Obama aides gave Hollywood team rare CIA, Pentagon access on bin Laden raid info

ByOlivier Knox
May 23, 2012, 12:38 PM

— -- Barely one month after Navy SEALs staged the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Hollywood came knocking at the Pentagon. "Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal's late-night June 5, 2011 email to a Defense Department spokesman led to unlocked doors at the Pentagon, the White House and the CIA -- even getting him access to a SEAL planner closely tied to the raid. The remarkable cooperation on the development of a movie about the raid has a top congressional Republican crying foul and angrily asking whether administration officials inappropriately shared the nation's secrets. The White House denies any wrongdoing.

The conservative activist group Judicial Watch obtained reams of documents related to the filmmakers' access with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed earlier this year. The movie, tentatively titled "Zero Dark Thirty," is scheduled for release in December 2012.

Boal and Katherine Bigelow, who directed the Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker," sat down on July 15, 2011 with a handful of Pentagon officials, including Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers. According to a transcript of the meeting, Vickers simultaneously offered up the SEAL planner and warned that the Pentagon couldn't seem too forthcoming because of the repeated official warnings against talking to the media. Specifically, Vickers said, Adm. William McRaven, the head of Joint Special Operations Command and the man in charge of the May 2011 raid, wanted to avoid the appearance of a double-standard.

"Now, 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 explained to Boal and Bigelow.

Instead, "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," Vickers said.

"That's dynamite, by the way " Boal replied, in a transcript of the exchange, one of the documents Judicial Watch posted online.

"That's incredible," added Bigelow. "He'll speak for operators and he'll speak for senior military commanders," Vickers explained. "And then with [redacted name of the SEAL] 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, but this way at least he can be as open he can with you and it ought to meet your needs and give you lots of color," said Vickers.

"That's fabulous," said Bigelow. "That's dynamite" said Boal. And, a bit later, the screenwriter tells the Pentagon team: "You delivered."

The White House on Wednesday denied that any secrets may have been inappropriately shared.

"When people, including press, authors, filmmakers, documentarians, who are working on projects that involve the president ask to speak with administration officials, we do our best to accommodate them to make sure the facts are correct," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

"That's hardly a novel approach to the media. We do not discuss classified information. The information that the White House provided about the bin Laden raid was focused on the President's role in that decision making process. The same information was given to the White House press corps," he said in an email to Yahoo News.

But House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King blasted the revelations on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the documents revealed "the damning story of extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration" with Hollywood.

King singled out the disclosure that the filmmakers visited "a classified facility so secret that the name cannot even be seen by the public."

The episode appears to have begun with an 11:27 p.m. email from Boal to Geoff Morrell, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates's spokesman on June 5, 2011. In it, Boal asked to be able to talk to Vickers, and notes: "Naturally, I understand the sensitivities, and more than anything, am simply hoping for an opportunity to briefly tell him about the project's scope."

Three minutes later, Morrell pushed the email into the chain of comment, with the note "what do you all think? These guys are the Oscar winning team behind the Hurt Locker."

In another email, on June 9, Pentagon spokesman Robert Mehal fleshed out some of the details of the film project. "They were just about to begin filming a moving focusing on the Battle of Tora Bora (2001) when 1 May changed everything," Mehal wrote.

Mehal also noted that Boal was mindful of national security worries, and "indicated that he was proud of not giving anything away in Hurt Locker."

On June 13, Vickers wrote that senior officials were thinking over whether to cooperate with the filmmakers. "They would like to shape the story to prevent any gross inaccuracies, but do not want to make it look like the commanders think it's okay to talk to the media," he wrote. One option was to "offer up" a SEAL "who played a key role and knows the operators and story well."

The CIA cooperated with Boal and Bigelow at then-director Leon Panetta's direction, but were "not, obviously, giving away anything they shouldn't, but answering questions such as 'How did you feel at that point?'" according to another message.

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