Pentagon, CIA, White House opened up to Hollywood on bin Laden raid
Politico -- by Josh Gerstein
Just weeks after Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency officials warned publicly of the dangers posed by leaks about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, top officials at both agencies and at the White House granted Hollywood filmmakers unusual access to those involved in planning the raid and some of the methods they used to do it, newly released government records show.
At a briefing in July 2011, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers told filmmakers Michael Boal and Katherine Bigelow that the leaders of the the Special Operations Command couldn't speak to them for appearances' sake. However, Vickers said that the Pentagon would make available a Navy SEAL who was involved in planning the raid from its earliest stages.
"On the operators side, Adm. McRaven and Adm. Olson do not want to talk directly, because it's just a bad, their [sic] just concerned as commanders of the force and they're telling them all the time—don't you dare talk to anybody, that it's just a bad example if it gets out—even with all sorts of restrictions and everything," Vickers said, according to a transcript of the meeting released Friday to Judicial Watch. The conservative watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding the documents (posted here).
"The basic idea is they'll make a guy available who was involved from the beginning as a planner, a SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander," McRaven said.
"That's dynamite," Boal replied, according to the transcript.
Bigelow, best known for "The Hurt Locker," also chimed in. "That's incredible," she said, gratefully.
"He'll speak for operators and he'll speak for senior military commanders," Vickers continued, adding that the designated SEAL would essentially be a mouthpiece for McRaven and Olson. "The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because again it's the same thing, he shouldn't be talking out of school, this at least gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can't say," Vickers added, vouching that the SEAL cleared to meet with the filmmakers would be able to provide "lots of color."
The Pentagon is now withholding from the public and the press the same name DoD gave the filmmakers. The response sent to Judicial Watch explains the deletion by citing privacy concerns as well as a statute allowing the Secretary of Defense to protect the names of members of "routinely deployable" and "sensitive" units. It is unclear whether the court will uphold such a withholding given that the name was already disclosed to a member of the public by a senior official, apparently with some forethought.
A Pentagon spokesman stressed Tuesday night that the name given to the filmmakers was not that of someone directly involved in carrying out the bin Laden raid.
"The identity of a planner, not a member of SEAL Team 6, was provided by USSOCOM as a possible point of contact for additional information if the DoD determined that additional support was merited," Lt. Col. James Gregory said. "No additional official DoD support was granted, nor to our knowledge was it pursued by the film makers."
"The redaction suggests the disclosure of the Seal Team Six leader's name to Bigelow and Boal was improper," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton told POLITICO Tuesday night.
Some Republicans have accused the Obama administration of having shared secret information with the movie team in order to paint President Barack Obama in a flattering light in a film that was originally scheduled to come out before the November election. The film, now called "Zero Dark Thirty," has since been delayed to Dec. 19.
The documents obtained by Judicial Watch show the White House and the CIA also rolled out the welcome mat for the filmmakers. Boal visited with acting CIA director Michael Morrell and had access to a mock-up at CIA headquarters that depicted the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound where the raid was carried out, the records indicate.
"After reviewing these emails, I am even more concerned about the possible exposure of classified information to these filmmakers, who as far as I know, do not possess security clearances," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. "The email messages indicate that the filmmakers were allowed an unprecedented visit to a classified facility so secret that its name is redacted in the released email. If this facility is so secret that the name cannot even be seen by the public, then why in the world would the Obama Administration allow filmmakers to tour it?"
CIA officials seemed aware that cooperating with Boal was in some tension with the government's public line that it was trying to crack down on leaks.
"We’re trying to keep [Boal's] visits at HQs [sic] a bit quiet, because of the sensitivities surrounding who gets to participates in this types of things [sic]," CIA spokesman Marie Harf wrote to a colleague in June 2011. "I’m sure you understand."
Last December, Harf left the CIA for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, where she is associate policy director for national security.
"The CIA has been open about our engagement with writers, documentary filmmakers, movie and TV producers, and others in the entertainment industry," CIA Spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said in an e-mail Tuesday night. "The protection of national security equities is always paramount in any engagement with the entertainment industry."
At the White House, Boal apparently met with National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism John Brennan. There are few details on those meetings in the released records. The White House is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
King also described as "troubling" the role of a Democratic lobbying shop, Glover Park Group, in arranging some of the meetings. The names of Glover's Sarah Zukowski and Michael Feldman, a former aide to Vice President Al Gore, appear on various e-mails related to the sessions.
A spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Inspector General said Wednesday that an investigation into disclosures of DoD information to the bin Laden movie filmmakers is ongoing.