As part of Diane's remote author interview series, she had the chance to speak with Ann Patchett in January over video Zoom as a live audience watched. Here's that conversation.
Guest Host: Susan Page
While the world was transfixed in 1979 by the Americans held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran during the revolution, another American was quietly held in an Iranian prison. Max Copeland of Oklahoma was the first American to be arrested and tried as a CIA agent by the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to Copeland’s son. In a new book, author Cyrus Copeland explains how he tries to uncover the truth about his father. In the process, he learns about how his Iranian mother fought to free him.
- Cyrus Copeland Author and editor of "Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time and "A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit"
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted from “Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, a Mother’s Heroism, and a Son’s Quest” ©2015 by Cyrus Copeland. Reprinted with permission from Penguin Random House. All Rights Reserved.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Lots of people have unanswered questions about their parents after they die, but Cyrus Copeland's question was unusual. Was his father a CIA spy in Iran? In a new book, the writer describes his search for the truth about his father's mysterious imprisonment in revolutionary era Iran.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThe title of the book is "Off The Radar: A Father's Secret, A Mother's Heroism And A Son's Quest." And Cyrus joins me from NPR studios in New York. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. CYRUS COPELANDSusan, good morning. Thank you for having me.
PAGEWe hope our listeners will join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, this quest that you write about to figure out if your father was a spy, it begins with finding a box of files in your mother's library. What was the file -- what was the box labeled?
COPELANDIt was called "Max's Radar Affair," and I was actually hunting for something else entirely when I kind of came across that file and out of it slipped all these yellowed, crisped documents from the past. There was a newspaper article there, packing list, a letter from my mother to Iranian President Banisadr and with that kind of discovery, this whole process of delving back into my father's past began.
PAGEAnd your mother, at that time, did she say, put that box back or what was her attitude toward you finding all these files?
COPELANDWell, the thing that kind of struck both of us was a newspaper article and the headline of the newspaper article was something like "CIA Spy Arrested And Will Soon Be Tried." And that was actually just a couple of paragraphs. It was in the Tehran Times and it was on page two so it wasn't kind of front page news. But kind of seeing that all over again, both for mother and myself, my mother turns to me and she says, you know, your father was a CIA spy.
COPELANDAnd she and I have kind of had this conversation over the years and I didn't really believe her when she said that. So we kind of went back and forth, but with that newspaper article, we kind of started this trip back into the past.
PAGENow, what, she believed he was a spy. She said he was a spy. Why didn't you believe her?
COPELANDBecause my father -- well, first of all, my mother's Iranian. My father's American and my father, for so many reasons, just doesn't fit the prototype. He's quiet. He's an academic. His Farsi wasn't too terribly good. He loved Iran, also. He really sincerely, authentically loved that country so the prospect that he could be anything other than the father that I knew was quite remarkable to me.
PAGESo I'm hoping you'll read just a short passage from your book, from the very beginning of your book, with the prologue, to give us a sense of what this book is all about.
COPELANDSure. Yeah. "Max's Radar Affair, the handwriting across the file said. I recognized my mother's cursive as well as her flair for drama. The story contained in this file had all the markings of a classical affair, secret meetings, unaccounted for hours, divided loyalties. For 30 years, the file had lain dormant at the bottom of this box, which had followed us Copelands from Iran to Pennsylvania, through four suburban homes to the dusty corner of the library where it now resided. Open it, my mother said.
COPELANDInto our laps spilled several documents, the first was a newspaper clipping dated November 27, 1979. 'CIA Agent Smuggling Radar Equipment Caught,' the headline read. A succession of other documents fell from the file, their pages delicate and crisp by time. You know, of course, your father was a CIA agent, my mother said. It wasn't the first time I'd heard her say this and I suppose a review of salient facts did suggest a career in intelligence, low profile jobs in defense industries, broad knowledge of Iran and he was caught up in an international incident that somehow never got any play beyond those couple of paragraphs in the Tehran Times.
COPELANDBut a CIA agent? All children have unresolved questions about their parents, of course, but this was no trifling matter. And then, it struck me. I had a file on my father. If he had been a CIA agent, they would have a file on him, too. And so that week, in a bid to put the past to rest once and for all, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA. I also filed inquiries with the FBI, the Department of Defense, the State Department and President Carter. A flurry of letters flew out into the world, each a bid to open my father's long dormant past.
