RSS

Zero Dark Thirty's access to secret-keepers revealed

June 4, 2013, at 9:54 PM
 

An draft internal Pentagon report suggests that Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers revealed to filmmakers the name of a special operations planner who participated in the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden even though the head of the Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson, had specifically asked that the man's name and the fact of his participation in the raid not be revealed.

The report, about information provided by the government to Zero Dark Thirty's writer and director, concludes that no "classified" or sensitive special operations tactics, techniques and procedures were given to the "Hollywood executives" by Vickers or by anyone else. Still, at several points, senior Special Operations Command flag officers expressed concern about the filmmakers' access. And writer Mark Boal was present at a CIA ceremony, presided over by then-CIA director Leon Panetta, where TOP SECRET information was discussed, the report says.

I won't reveal the name or identity of the special operations planner; the report suggests his identity is protected by the Defense Cover Program. He now commands another unit within Joint Special Operations Command.

The report was requested by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) in response to allegations that Boal and director Katherine Bigelow were given unusual and perhaps illegal access to classified information during their research for the film. The Project on Government Oversight obtained a draft version of the report and posted it tonight. POGO suggests that the Defense Department has been sitting on the report for awhile because it reflects poorly on Panetta.

Because the administration is under pressure for how it investigates unauthorized disclosures of classified information, the draft report will provide grist for the mill. It shows a concerted effort by public affairs officers to help a friendly Hollywood interlocutor tell a story that had a Hollywood ending. The film, when released, was criticized for the role it gave the CIA's "Rendition, Detention and Interrogation" program in furnishing information that led to bin Laden's whereabouts being known. POGO accurately, if archly, notes that Panetta "Disclosed Top Secret Information To Hollywood." Whether that information was used in the film, or what steps the CIA took after the fact to counsel Boal about what he had heard, are not covered by the report.

At one point, Panetta's clout was used to cut through red tape and overrule the objections of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon, through Wilson, had requested that Boal be allowed to attend the CIA ceremony, and when the CIA public affairs staff resisted, enlisting the help of a SOCOM public affairs officer, the "Chief of Staff" (a reference to Jeremy Bash, Panetta's CIA chief of staff) overruled him. (Bash denies this.) The SOCOM public affairs officer is not named.

Boal enlisted the help of Glover Park Group, a DC-based lobby and PR firm, for access. A GPG principal's name was copied on several emails Boal sent to the Pentagon. (The report does not reveal the identity of this person.)

The report says that Panetta, who became defense secretary two months after the raid and right in the middle of the period of time in question, pushed for the Special Operations Command to cooperate with Boal and Bigelow when he moved to the Pentagon.

During the CIA awards ceremony, information classified as "SECRET//NOFORN," including the specific name of the unit and the identity of its commander, was revealed in the text of Panetta's speech. (In fairness, the identity of the unit, The Naval Special Warfare Development Group, was widely known within an hour of the raid's being disclosed.)

Also, Panetta disclosed information that, upon the investigators' attempt to reconstruct it, was deemed to be "TOP SECRET//SI," or information about signals intelligence that was derived from an exceptionally sensitive source.

Adm. William McRaven, then the commanding general of JSOC and soon to be SOCOM's commander, attended the ceremony and was introduced to Boal, and was "surprised and shocked" that he'd been able to attend, according to the report.

Doug Wilson, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, coordinated the filmmakers' access and kept the White House informed, and although the report does not document the responses of the president's staff, it does document a meeting between Wilson and an unnamed White House deputy press secretary in which the White House aide said that members of the president's staff would reach out to Boal and Bigelow.

Boal comes off in the report as a dogged and tenacious reporter.

My name comes up in the report, too. I'll save that for the next post.

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Facebook

Twitter

RSS

Subscribe to the Week