It turns out the CIA and Pentagon officials were just big fans of The Hurt Locker.
New documents pertaining to government and military cooperation on the Osama bin Laden takedown film Zero Dark Thirty (out Dec. 19) were posted Tuesday evening by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, but they fail to confirm the organization’s theory that director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal were given special access for the sake of political gains.
In fact, media relations officials discussed the need to be fair to others who were seeking similar information about the May 2, 2011 raid — and they told each other one reason to speak to Boal and Bigelow was for the sake of learning more about the project themselves.
Nowhere in the documents does any representative of the CIA or Department of Defense ever express interest in the project for propaganda purposes. Rather, they talk about the respect they have for Bigelow and Boal’s Oscar-winning Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, as well as their work for charities aiding military families.
In their requests for access, Boal and Bigelow also revealed the secret working title of the film — For God and Country.
All of the documents are available here, along with Judicial Watch’s continued insistence that “the Obama administration granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film.”
Boal and Bigelow did not respond to request for comment.
In a June 7, 2011, exchange with Defense Department spokesman George E. Little, CIA spokesperson Marie Harf indicated that the agency had received requests from Imagine Entertainment and director Ron Howard for help on a possible bin Laden project, but indicated the Boal/Bigelow film was more worthy of the access due to their pedigree and the likelihood it would actually happen:
I know we don’t “pick favorites’ but it makes sense to get behind the winning horse … I am sure Imagine is talking about working with Howard, but Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board. It’s just not a close call. We can certainly talk to Howard, but I don’t think they should all get this kind of CTC [Counterterrorism Center] treatment, that’s all.
Little responds by advocating for broader access in general, if only for the sake of making contacts with Howard’s talent agency CAA:
No one’s talking about the full-on CTC treatment. Just SOME CIA treatment at this stage. I don’t think anyone disagrees that we should place most of our betting money on the Boal project at this point. We have to do our due diligence with others, and it doesn’t hurt to establish stronger relationships with CAA and others even if their projects don’t move forward.
On June 15, 2011, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson sent this email to Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, saying how well-regarded The Hurt Locker was and identifying one of the military charities Bigelow has helped, CIA director Leon Panetta was, apparently, eager to assist the film:
Both Boal and Bigelow are well-known to both Geoff [Morrell, Department of Defense spokesman] and me. Both Geoff and I highly respect both of them. (FYI, Bigelow is actively assisting in Hollywood on “Joining Forces” and other military family issues.) SD Gates shares that admiration for their previous film efforts. Boal has been working with us and with CIA (via George Little [Department of Defense spokesman]) for initial context briefings — at DoD this [has] been provided by Mike Vickers and at CIA by relevant officials with the full knowledge and full approval/support of Director Panetta.
Wilson also indicates a desire to learn more about the limits on information that could be shared with the filmmakers, as well as others looking to dramatize the raid.
Our overall engagement with Boal and Bigelow to date has been pretty general. But as this progresses, mike Vickers and I (and I’m sure Goerge as well) would welcome guidance regarding parameters, in particular those for Boal and Bigelow.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Jamie Smith responded in an email that indicated the military and intelligence communities were assisting the film well before the White House got involved.
I’m not sure I understood that this was as far along so would definitely be great to link up and chat soonest and get a sense of what DoD and CIA have communicated thus far. Would also love to know any other folks you have heard from since last we spoke, or plan to meet with — books, docus, additional movies, etc.
This would seemingly undermine the claim by Judicial Watch and Congressman Pete King* (R-NY)that President Obama was helping the filmmakers to remind voters of his role in authorizing the raid on bin Laden’s compound. (In his first interview about the film, Boal told EW that Obama was not even depicted in the movie, which focuses instead on the behind-the-scenes teams who hunted down the terrorist.)
On June 15 2011, the DoD’s Little wrote to DoD’s Wilson:
The Boal/Bigelow movie is the most mature and high-profile of the projects I’ve heard about. We’ve also been contacted by a former NYT reporter, Howard Blum, who’s trying to put something together but doesn’t seem to have a studio lined up yet. I’m not sure if he’ll get traction or not.
That same day, Mark Boal wrote to DoD’s Wilson and Philip Strub, entertainment media liaison for the Department of Defense, to coordinate a meeting, indicating he had already done a lot of research and would like to consult with the department:
I’ve been talking to various folks in the intel and military community in order to research the film, and wanted to reach out to you as well to give you a sense of our plans for the film going forward.
Rhodes wrote to Wilson, Little, and Smith that one reason to meet with the filmmakers would be to learn more about what Boal was working on.
We are trying to have visibility into the UBL [Usama bin Laden] projects, and this is likely the most high profile one. Would like to have whoever the group is that’s going around in here at the WH [White House] to get a sense of what they’re doing/ what cooperation they are seeking. Jamie will be POC.
On July 14, 2011, Boal’s assistant, Jonathan Leven, emailed the CIA’s Harf to ask if open-source floor plans they’d acquired for what was said to be bin Laden’s compound were indeed accurate. Harf replied:
That floor plan matches up with what we have.
Boal wrote to Harf, asking for more details, such as wall height:
We will be building a full scale replica of the house. Including the inhabitants of the animal pen!
That animal pen is kinda gross, but I totally applaud your effort.
Judicial Watch included the schematics in their document dump.
There were a handful of revelations in the collection of emails. One of them was that Boal apparently met with a translator who accompanied the SEAL Team Six on the raid. (And once again, there was some Hurt Locker fandom going on.)
Per CIA spokesperson Harf:
The mtgs on Friday went really, really well. Mr. Morell [Michael Morell, deputy director of the CIA] gave them 40 minutes, talked some of the substance again, told them we’re here to help with whatever they need, and gushed to Kathryn about how much he loved The Hurt Locker.
Tomorrow, they’ll be meeting with [redacted] Little that Boal and Bigelow would be “meeting individually with both [name redacted] and the translator who was on the raid.
The most shocking disclosure of secret information revealed in the documents was an email in which New York Times national security writer Mark Mazzetti leaked the contents of columnist Maureen Dowd’s column about the bin Laden film to the CIA’s Harf, what can only be described as a shocking betrayal to a fellow journalist:
In an Aug. 5, 2011, email, he wrote:
This didn’t come from me … and please delete after you read. See, nothing to worry about.
Mazzetti also wrote to Harf that the column would say:
Boal got high level access at Pentagon.
He also got good access at the WH [White House] btw …
When Boal was asked in his EW interview about Zero Dark Thirty if he had an interview with President Obama, he laughed — somewhat irritated — and said “Next.”
After the disclosure of these documents, it’s likely to be a question he is asked again.
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* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the congressman’s first name as Steve. Rep. Steve King is a Republican congressman from Iowa.