COPELANDI held out hope that someone somewhere knew something. Unlike the file I'd just unearthed, that thing would fall gracefully into place, which show you just how much I know about the world of intelligence. I have an American father and an Iranian mother. I have the blood of the great Satan and the axis of evil in my veins. The year 1979 launched the Iranian Revolution and Islamic fundamentalism on an unready world and in revisiting that year and its dramatic events, I saw how the fracture between the two countries was written into our lives and played itself out in microcosm while Iran and America did battle.
COPELANDOur story was a prism. While all eyes were on the hostages, our crisis played out in jail, in court, across international boundaries and in private. Was my dad a spy? Were the charges leveled against him true? Were my father alive today, he would've pushed up his glasses and said in a voice that left little room for discussion, Cyrus, I don't want to talk about it. But we Copelands had an adventure, a tale that goes back three decades to the fault lines between Iran and America and it needs to be told."
PAGEThis is Cyrus Copeland reading from the prologue of his new book. The book is called "Off The Radar: A Father's Secret, A Mother's Heroism And A Son's Quest." Well, let's back up a little bit. Your mother's Iranian. Your father was American. How did they get to know each other? How did they get to know each other and marry?
COPELANDWell, so my mother, let me just say, was the youngest woman to leave Iran unchaperoned at the age of 17, wherein she kind of vaulted herself westward and made a life as a fashion model and later an announcer for the BBC in London. My father, meanwhile, went east to Thailand and Bali and Japan and at the age of 18, he wanted to see Asia. And they met in Washington D.C. in 1957, I believe. And it was the first day of both their respective arrivals in the Capital and to hear my mother tell the story, they were in the hotel dining room and my father had the temerity to walk up to her, unbidden, and say, have you always enjoyed the luxury of a late breakfast?
COPELANDAnd with that impertinent remark, their relationship was off to a start and they eventually had a family and we moved to Iran in 1974.
PAGENow, the story of moving to Iran, that is interesting, too. It was at the personal invitation of the Shah. Tell us about that.
COPELANDYeah. That was a remarkable moment and there's even a little bit of a story behind that story that's not in the book, but my mother and father were invited by the ambassador and Mrs. Ansary who was the Shah's ambassador in Washington, to greet the Shah and partake in his 40 -- I believe it was 3rd, birthday celebration at the embassy in Washington. And so my mother kind of dolled herself up in a 1950 -- in one of the gowns that she had saved from her days modeling in London. And my father was in a tuxedo and so they met the royal couple.
COPELANDAnd my father was kind of chatting with the Shah about -- the Shah had a university that he had started called Pahlavi University and it was the first university to bring American-style education to Iran. And my father had done his PhD on higher education in Iran and so the Shah was quite interested in chatting with him and hearing what his perspectives are on these things and my mother, meanwhile, was chatting with the ambassador's wife when she received news that the empress wanted to meet her.
COPELANDAnd so she got so nervous that she ended up spilling strawberry compost down her decolletage and she's like, my goodness, I can't greet the empress like this. But then, she kind of discovered a vein of courage inside of herself and then she made a joke about it to the empress saying, look how nervous your majesty makes her subjects.
PAGESo they moved to Iran. Things go well, but then we have the Islamic revolution and a lot of Americans are then fleeing Iran. American companies are shutting down their operations in Iran. Your father stayed. What was he doing?
COPELANDYeah. So if you ever saw that movie, "Michael Clayton," my father was like the George Clooney character. He was the cleanup man and he was in charge of shutting down Westinghouse's warehouse operations in Iran. They had sold a lot of equipment to the Iranian air force. It was very sensitive defense equipment and my father was really the last man on the ground there. And one night, he didn't come home and it turned out that he had been arrested and was soon going to be tried as a CIA spy.
PAGEAnd what was he charged with? What was the arrest related to?
COPELANDOh, there was -- he was charged with shipping very sensitive radar equipment out of the country and that radar equipment had been prepacked by somebody who arrived on the scene before my dad and it was disguised in a box of household belongings so it didn't look like radar equipment, but it decidedly was. And when they opened it at the airport, they thought, uh-oh, well, this is trouble and, in fact, it was. So he was charged with -- there were a litany of 14 charges, smuggling, espionage. It was -- none of which were good.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk more about what then transpired for Cyrus Copeland's father, Max, and the extraordinary actions taken by his Iranian mother to try to save her husband. We'll go to the phones. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking with Cyrus Copeland about his new book. It's titled "Off the Radar: A Father's Secret, A Mother's Heroism, And A Son's Quest." Cyrus Copeland is an author and editor. He's the editor of two collections. One is called "Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of All Time" and "A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Life the Spirit." He joins us from the NPR studies in New York. Our phone lines are open now. You can give us a call, join our conversation. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEWell, Cyrus, right before the break, we were discussing your father's arrest during those early days of the Iranian Revolution. And you were a teenager then. What did you think was going on?
