Our Man in Tehran: Ken Taylor, the CIA and the Iran Hostage Crisis

Book Review:

Robert Wright is a History Professor at Trent University in Oshawa, Ontario who also writes about political science.
He is the author of five books. He received Lela Common Prize of the Canadian History for his national bestseller, "Three Nights in Havana". He published this book following Harper Collins’s suggestion for a book on the 30th anniversary on the Hostage Crisis in Iran and Ken Taylor’s memories of his work in Tehran as the Canadian ambassador of the time (1978-1980) and his role in this period. Our Man in Tehran: Ken Taylor, the CIA and the Iran Hostage Crisis was published in 2010. In response to the news about the book release on the online version of the Globe and Mail daily, Taylor said: “I never expected the story to come out. It had been under wraps for 30 years, and my assumption was that it would be for another 30 years. I didn't expect to be here to talk about it” .  The book narrates two and half years of the activities of Taylor in Iran.  He came to Iran in September 1977, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was at his most powerful times, however when he left this country in January 1980; it was the first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution which coincided with the Shah’s exile and fifty- two Americans were in forth month of their captivity. 
Ken Taylor completed his BA at the University of Toronto and obtained his master’s degree in administration at Berkeley. He entered the Foreign Office in 1959 and served as a trade counselor in Guatemala, Pakistan and UK. After returning to Canada in 1971, he rose quickly and in1974 became the chief director of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, the highest position in the Foreign Service section of the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce. After 7 years, as he thought of Iran as one of the most interesting places ever, he chose to in Iran as an ambassador. Joe Clark later said that “he was a very skilled and well- regarded diplomat, no one without those qualities would have gone to a situation like Tehran”. His close friend at Foreign Office, Michael Shenstone believed that he was the best person for Tehran. The Canadian government, by appointing him as the ambassador of the Canadian Embassy in Iran, was after expanding economic relations with Iran and other OPEC member countries.

Our Man in Tehran includes 6 Parts and 20 chapters of which a few parts are mentioned below:
The first part of the book “Tehran” has two chapters, in the first chapter briefly explains Taylor’s life and work and how he was appointed as the Canadian ambassador of Iran. The next chapter talks about Taylor’s measure for improvement of economic and political relation of Canada and Iran during the final years of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s regime. 
In the second chapter, the author explains the situation of Iran in the World War II; the occupation of Iran by Britain and Russia and their intervention in Iran’s affairs during of World War II.  It also explains rivalry between America and Russia over more control and influence on Iran, Shah’s dependence on the Western countries especially to the U.S which was intensified after the British- U.S. coup against Mohammad Mossadeq’s government. Wright surveys the Iranian disgust on the basis of some famous American researchers and authors and talks about its cause which culminated by the Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis.
The second part called “Revolution” has three chapters: “The Downward Spiral”, “The Overthrow of the Shah”, “Ayatollah Khomeini in Power”, “Fateful Decisions”. In these four chapters, he explains the struggles of Iranian people up to the Islamic revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic by Imam Khomeini (RA). The author believes that the main reasons of America’s failure in predicting revolutionary events and efforts in support of the Shah's regime was the weakness of the intelligence agencies, lack of officers who were familiar with cultural and political conditions of Iran in those days.  Then, Wright talks about the overthrown of the Shah, Bakhtiar’s latest efforts to preserve the regime, the return of Imam Khomeini (RA) to Iran, the Islamic Revolution and eventually shah’s entrance to America for medical treatment, despite Iranian’s serious objections; which were the beginning to conquer America Embassy.

The third part, "Hostage and Houseguests" is about the occupation of the American Embassy by the students following the Line of Imam in 4 November 1979. On that day, thanks to the turmoil in the embassy and the presence of several hundred people, the embassy’s six personnel whom worked in the consulate building ran away from the back door of the embassy and fled to the nearest safe place, which was one the house of one of the employees. The incident entangled Taylor and his colleagues in the crisis for three months. This part of the book was perhaps the most important motive for Robert Wright for publishing this book, Robert Wright knew; After conquering American Embassy, in response to Carter's direct request from Joe Clark (The Canadian Prime Minister of the time) and his approval, Taylor agreed to provide information for America. Thereafter, Ken Taylor first started as the intermediary between Lyngn (the US charge d' affaires in Tehran), the hostages and the State Department and the US. His work resembled the work of a CIA agent. He was responsible for designing the unsuccessful operation of the "Eagle Claw" which was designed to rescue the hostages. He arranged the escape for the 6 runaway Americans who were hiding in the Canadian Embassy. On 28th January 1980, he helped them flight to Zurich by the 363 Swiss Air flight, as a film crew with fake Canadian passports. 
Two days after, Taylor and his men destroying all the evidence shut down the embassy and flew to Copenhagen. After a short stop, Taylor flew to Paris where he was praised by the employees of both the Canadian embassy and the journalists who had heard that he had helped six Americans to runaway. Taylor was praised in ceremonies in America and Canada and, the US Senate awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal for his act of Courage.

Adeleh Haji Mirzaie

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