A diplomatic crisis

A diplomatic crisis 150 150
old spectacles on minimalistic background

Fake eyeglasses
Issued to Kathleen Stafford as part of her disguise to escape Tehran 1980

The Iran Hostage crisis ranks as one of the most traumatic diplomatic crises in U.S. history. In the wake of a successful revolution by Islamic fundamentalists against the pro-American Shah of Iran, the United States became an object of virulent criticism and the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was a visible target. On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the embassy and detained more than 50 Americans staff as hostages. The Iranians held the American diplomats hostage for 444 days.

A few Americans inside the embassy compound managed to escape. Kathleen Stafford was a Foreign Service spouse working as a visa clerk in the consulate within the U.S embassy in Tehran at the time of the takeover. She, along with her husband Joseph Stafford, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek and Lee Schatz, managed to escape the initial breach of the embassy through a consulate back door that led to an unoccupied alleyway. The escapees divided into two groups to avoid attention. Stafford and her group evaded capture by moving from vacant house to vacant house for a few days before finding more lasting refuge at the homes of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and Consul General John Sheardown, who welcomed them despite great personal risk.

The group of six would remain guests of the Canadian diplomats for almost three months until a CIA extraction operation lead by Tony Mendez, and made famous by the movie “Argo,” allowed them to escape Iran on January 28, 1980 by posing as a film production team. The CIA agents gave Kathleen this pair of fake eyeglasses as part of her costume for the day of escape. Kathleen and the other “houseguests” had to memorize their cover stories, take on fake personas, and carry fake documentation that would allow them to surreptitiously pass through Revolutionary Guard security at the Tehran airport.