COPELANDYou mean with respect to my father's situation?
COPELANDYou know, I had no idea. I was kind of watching -- my mother, first of all, that night that he didn't come home, told a little lie to myself and my sister. She said that he was off hunting, which did seem a little bit improbable, considering that there was a revolution going on around us. But I believed it. And my mother also is a little bit of a lioness. And by that I mean that not only does she kind of have this cast-iron spine, but she's also very protective of her cubs -- in this case, her children. And so we knew that there was something happening but we had no idea of the extent to which our lives were about to unravel really.
PAGEAnd, you know, your mother is trying to find a lawyer to represent your father in court. She can't find -- no lawyer is willing to do it. She takes the case on herself. How unusual would that have been for a woman at that time, who was not a lawyer, to assume that role?
COPELANDRight. Yeah. So think about this. This is a country that is burning with anti-American sentiment. And, as you mention, my mother tried valiantly to find a lawyer to represent him, but because of that, she couldn't. No one would take his case. And so she really did the unthinkable, which is that she became his lawyer. Now, my mother didn't have any legal training. Up until then, she had been the principal of a school. She was also a master linguist. But this was all new to her. And the other thing that was new was the whole idea of what legality means. Because this was now an Islamic Revolution that we're in. And the new canon of law is not that canon that you and I are used to. It is the Quran, which is -- it's a religious law.
COPELANDAnd so, I remember, every night my mother would come home and she would put her feet up on the ottoman and she would take out the family Quran. And she would essentially go through its pages, looking, kind of developing a strategy -- a defense strategy for my father and, in the process of three weeks, ended up memorizing the Quran and becoming his lawyer. Now, the other thing that's kind of interesting is that this isn't exactly a female-friendly regime. The age of marriage had just been lowered to nine. And a woman's word was basically worth half that of a man in a court of law.
COPELANDSo here you have my mom, a female royalist in the Islamic Republic of Iran, defending an alleged American spy, and using the Quran like a scalpel to slice apart the prosecution's case.
PAGEDescribe to us what happened in the court. And in the book you have exchanges between her and the judge in the case. And I wonder, how did you find those? How did you determine what had happened in court?
COPELANDThis was all kind of reconstructed from my mother's perspective, right? So the prosecutor was himself an Imam and he had an enviable string of prosecutions that he strung together -- everybody from Savak agents to holdovers from the prior regime to Kurdish dissidents. And, you know, he was -- this was not a kind of man that you wanted to go up against. It certainly wasn't the kind of prosecutor you would want to face as you -- with your first time in court. But she did. She kind of faced him down and, in a way, almost kind of out-Quraned the prosecutor.
PAGEBut with her own knowledge of what the book said.
COPELANDYeah, exactly. She, I mean, my mother was also raised by a religious man. Her father had been -- he was the mayor of Mashhad and also the governor of the Province of Khorasan where they lived. But he was a religious man. And so she was schooled in the Quran and its tenets but not nearly to the extent required to do the improbable thing that she did.
PAGENow, we have a caller I think we should take. Edward is calling us from Chevy Chase, Md. Edward, thanks so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
EDWARDYes. I have nothing to contribute in regard to the Iranian story and the mother. But Miles Copeland contacted me ages ago, I mean, before many wars, in 1968, when I was working in London. I was an oil consultant working for the big oil companies and also some of the countries like the National Iranian Oil Company around the Middle East. And Miles Copeland contacted me because I published a book called "Coup d'Etat." "Coup d'Etat, a Practical Handbook," where I wrote quite a lot about Nasser's Egypt. And the reason I'm calling is because I believe there was some discussion about whether the father, Miles Copeland, was a CIA agent or officer or whatever the term is.
