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Argo inspiration to speak at SDSU


Brookings, S.D. (KELO AM) - Retired CIA agent Tony Mendez, who masterminded one of the most daring hostage rescue missions in history, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Performing Arts Center on the South Dakota State University campus.

Mendez was the inspiration for the 2012 film "Argo," which starred Ben Affleck which won three Academy Awards. 

His talk is sponsored by the student-run University Program Council.

The story of "Argo" begins well before this generation of SDSU students were born.

On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and captured 52 American hostages, sparking a 444-day ordeal and a quake in global politics still reverberating today. But there is a little-known drama connected to the crisis.

Mendez disguised himself as a Hollywood producer and traveled to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations for a fake science fiction film called "Argo." 

To make the ruse seem legitimate, he was accompanied supported by a cast of expert forgers, deep-cover CIA operatives, foreign agents and Hollywood special effects artists. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa, who forwarded the passports and other supporting material to the Canadian embassy through a Canadian diplomatic courier. 

While pretending to find the perfect film backdrops, Mendez and a colleague succeeded in contacting the escapees.

The rescue was carried off Jan. 28, 1980, when the six hostages, Mendez and an associate successfully boarded a Swissair flight from Tehran to Zurich.

His book "Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off One Of The Most Audacious Rescues In History" was published in September 2012, just a month before the release of the film. 

Mendez is the recipient of the CIA Intelligence Medal of Merit and was chosen among tens of thousands of agents to be one of 50 agents to receive the prestigious Trailblazer Medallion. 

His first book, "The Master of Disguise; My Secret Life in the CIA," was published in 1999 on the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.Mendez, who lives on 40-acre farm in Maryland, continues to consult the intelligence community and is also an award-winning artist with an international reputation.

Tickets are available in advance at the Student Union Information Exchange, 605-688-6127. The cost is $10. Children under age 10 and SDSU students with ID are admitted free.

For more information, call Tyler Hajek, SDSU Program Council Lectures and Forums coordinator, at 605-688-6173.