The Houseguests

Title:                      The Houseguests

Author:                  Mark Lijek

Lijek, Mark (2012). The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace

OCLC:    820794788

E 183.8 I55 L543 2012

Summary: The movie Argo was fake before it was real. This is the story of the original Argo and of the six Americans who escaped the capture of the American Embassy in Iran in 1979. Lijek, one of the six, explains why they were in Iran, what went wrong and how they managed to escape the embassy compound. As chaos increasingly gripped Iran and its government fell, the Americans survived tension-filled days before reaching  Read more…

Date Updated:  February 17, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

After Antonio Mendez was named one of 50 Trailblazers during the CIA’s 5Oth anniversary ceremonies in 1997, he revealed the reason for the award in a Studies in Intelligence article, “A Classic Case of Deception,” which mentioned the word “Argo”—the name of the operation he led-for the first time.[2] In 2012, it became a household word when Mendez published his book, Argo, and the motion picture based on it won three Academy Awards, including one for best picture.[3] Before 2012, Robert Wright published a book describing the crucial Canadian role in the Argo operation.[4] Each of these accounts told the story-from a slightly different perspective-of the six American foreign services officers who escaped capture by the Iranians when the US Embassy in Tehran was overrun in 1989. Houseguests author Mark Lijek, one of the six, adds further details from a first-hand point of view.

The first two of the five parts of Houseguests are something of a memoir about college, joining the US Foreign Service, training, and “volunteering” for a first assignment—inLijek’s case, Tehran. After Mark had spent two months there, Cora Lijek joined her husband. Two months later, on 4 November, Iranian “students” seized the embassy, and the hostage ordeal began. Lijek describes how each of the six houseguests ended up in the home of Canadian diplomat John Sheardown and their fears as they thought about what might happen if they were caught by the Iranians. Lijek’s concern was heightened since he learned that the previous attack on the embassy, in February 1989, was not the relatively peaceful event the State Department spinners had claimed-people had died. (p. 110)

Thanks to the Sheardowns, day-to-day life was reasonably comfortable for the six. Lijek tells how they occupied their time while wondering what to do next. Anxiety increased when they learned that word of their presence had leaked and the Iranians were looking for them. (p. 178) They then began considering options for escape presented by the Canadians, but none seem likely to succeed. The situation changed when two men from the CIA showed up with a new option, and they realized they had not been abandoned. The actual escape went more smoothly than depicted in the film Argo.

Lijek concludes his story with the events that occurred after they returned home. These included a visit with President Carter, TV appearances, and after-action debriefings. And Lijek explains why many of the escape details remained secret for years. When it was decided to make Argo the film, the couple observed production on the set. Lijek makes it clear he was upset that the film did not give appropriate recognition to the Canadian efforts. This was one of the reasons he decided to write the book. An epilogue discusses what happened to each of the six in the years that followed.[5]

Housequests is exciting reading and fills an import-ant gap in a history-making story.

[1] Peake, Hayden B. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (20, 2, Fall/Winter, 2013, p. 128). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] Antonio J. Mendez, “CIA Goes Hollywood: A Classic Case of Deception,” Studies in Intelligence (42, 2 June 1998, pp, 1-16); reprinted in Studies in Intelligence, (Winter 1999-2000, pp. 1-16). Available at

[3] The book reference is Mendez, Antonio J.(2012) and Matt Baglio. Argo: How The CIA And Hollywood Pulled Off The Most Audacious Rescue in History. New York: Viking. See CIA Chief Historian David Robarge’s review of both the book and the movie in Studies in Intelligence (57, 1, Unclassified Extracts, March 2013).

[4] Wright, Robert A. (2011). Our Man in Tehran: The Truth Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring Them Home. New York: Other Press

[5] 4. John Sheardown died on 30 December 2012. His role was widely recognized in obituaries published throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. See, for example, Douglas Martin, “John Sheardown, Canadian Who Sheltered Americans in Tehran, Dies at 88,” New York Times, (4 January 2013).

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