EDWARDBecause he was very clear with me. What he said is that he was working in Cairo. He was working in direct contact with Gamel Abdel Nasser -- Nasser, the dictator -- and that he provided public relations advice to Nasser. And that he indicated that somehow his work in Egypt was sponsored or paid for either by the CIA or through some other interests that were guided by the CIA. But he said he was not part of the CIA. But he was -- at that point, it was U.S. policy to support Nasser and enable him to be successful. And Miles Copeland was, in fact, acting as a public relations, as an advertising person.
EDWARDAnd, for example, he's responsible for one of the footnotes of history, which is that the first arms deal between the Soviet Union and any Arab country was -- actually the first arms deal of any importance, was with Egypt. It was a clamorous event. He triggered the -- in effect, the 1956 invasion by the British and French -- a major event. And that is known in the books as the Czech arms deal. Well, that was the contribution of Miles Copeland. Because, in fact, it was of course a Soviet arms deal. But in order -- Miles Copeland realized it was called a revolution and also in effect a failure of U.S. policy in Egypt. In order to sort of soften the blow, he came up with this idea of calling it the Czech arms deal.
PAGENow, isn't it interesting? Now you stay -- hang on the -- and let me just give Cyrus a chance to comment.
COPELANDSo you're actually talking about Miles Copeland, who was in fact a CIA agent -- and not only was a CIA agent, he was responsible for the 1953 coup in Iran that unseated Mosaddeq, which to this day is something that Iranians talk about as a source of resentment in their relationship with America. That's Miles Copeland. My father was Max Copeland, a different Copeland altogether. But interestingly enough, that rumor that he was CIA also wasn't helped by my last name in this case, Copeland -- and used to follow my father around almost like a shadow at dinner parties, that he was also CIA.
COPELANDAnd if you think about it, both men were 6'3". Both men were from the South. They had a little bit more in common than you might like to admit. And when my father was questioned, let's just say, when he was in prison, that was one of the things that the questioner -- that the interrogator returned to repeatedly, was this association with Miles Copeland and Max Copeland.
PAGEEdward, let me give you the mic again. Isn't that interesting, though? The confusion that followed Max Copeland even during his trial, follows him even today.
EDWARDYeah. Well, it -- the fact is that I -- I do not believe the fact that Miles Copeland -- Miles Copeland -- was involved in the Tehran coup. He arrives in Egypt in 1955, straight out of the United States. And he was not in fact functioning as a CIA agent or operator but as a contractor.
PAGEAll right. Edward, thank you so much for your call.
COPELANDEdward, he actually -- let me just add one thing. He wrote about his involvement in the CIA in his own autobiography and specifically his involvement in the '53 coup.
PAGEEdward, we appreciate hearing from you. You know, you -- your mother had a relationship, a friendship with an old boyfriend that turned out to be critical in her efforts to win freedom for her husband. Tell us about that old boyfriend and the role he played.
COPELANDYeah. He was kind of a remarkable character. His name was Sadat Gupsade (sp?) . My mother attended Georgetown with him. He was her -- I guess he was -- I'm not sure she would say boyfriend. She would probably say suitor, Susan. And they used to argue incessantly over everything. My mother was a royalist, he was a revolutionary. He kind of chanted and sat in -- sat in at the embassy and protested all those things that we kind of are used to hearing about back then. Their relationship was a respectful, if contentious one. Until eventually Sadat got kicked out of Georgetown because he had missed one too many of his classes. And that was, as they say, that.
COPELANDUntil 1979, when we were back in Iran and my father, as you know, was kind of facing the trial that he was facing, and we turn on the television. And there is -- they show footage of Khomeini's plane landing. And who's there with him but Sadat. And he has actually in the -- in the intervening time, become the Ayatollah's right-hand man. He wrote his speeches for him. He did his shopping for him. He bought his eau de toilette for him. And he also chartered the Air France flight that would fly the Ayatollah home. On that interview, there -- somebody asks the Ayatollah, "How do you feel about returning back to Iran after all these years?" And the Ayatollah says, "I feel nothing." But he says it in Farsi.
COPELANDAnd Sadat looks at him as if to say, "Nothing? You feel nothing after so many years?" Only Sadat has the presence of mind and the media savvy to say he has no comment, instead of nothing. So he rose then very quickly through the heights. He ended up becoming the foreign minister. And while he was at the Ministry, actually ended up housing -- housing I'm saying -- three of the other American hostages who happened to be there the day that the embassy was taken. So he had three hostages upstairs. There were the 66 that were in the embassy. And there's my mother, who shows up at his doorstep, asking for a little bit of help.
