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Why am I in the Pentagon report on Zero Dark Thirty?

June 4, 2013, at 10:21 PM
 

In late May of 2011, I received an unusual call from Doug Wilson, the undersecretary of defense for public affairs.

He wanted to introduce me to Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning writer of the Hurt Locker. Boal, he said, was working on a new film about the manhunt that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Why me?

And yes, I asked that.

He told me it was because I had reported on the Joint Special Operations Command, and had written about the raid for National Journal, so Wilson thought the connection would be mutually beneficial.

Wilson sent me Boal's contact info.

I met him twice, once in Washington, and once in Los Angeles, later that summer.

At no point did Wilson ask me to talk to Boal about the bin Laden raid, although I assumed that the Pentagon believed that, if I did discuss the subject, my perspective would be somewhat favorable to their point of view. It's a reasonable assumption, although, as I explained to Boal, pretty much everything I knew, with the exception of a few sensitive details, I had put in print.

(At least one detail I did report, about the presence of the RQ-170 drone above Abbottabad, earned me a rebuke from the director of national intelligence.)

I don't remember everything I discussed with Boal, but I'm pretty certain I did not reveal those details to him. (A few I remember have still not been made public.) He did not ask me to discuss any specific knowledge I had about the raid.

From what I recall, Boal and I discussed internal Pentagon and White House politics. He did not reveal to me the extent of his access at the CIA or the Pentagon.

At the time, I was a bit intimated by him. He was a reporter-turned-filmmaker, something I aspired to be, and so I didn't see our meeting as an exercise in pure journalism. After all, I had nothing to write about. Boal was under significant time constraints, having to rewrite a film that suddenly had a new ending. We spent a lot of time discussing filmmaking.

Whatever sources he did find were better than me: He did not ask me to be a consultant on the film.

The DoD report suggests that Boal was the one who asked Wilson to facilitate the introduction to me and Kim Dozier, the AP's intelligence reporter, who has magnificent access to that community. I assume that Boal had come across my articles when doing research.

Incidentally, I also asked Wilson for an interview with Mike Vickers, the undersecretary of defense in charge of special ops, for the purposes of reporting. Wilson endorsed my request, but it was turned down by Vickers' public affairs officer.

 

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