Studio Six was a CIA front during a 1979-80 deception operation. The ‘Argo’ script itself served a purpose and a film was never actually produced. In 2012, a movie of the same name was released and based on events surrounding the original operation.
The film tag line in 1980 read, “A Cosmic Conflagration.” The tag line today reads, “The movie was fake. The mission was real.”
For those who have not seen the film, opening shots take viewers through Persian history and its eventual clash with the West. A narrator explains Iranian traditional perspectives and the manners England and the States questionably intervened in Iranian affairs circa 1953.
“That’s not true!” a man who sat to my left blurted out in protest.
The film quickly progresses to the 1979 storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Angry Iranian demonstrators surround the grounds, eventually breaching the gate. Embassy occupants struggle to most wisely use what precious moments remain before the impending confrontation with the mob. Scenes include embassy employees frantically destroying classified material and weighing decisions of potential life and death proportion.
“Oh,” a woman to my right gasped in distress.
So began my viewing of ‘Argo’. Bankrolled by Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the politically sensitive film is apt to invoke emotional spikes among viewers. The film starred and was directed by Affleck, and won Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director.
One of the more artistic and impacting scenes in the movie was a script reading conducted by actors portraying spies portraying filmmakers – or something like that. They read sci fi lines which were mixed with shots of footage of actual newscasts of the day, along with shots of actors portraying American hostages and Iranian captors. The combined effect of an unfolding variety of film and audio – in which actuality and reenactments increasingly mingled as one – left the viewer with a pronounced uncertainty of the extents the entire saga may have been conducted for cameras and to influence spectators. I particularly found the effect of the scene thought provocative that was achieved by the intermittent addition of lines about alien wars of worlds.
Men behind the movie
Tony Mendez and Joshuah Bearman were identified as consultants in the film credits. Bearman wrote about the original saga in a 2007 ‘Wired’ article, ‘How the CIA Used a Fake Sci Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran’. His work is attributed with inspiring the 2012 film script.
Bearman is an editor for ‘LA Weekly’ where he maintains a blog. He has written for such publications as ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘The New York Times Magazine’. No stranger to the Fortean community, Bearman has also written extensively about the legendary Yeti.
Bearman explained on ‘Wired’ that the veteran makeup artist involved was John Chambers, winner of a 1969 Academy Award for his work on ‘Planet of the Apes’. Chambers is additionally credited with such makeup sensations as those of ‘Star Trek’, where he served as makeup designer during the 1966 television series. Considered a special effects master within the industry, Chambers designed such innovative staples as the skull cap, which remains in use today. He contributed his expertise to such productions as ‘Lost in Space’, ‘Night Gallery’ and ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’. Bearman identified Chambers as a friend to Mendez and “one of Mendez’s longtime CIA collaborators.”
Bearman also wrote about the role of professional makeup artist Robert Sidell in the operation. Sidell posed as producer while manning phone lines, fielding press inquiries and handling similar such responsibilities. The Tinseltown veteran was nominated four times during his career for an Emmy Award, including once in 1980 for his work with Chambers on the sci fi television show, ‘Beyond Westworld’. He also received nominations for his work on the shows ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Dynasty’, as well as the 1982 blockbuster film, ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’.
Mendez stated in ‘A Classic Case of Deception, CIA Goes Hollywood’ that while employed with the CIA Office of Technical Service Disguise Section he engaged the services of many consultants in the entertainment industry. He further stated such consultants were “masters at working the Hollywood system” and indicated their expertise was extremely beneficial during the ‘Argo’ operation.
Mendez and the CIA obviously maintained a presence in Hollywood. What’s more, such connections were demonstrated to have multiple, evolving purposes as situations and objectives dictated.
“They had begun applying ‘grease’ and calling in favors even before I arrived,” Mendez wrote of his Hollywood ‘Argo’ collaborators. “Simple things such as the installation of telephones were supposed to take weeks, but we had everything we needed down to the paper clips by the fourth day.”
“Several black-bag deliveries” of cash were used to set up Studio Six, he reported. A CIA contract officer was enlisted to witness cash deliveries, “follow up as bagman” and similar such responsibilities. “It would take two years to clear all accounts on these matters,” Mendez explained.
He further explained that at one point an embassy hostage rescue was seriously considered in which Special Forces could possibly infiltrate Tehran using the same Canadian film crew cover that was at the time being developed to exfiltrate the six. “We imagined that it might be possible to conceal weapons and other material in the motion picture equipment,” he wrote.
Mendez and his accomplice to Tehran each received the prestigious Intelligence Star award. Mendez was also later honored as a CIA Trailblazer. Chambers was eventually granted the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit, a recognition rarely bestowed upon non-staffers and quite possibly as likely due to his collective service as any given single operation.
Mendez reported that by the time Studio Six closed shop several weeks after the successful exfiltration, 26 scripts had been received for consideration. “One,” he wrote, “was from Steven Spielberg.”
Food for thought
Such circumstances as contained in the ‘Argo’ saga provide us with a great deal of potential food for thought. Researchers James Carrion, Mark Pilkington and Dr. Jacques Vallee, to name a few, have served up such dishes on occasion.
Carrion, a former military intelligence analyst, suggested deception operations might well cross paths with ufology from time to time. Mission objectives could be as complex as took place surrounding ‘Argo’. Such operations might be particularly difficult for a UFO community to understand that collectively tends to think in rather limited terms, suffering from tunnel vision while generally failing to consider broader contexts and the significance of global affairs.
Writer Pilkington told ‘U.S. News’ that his research led him to conclude that virtually every aspect of UFO lore has been exploited and deliberately seeded into popular culture by the American intelligence community. He explained that UFO stories sometimes provide cover for such circumstances as clandestine aircraft. Pilkington further suggested IC exploitation of UFO lore may sometimes be related to deceiving adversaries into fearing non-existent super weapons, a possibility Carrion also researched extensively.
The renowned Vallee has long questioned the extent the IC influences ufology, though the UFO community typically limits its perspective of Vallee to his paranormal-based points of view. In more recent years he published a most interesting series of blog posts on the likelihood some crop circles may be linked to deception operations and social experiments. Ufology largely averts from such work and gives it minimal discussion.
On a related note, Dr. Michael S. Heiser of ‘UFO Religions’ directed our attention to the manner some self-described paranormal researchers play the persecution card in lieu of addressing true rebuttals. Discriminating thinkers have lost patience with supposed investigators who complain they have been forsaken by mainstream science, when, in fact, there is actually plenty of qualified review that such investigators just refuse to accept and competently address.
Dr. Heiser authored the novel, ‘The Facade’, and has been interviewed many times by such media outlets as ‘Coast to Coast AM’. He published the paper, ‘The Majestic Documents: A Forensic Linguistic Report’, an objective assessment of supposed MJ-12 documents. The piece contains results of scientifically conducted linguistic tests that are most damaging to the possibility the documents could be authentic.
We might particularly choose to chew on the matters revealed in the ‘Argo’ saga when we consider the extent people tend to form their beliefs due much more to what they see at the movies and watch on television than the results of professionally conducted research. What’s more, the gap between ufology and science fiction is a short distance indeed. We might be wise to question how extensively and for what specific reasons the IC has been involved in other sci fi productions, as well as UFO-related entertainment products, conferences and events in general.