PAGENow, was there a relationship -- official, unofficial, formal or informal -- between your father's situation, imprisonment, and the American's where were being held hostage at the same time?
COPELANDSusan, there really wasn't. You know, my father was taken -- was arrested and tried a couple of weeks after the hostages were taken. But the thing that did kind of draw the two together was that the attentions of the White House and the CIA and the FBI and the State Department were focused almost like a laser on what was going on at the embassy. And because of that, my father was both literally and figuratively off the radar for them.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850, in our conversation with Cyrus Copeland about his new book, "Off The Radar: A Father's Secret, A Mother's Heroism, And A Son's Quest." Let's go to Conway, Ark., and talk to Michael. Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAELWell, thank you so much for taking my call. I'm curious, this is maybe just a little bit of a sideline history question. But you had mentioned a few minutes ago about the coup in the 1950s where Mosaddeq -- I think I'm pronouncing that correctly -- was overthrown and the Shah was installed and it was backed -- that overthrow was backed by the West. My question is, did the revolutionary group that came in, in 1979, how do they regard Mosaddeq and his ideologies? Because I'm -- it's my understanding that he wanted to, you know, nationalize the petroleum and things like that. And that's why the West overthrew him.
COPELANDYeah. You're correct. Mosaddeq was a largely beloved national figure. He did fight for the interests of Iranian oil, which was by then controlled by both the British and the Americans. And because of that, just as you mentioned, the CIA orchestrated this coup to overthrow him. And as a consequence of that, there has been, ever since then, really kind of this wound in the Iranian national psyche that they hold against the West. Mosaddeq was a -- Mosaddeq was a well-liked figure.
PAGEMichael, thanks very much for your call. You know, there's a word that you write about in -- an Iranian word that refers to people like you. Two vein, that's how you translate it. Say the word for us in Farsi.
COPELANDYeah, (speaks foreign language) .
PAGEAnd what does it -- what does it mean? What does it convey?
COPELANDJust that. It's that you've got two different veins. But, for me, the challenge in that and in kind of being Iranian-American, was how do you hold the contradiction of two veins that ultimately lead kind of back to the same heart as they do. For me, it's been -- well, before the revolution, it really wasn't an issue, right? You could be both American and Iranian and it was no problem at all. I remember that we would kind of fast for Ramadan and we would also do 4th of July barbeques. I remember playing softball at Farah (sp?) Stadium and watching the kids run the bases in their cleats and also learning how to cuss in Farsi. But after the revolution, these two things became very contradictory things.
COPELANDAnd it was very difficult for me to kind of learn how to be both. And that difficulty hasn't waned in the past 35 years. I kind of watch both my homelands, both of which I love dearly, demonize each other. Iran, you know -- and it's little bit like kind of being the child of a divorce, but the divorce is ugly and it's happening on an international scale. And your mother is calling your father, you know, the great Satan and he's saying that she's the axis of evil. And then there's me. And I'm kind of pulled between these two homelands and kind of doing geopolitical therapy for the past 35 years, as it were.
PAGEAnd you went back to Iran recently. How did you feel?
PAGEDid you feel like you were going home?
COPELANDYeah. It was wonderful. You know, when the plane landed on the Tehran tarmac, I -- I didn't write about this -- but I had a little anxiety attack. And my breath grew shallow and I couldn't leave the plane. I was almost like glued to my seat, because I was afraid of whether -- that this was an angry country that I was returning to or that all the things that I had heard in the media here were actually true. In fact, it turned out to be the exact opposite. I found a country that was very welcoming, very hospitable. Iranians are notorious for their sense of hospitality. And despite the sanctions, which have had a very, almost draconian effect on everything and everybody, they received me with grace and great hospitality and open arms.
PAGEWe're talking to Cyrus Copeland about his new book, "Off The Radar: A Father's Secret, A Mother's Heroism, And A Son's Quest." We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones. The phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And when we come back, we'll ask Cyrus about the movie, "Argo," which has given us a picture of what was going on in Iran at that time that a lot of Americans will remember. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking with Cyrus Copeland. he's in our NPR studios in New York City. He's an author and editor, and he's written a new book. It's called "Off the Radar: A Father's Secret, a Mother's Heroism and a Son's Quest." Let's go to the phones. Deborah's calling us from Bethesda, Maryland. Deborah, thanks so much for giving a call to the Diane Rehm Show.
