Archer, on the FX channel, has been delighting viewers since 2009. The Primetime Emmy and Annie award-winning show follows the antics of Sterling Archer and his spy group, ISIS. The show also teaches quite a few lessons about the spy game. Below are 5 real life operations referenced in the show.
In Season 2 of Archer, it was revealed that Kreiger, the in-house scientist, had grown up in Brazil and spoke German as a child. There was a community of Germans in Brazil prior to World War II. After the conflict, several Nazi war criminals escaped to the South American country and attempted to blend in with other Germans. Kreiger was said to be the child of one of these Nazi scientists.
The episode also referenced Operation Paperclip. During the Cold War, which kicked off after WW2, American special ops were focused on keeping the technology of Nazi scientists away from the Soviet Union. In an operation conducted by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency and the U.S. Army’s Counterintelligence Corps, 1600 former German scientists were hired by the United States Government. This included both former members and former leaders of the Nazi party.
In a Season 4 episode, Archer is bitten by a Cobra. The venom from the bite causes him to recall a memory from when he was 6 years-old. In his hallucinated state, Archer recalls his mother Mallory, also a spy, being involved in the overthrow of the Guatemalan Government.
Operation PBSuccess was conducted by the CIA in 1954. Jacobo Árbenz, who was democratically elected in 1951, had instituted reforms that distributed land to poor peasants. The United States considered this to be a form of communism. In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was elected to be the American president and took a hard line against communism.
The CIA worked to fund, arm, and train a group of 480 soldiers led by a man named Carlos Castillo Armas. Armas was able to take over the country in a largely bloodless coup d’etat as the Guatemalan Army feared getting into a war with the United States and refused to fight back. The operation led to increased anti-American sentiment in Latin America.
The Iran-Contra Affair
In Season 5 of Archer, the spy team comes into a large amount of cocaine. The group decides to quit their jobs, sell the drugs, and retire. Along the way, the team runs into an operation where the CIA has paid mercenaries to start a war against a country called San Marcos. The San Marcos government must then trade cocaine for arms. It was clear what the show was lampooning here.
The Iran-Contra Affair occurred from 1985 through 1987. During the scandal, the Khomenei Government of Iran was banned from buying arms. Members of the Reagan Administration secretly facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran. The proceeds from these sales were to be sent to the Contras who opposed the Nicaraguan Government. Congress had prohibited the government from further funding the Contras via the Boland Amendment.
During an episode of season 3, Malory’s lover, and Italian Prime Minister is killed. The episode leaves the reason behind his killing a mystery until the very end. It is then revealed that she had met the PM when he was working as a stay-behind during Operation Gladio.
In a stay-behind operation, “a country places secret operatives or organizations in its own territory, for use in case an enemy occupies that territory. If this occurs, the operatives would then form the basis of a resistance movement or act as spies from behind enemy lines. Small-scale operations may cover discrete areas, but larger stay-behind operations envisage reacting to the conquest of whole countries.”
During Operation Gladio, which began in 1956, The Western Union, NATO, and the CIA left behind agents in Italy as a hedge against the members of the Warsaw Pact. The operation was not revealed to the public until 1990.
In a Season One flashback, Archer is told by his butler Woodhouse, that, “Mommy and Uncle Kermit said Ajax was successful and Tehran is ours.” This was a reference to Operation Ajax.
In 1951 Mohammad Mosaddegh was appointed the Prime Minister of Iran. A few years later, Mosaddegh attempted to look into British Petroleum and the Iranian oil industry to make sure the country was getting its fair share. The Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, attempted to denounce Mosaddegh, but Mosaddegh was popular with the people of the country. The Shah fled. To turn things around, Kermit Roosevelt Jr. and the CIA, in coordination with the British, organized a fake Communist revolution. Mosaddegh turned himself in and the Shah returned to power.