The Senate Intelligence Committee has launched a new probe to determine how much the CIA may have influenced the portrayal of torture scenes shown in "Zero Dark Thirty," the Hollywood dramatization of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The probe, as first reported by Reuters and confirmed to ABC News by a spokesperson for the committee's chairman, will attempt to answer two questions: Did the CIA give filmmakers "inappropriate" access to secret material and was the CIA responsible for the perceived suggestion that harsh interrogation techniques aided the hunt for America's most wanted man?
In a press release today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office said Feinstein, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and former Presidential candidate John McCain (R.-Ariz.) – the latter two are ex officio members of the Intelligence Committee – sent two letters to acting CIA Director Michael Morell in December asking just what the CIA might have told the filmmakers about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation.
The first letter, dated Dec. 19, focused on the possibility that the CIA "misled" the filmmakers into showing torture as an effective tactic.
"As you know, the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the [bin Laden] compound," the letter says. "The CIA cannot be held accountable for how the Agency and its activities are portrayed in film, but we are nonetheless concerned, given the CIA's cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative's consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA."
Two days after the letter was sent, Morell posted a statement on the CIA website explaining that the movie was "not a realistic portrayal of the facts" but said some information did come from detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation.
"...[T]he film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false," Morell said. "As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."
The trio of Feinstein, Levin and McCain wrote the second letter on New Year's Eve in apparent frustration with that statement and asked Morell to provide information on what exactly the CIA learned from detainees who underwent harsh interrogation – and if it was learned before, during or after the detainees' ordeals.
A CIA spokesperson told ABC News today the agency had received the letters and "take[s] very seriously our responsibility to keep our oversight committees informed and value[s] our relationship with Congress."