DEBORAHHi, thank you. Can you hear me?
PAGEYes, please go ahead.
DEBORAHI just wanted to call, and I grew up with a very similar childhood, and now I'm an adult, and my father was accused of being a spy for the KGB by the CIA and the FBI, and the KBG thought he was a spy for the CIA. He was bureau chief for ABC News in Moscow in the early '60s, and then we moved to Hong Kong, and my mother was from New Zealand. And then we moved from Washington, D.C., in 1970, and that's when these rumors and innuendos sort of came out.
DEBORAHAnd then my parents sued the FBI and the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act to get the blacked-out information under national security, the files that the government had on my father. And so it was very strange, and I still haven't been able -- you know, he passed away in 1985, but I grew up in a very similar situation of not really understanding and knowing if my dad was, you know, a spy, and my mother defended him, and she was really the one that organized the -- you know, worked with the HLU.
DEBORAHAnd it's extraordinary to sort of, you know, as you get -- as you get older, and you grow up, and you realize that really what that was as a child, to go through that kind of thing.
PAGENow do you believe that your father was a spy?
DEBORAHWell, I -- that's what I'm trying to find out. I'm actually, coincidentally, finally writing a book myself and getting more information now from the Freedom of Information Act because a lot of the stuff was blacked out under national security for a long time. I think what -- a similar situation. He was knowingly working for the CIA, and then I think when they asked him to do specific things that he said no to -- he also had -- there were other people named Jaffe (PH) who were CIA agents, and my great uncle, the actor Sam Jaffe was blacklisted as a communist. None of that's helped, as well, similar to the Copeland, Miles and Max.
DEBORAHI think he was not a spy because it really killed him, fighting -- he sued for nine years, and then he died of cancer at 56, after his name was cleared by the judge. But nobody got to read the blacked-out information, only the judge did. So we don't know -- and then of course the KGB think he was a spy for the United States, and Chinese intelligence, as well, because we were in China in the early '70s, and he knew (unintelligible) .
DEBORAHAnd, you know, growing up in this, I didn't really understand it, but it caused a lot of turmoil and obviously a lot of craziness.
PAGEOh, I can imagine. Well Deborah, let me ask Cyrus if he has any advice because I know Cyrus in his book recounts trying to get documentation that would answer the question about his father's relationship with the CIA. Tell us your own experience, Cyrus, and if you have any advice for Deborah.
COPELANDI do. Deborah, you will be stonewalled at every turn by the CIA in your attempt to get information from them. I was actually aided by one of the top lawyers in this regard, the very lawyer who had represented Valerie Plame. I don't know if you remember when she was outed by the Bush administration, and she went toe-to-toe with the CIA. So if anybody could pull forth information from them, it was him, David Smallman.
COPELANDMy advice to you would be to stop looking in the places that you're looking and go back to your father's childhood and see if you can't find some clues there.
PAGEDeborah, thanks so much for your call. We look forward to your own book on your quest to find out about your dad. Now you, Cyrus, you took your own advice. You went back to Oklahoma, where your dad is from. Tell us what you found when you were there.
COPELANDYeah, that was a remarkable experience for me. I didn't intend to go back to Oklahoma. I had always kind of felt much stronger association with my mother's heritage and her homeland, and the prospect of going back to Oklahoma, and Grove, Oklahoma, at that, which is about 20 years behind Tulsa in coming along, as they say, was not one that I was greatly looking forward to.
COPELANDIn fact it turned out to be a very soul-nourishing experience for me, where I was able to talk with my father's oldest friends and ended up piecing together the puzzle that had thus far eluded me in whether or not my dad was CIA. And I found that, interestingly enough, there was just one sentence in his diary that I came across that opened the whole thing and allowed me to put the question that had launched me on this quest to rest once and for all.
PAGENow, we don't want to spoil the surprise because the whole book is about trying to figure out if your dad was a CIA spy or not and CIA agent or not, and it's something you answered in the book. But I just want to ask you, if you are -- if you feel that, without telling us what you concluded, if you feel you have proven to yourself the answer to this question, if you feel confident that you now know the answer to the question.
COPELANDYes, I do.
PAGEAll right. Let's go -- we'll just leave it at that. Let's go to Syracuse, New York, and talk to Peter. Peter, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PETERHow are you?
