What The Argo Movie Got Wrong About Shredded Documents

I hate to say that I taught a bunch of Iranian thugs how to reconstitute the shredded documents they found after looting the American Embassy in Tehran.

But I did.

It wasn’t a bunch of little carpet weavers as one story goes, or child labor as Argo played it. Nope. Turns out to be my fault. The Washington Post article from May 14, 1977 at the bottom of this post explains how my investigative reporting of a Congressional scandal ended up helping the Iranian nutcases.

These photos are from the middle of the my investigative book, The Washington Connection. Scroll down for large images. Photos in many newspapers showed that these photos in my book were what the American Embassy Hostages takers used to figure out how to reconstruct the shreds.

These photos are from the middle of the my investigative book, The Washington Connection. Scroll down for large images. Newspaper photos after the hostage taking at the American Embassy in Tehran showed a copy of my book in the background images of the hostage takers who were reconstituting documents shredded before the takeover. Indeed, the setting of their work looked a great deal like ours. That was the start of their learning curve.

I got my first clue on a visit to London not all that long after embassy takeover. I took shelter under the awning of a news stand as the morning mist turned earnestly to a proper rain requiring a proper bumbershoot I did not have.

And there, on more than one front page were photos of the Iranian thugs putting together shredded documents.

I bought a copy of one of the papers, partly to pay rent for staking out a dry spot under the awning, but mostly because I had figured out how to do that very thing a couple of years before and and led a team of talented and determined investigative reporters on a mission that led to a Congressional investigation, jail for one Congressman, subpoenas and a generally wild time.

What stunned me was the picture. In the background was a copy of my 1977 book, The Washington Connection. The book was turned to the photo section in the middle where I described how we put shredded documents back together.

The photo section is reproduced below. And below that …

Note the bags on the wall. These are the results of a first, sort process where we looked for shreds that were of similar paper stock.

… the scan of a dusty, wrinkled and yellowed clipping from The Washington Post describing what we did and how. It’s one of the few scraps I still have.

I have looked everywhere for the photo of the Iranians using my book. I don’t have it because I never kept one.

I felt ashamed and angry. I took the newspaper back to my London B&B and tossed it after reading it.

So, here’s the real story:

We worked in tight quarters because we were on a tight budget. When the subpoena for the shreds was issued from the House Ethics Committee we were on the run, packing the shreds in plastic garbage bags and setting up shops in different locations in D.C., including over a porno shop/peep-show parlor.

Sometimes we got almost complete documents.

Click TWICE on the image above for a larger, more readable one.

Sometimes, we failed to get an entire documents, but what we had was devastating. Sadly, Congress does a crappy job of investigating itself (surprise!) and a lot of people who should have gone to jail did not. The Congressional ethics thugs took all of our finished work as well as the shreds. They took the really good ones — those with dollar amounts by the names — and other damning evidence. And seem to have deep-sixed it all.


Below, a pretty darned good article from the Washington Post describing some of our escapades.

Click the image for a larger, readable view

Click the image for a larger, readable view

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