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Monday, October 26, 2015

Obituary - Argo: The Canadian who helped Americans escape Iran

Published in The Week, Ocboer 30, 2015 and elsewhere:

Ken Taylor (1934-2015) the former Canadian ambassador known for his role in the Iran hostage crisis, died.

Belatedly, I learned about this important Canadian's contribution to the safety of our American embassy personnel when we saw the wonderful movie "Argo".  

Ambassador Ken Taylor (1934-2015)


Taylor played a key part in what became known as the "Canadian Caper," a covert operation by the Canadian government and the CIA to rescue six American diplomats who eluded capture during the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The episode was made famous again by the release of the 2012 hit movie "Argo," loosely based on the real-life drama.

Ken Taylor 1934-2015

When Islamist radicals stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, nobody could have guesssed that Canada's ambassador  to Iran would become a hero of the ensuing crisis. He was a 45 year old diplomat, on his first ambassadorial posting who had spent much of his career as a trade commissioner, negotiating grain deals. But, when Taylor learned about six Americans who had fled the embassy phoned him and asked for help, he didn't hesitate. As portrayed in the 2012, film Argo, Taylor and his deputy secretly harbored the four U.S. officials plus two of their wives in their diplomatic residences for almost three months, while arranging a daring operation to spirit them out of the contry. He was, as fellow Canadian diplomat Roger Lucy put it, "the right man in the wrong place at the right time."

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Taylor joined the Canadian Foreign Service in 1959, "and had postings in Karachi, Pakistan, and London before going to Tehran," said The Washington Post.  When the Iranian students overran the U.S. Embassy and took more than 60 Americans hostage, they didn't realize that six others were missing and moving from one hiding spot to another in Tehran.  

After considering various ways of sneaking the American out of the country, Taylor eventually agreed to the CIA's (Central Intelligence Agency's) bold plan. As told in the movie, they used false passports. The fugitives managed to leave Iran by pretending to be location scouts for a science fiction movie called Argo.  In fact, Taylor played a much bigger role in the "Canadian Caper" than Ben Affleck's film suggested, said the Toronto Globe and Mail.  He pushed his government to provide the Americans with false Canadian passports and sent his staff to test airport security. "We received some help from the CIA," taylor said. "But quite honestly, it was a Canadian-based and Canadian-executed operation."

The plan went off without a hitch, and the same day the Americans left, "Taylor and his remaining staff quickly closed the embassy and fled Iran themselves," said The Ottowa Citizen.  

Ambassador Taylor retired from diplomacy in 1984, and moved to the U.S., where strangers oftn shook his hand to thank him.  "I enjoy that, of course," Taylor said.  "It is a sense of saying to Canad: This is what you did.".

His son said, "He always liked to say that anybody else would have done exactly what he had done. On the other hand, he did it," Taylor's son, Douglas Taylor, told CBC News. "And I don't think it was just simply a fact of his being there. It was, you know, a reflection of his character, and how he was able to handle an extremely difficult situation."

Thank you Ambassador Taylor.  May you rest in peace.

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