PETERI just wanted to say that listening to the program today is almost comforting because I am the son of a man who was working in Lebanon in the '50s and the early '60s and have always been suspicious as I grow older of what he was really doing. And I know that (unintelligible) foreign service brats (unintelligible) ...
PAGEYou know, Peter, I'm afraid your phone is breaking up. It sounds like you're being tapped.
PAGEPerhaps we're all suspected of being spies. But I think -- I think we have your point, that your dad was a foreign service officer working in Lebanon in the '50s and '60s and that you have suspected that perhaps he had a relationship with the agency. I wonder, Cyrus, do you think that CIA agents leave their families in the dark about what they're really doing? Because surely this must come up all the time, if you're working with the CIA.
COPELANDYeah, they do, and they find very unremarkable covers for themselves. Back in the 1950s, those covers were often in foreign service. They had also just launched a program called Mockingbird back then, where they placed the CIA as journalists abroad, wherein they had access to kind of very high-level political figures. So they would kind of construct these very artful identities for their agents, and a cardinal rule was that, you know what, your family shouldn't know.
PAGENow, you know, for journalists this is very -- item of great concern because it puts real journalists in peril if spies are operating with journalism as their cover. You know, the movie "Argo" was all about Iran at this period of time when your dad was in prison. What did you think about that movie?
COPELANDI was both riveted and a little bit disgusted with it. I thought it was a very well-constructed, muscular movie, it had me on the edge of my proverbial seat. As an Iran -- as somebody who is half-Iranian, though, I took offense to the portrayal of Iran as essentially a nation of 36 million goons and ham-handed zealots. And in fact if you look at the movie, there are several things that kind of happen throughout the course of this, that you realize this is such a one-sided attempt to tell the truth.
COPELANDThere is one good Iranian in this movie, and she's only good because she actually helps the Americans escape. Everybody else is bad. And in fact the idea that Tony Mendez got for staging the whole "Argo" -- the whole "Argo" kind of idea was by looking at "The Planet of the Apes," which is also not something that endears one to -- Iranians to Americans. So they were quite upset about it.
COPELANDThey weren't the only ones who were upset. The Brits were upset. The New Zealanders were upset. And the New Zealanders were upset for a very good reason, and I don't kind of want to give away one of the major plot points, but let me just say that I ended up finding out that there was not just one Argo but two Argo operations that were being run, side by side. The second one was an attempt to extricate my father using the same characters. It took place at the same time, and it was actually only a couple of miles from our house.
COPELANDAnd the reason I was able to kind of find this information was Brzezinski, who was Carter's national security advisor, I had been in contact with him over some months, and he said, you know, Cyrus, if I were you, I would go looking for clues in the Carter National Library. So I had a friend go there, and she called me back the next day, and she said, you know, I went through boxes and boxes and boxes of files, and I couldn't find anything, except there was this one memo on which your father's name was mentioned.
COPELANDAnd it was the last line in a memo, and it was just one sentence on that memo that indicated he wasn't really very high on their list of priorities, but that one sentence on that one memo was enough for me to bust open a whole unwritten chapter of CIA history in Iran.
PAGEDo you think that with the passage of time, some of the documentation that you've been unable to get from the CIA, other agencies, even the Iranians, will come through? Do you think that there will be more to know in the future?
COPELANDYou know, Susan, according to FOIA request, according to the way FOIA works, they are supposed to release this information to you in a matter of I believe it's three months. I'm not quite sure, but it's a matter of weeks or months. A year and a half later, I was still waiting for them to disseminate this information. So I'm not terribly hopeful. That's a very sensitive part of history, and America and Iran are still at odds with each other. So it doesn't really behoove them to spill those kind of secrets as freely as I might like.
PAGEAlthough we do find, with the end of the Cold War, we're learning more and more about what happened between the United States and the Soviet Union. So maybe there's hope. Let's go to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and talk to Douglas. Douglas, thanks for holding on.
DOUGLASHi, thank you very much.
PAGEYes, go ahead. Do you have a comment or a question?
DOUGLASYes, I have a question for Cyrus. My great -- my grandmother as the youngest sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She was Princess Fatimeh Pahlavi. And my grandfather, he is from California, who she was married to, Vincent Lee Hillyer, was also -- I had heard rumors that he was spying for the CIA also. And I was just curious to know if you knew of any friendship between your father and him or had ever crossed paths with my grandfather and grandmother at any of the shah's functions.
