez, CIA officer and author, to recall details of the exfiltration and his opinion of Argo.