Defense Report Omits Panetta’s SEAL Team 6 Disclosure

Jun 14, 2013 6:16pm

The final Defense Department watchdog report on the military’s cooperation with the makers of film “Zero Dark Thirty” largely clears the department of wrongdoing but leaves out two instances in which, according to a previous version of the report, then-CIA chief Leon Panetta and a defense official were separately accused of providing filmmakers with bits of classified information.

The report, published this afternoon by the Defense Department’s Inspector General (IG), is a departure from an undated draft version of the same report that was obtained and published last week by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). In addition to regular revisions, changes were made in part “to avoid compromising concurrent inquiries,” a Defense Department IG spokesperson Bridget Serchak  told ABC News.

The original draft version of the report said that Panetta identified the unit that took down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the unit’s on-the-ground commander during an address at a CIA ceremony in June 2011 that was attended by Mark Boal, writer for “Zero Dark Thirty.” It had been reported months before that the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six was responsible for the mission, even down to the specific squadron, but the commander’s name has not been disclosed publicly. At the time the draft report surfaced, a source close to Panetta did not deny the disclosure occurred, but told ABC News it was likely Panetta didn’t realize Boal, a civilian, was in attendance at the large ceremony at CIA headquarters.

The final IG report released today discusses the ceremony in the same language as the draft report, but makes no mention of Panetta’s remarks. Both versions of the report note the evident surprise of the special operations personnel who attended the ceremony — while wearing nametags with their real names — that a civilian was allowed in. One commander told the IG that after learning Boal was there, his men “all tried, you know, to get as much distance as possible,” the report says.

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Serchak office told ABC News today that “the working draft was edited and revised during a rigorous internal review process” and, when it came to Panetta’s remarks, the “DOD IG determined that certain matters identified in conjunction with our review pertained to events at the Central Intelligence Agency [and] accordingly, we referred these matters to the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.”

The CIA, whose Inspector General is conducting its own investigation into the cooperation the agency gave Bigelow and Boal, confirmed they received the Defense Department’s referral and opened their own investigation. There is no scheduled completion date for the CIA IG’s report and it is unclear if it will be made public once it’s finished.

The Defense Department IG report also shortens a description of a meeting between Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” director Katherine Bigelow and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers in July 2011 to omit the line, “Vickers provided the name of the Special Operations Planner to Mr. Boal and Ms. Bigelow,” as seen in the draft report. The planner is identified as a member of the special operations community who was supposed to be provided by the Defense Department to Boal and Bigelow for help in making the movie more realistic on the condition that his name not be released. Both versions of the report say the filmmakers never met the planner.

Serchak would not directly address the reasoning behind leaving out the line about Vickers giving out the planner’s name to civilians, but said the Defense Department “has an ongoing investigation of Dr. Vickers.”

The publication of the final report ends a nearly two-year investigation by the Defense Department’s IG, which was originally requested back in August 2011 by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. Last December, allegations arose that the report was being delayed for political reasons – allegations strongly denied by a senior defense official at the time.

When asked why the final report showed up without warning on a Friday afternoon, Serchak said that the “release date for every report is not always known” and that “no third parties, to include anyone from the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Executive Office of the President, attempted to influence the content of the report of its release date.”

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