PAGEHow interesting, Douglas. Let's ask Cyrus.
COPELANDThat's remarkable. Unfortunately, I don't, but I'm very curious to hear where this -- where the rest of this kind of story leads. So you know, there were a number of Iranians that were on the CIA payroll, actually upwards of 2,000 when the embassy was taken. And that number actually ended up coming to light when they published all the documents that were in the American embassy at the time, and it constituted really the largest cache of intellectually sensitive documents that were released.
COPELANDBut this idea that there were Iranians, and there were royalists, and they had kind of a relationship to the CIA, I wish I could tell you I knew a little bit more about that situation and with regards to my father's relationship, possibly, but I just don't.
PAGEDouglas, thanks so much for your call. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Let's go to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and talk to Jeff. Jeff, you're on the air.
JEFFHey, how are you doing?
JEFFOkay, Cyrus is your guest, correct?
JEFFOkay, I don't have any CIA connections, I haven't -- I have no axe to grind with any of these people, but I would -- he says he's been over to Iran recently, and how -- what's his perspective on, like, I'm a 61-year-old guy, and we've been in turmoil with Iran for many years, and I'm kind of like over it, you know, like I have no axe to grind with any Iranian people and most Iranian people I meet are just nice people. So how do they -- what's his perspective, how do they feel about us now and about maybe normalizing relations between our countries and stuff like that? I mean, are they conducive to that? I just -- it's a stupid question, I know, but...
PAGEIt's not -- Jeff, I don't think it's a stupid question at all. I think it's a great question. Cyrus, what do you think?
COPELANDI actually, I love that question. Thank you for asking it, Jeff. And I'm going to tell you a story to illustrate how they feel. When I went back to Iran, one of the things that I used to love to do every day was walk in Tehran's big bazaar. The bazaar is kind of cultural institution. It is miles and miles of above- and underground shops that go back for 2,000 years, and it's where Iranian culture and history happens.
COPELANDSo I'm walking around in the bazaar, and I don't actually look Iranian. I'm 6'3". I look much more American than I do Iranian. So it's obvious that I don't really fit in there. And so the merchants would call out, hey, Mister, where are you from. And I would respond in Farsi. I would say, I'll give you 10,000 tomans if you can guess. And so they start guessing, Australia, Spain, France, la, la, la. Nobody ever guesses right. So I give them a hint. I say death to, and then in a very small voice, they say Israel? And I say no, the other one. And they go America.
COPELANDAnd there is absolutely no rancor left in that death to America statement, which I have now kind of turned into a big joke for all of them, and they want to know what I'm doing here, and would I come and join them for a cup of tea, and have I ever met Julia Roberts. The truth is that Iran and the Iranian population is the only reliably pro-American population in the entire Middle East. And you wouldn't know it from the level of dialogue that happens between our country and theirs, but that's the way it is.
PAGEWell, and you know -- Jeff, thank you so much for that question. We do have a situation even now with Americans being imprisoned in Iran, including Jason Rezaian, the Washington -- the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post. He's just passed his one-year anniversary in jail. I wonder if you have any thoughts for the families of those who are now going through what you went through so many years ago.
COPELANDNothing that comes to -- you know, that's a very kind of political situation, Susan, and I'd rather not touch that hot potato, if you don't mind.
PAGEAnd when you think about the nuclear deal, another hot potato, as you say, another political issue, but when you think about the prospect of this landmark accord between Iran and the United States and other Western nations, how does it -- how do you view it, as someone with this very unique perspective?
COPELANDSo let me just say that I'm not a politico, so I can't speak to the specifics of the deal. But I'm so pleased to be able to be alive to see this. I feel like it's a momentous thing, that in an area of the world embroiled by conflict and beset by sanctions and military threats and coercion and alienation, that diplomacy finally won a round. I think this was a big win for diplomacy, and for it's also a definite shift towards peace between Iran and America.
PAGECyrus Copeland, he's an author write. He's written some previous collections, "Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time," and "A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit." He was on the Diane Rehm Show for this past hour to talk about his new book. It's titled "Off the Radar: A Father's Secret, a Mother's Heroism and a Son's Quest." Thanks so much for being with us this hour.
COPELANDThank you, it's been such a pleasure, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Thanks for listening.
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