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Political appointees helped bin Laden filmmakers over objections of career officials at Pentagon

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2013

Political appointees at the Defense Department, the CIA and the White House brushed aside concerns from career officials about helping two Hollywood filmmakers research their 2012 movie about the top-secret Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to a report from the Pentagon's inspector general.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, who had been nominated to take over at the Pentagon; Mike Vickers, defense undersecretary for intelligence; and politically appointed public affairs staff in both agencies and the White House tried to secure for the filmmakers a meeting with a participant or planner of the 2011 raid, the report shows.

"At the direction of Director Panetta, the CIA is cooperating fully" with the filmmakers, Mr. Vickers wrote to Douglas Wilson, who was assistant defense secretary for public affairs. In reply, Mr. Wilson promised to "check with the [White House] to update them on status."

Investigators said that, as a result of these efforts, screenwriter Mark Boal attended a June 2011 ceremony at CIA headquarters in which raid participants were honored and were clearly identified, despite efforts to keep their identities secret.

Career public affairs and military staff at the Pentagon and the CIA opposed the effort to help Mr. Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, whose movie "Zero Dark Thirty" was released in December.

One unidentified CIA public affairs official tried to prevent Mr. Boal from attending the ceremony, according to the report, which was issued Friday afternoon.

Mr. Boal eventually was escorted into the ceremony by CIA public affairs officer Marie Harff, who left shortly thereafter to join President Obama's re-election campaign, according to emails disclosed last year by a Freedom of Information Act request.

Philip M. Strub, the Pentagon's director of entertainment media and the main liaison to the movie industry, even opposed the filmmakers' meeting with Mr. Vickers because U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was not inclined to cooperate.

"If SOCOM had said, 'We are not interested in this picture at all,' then there wouldn't be any point in having any meetings," Mr. Strub, a career civilian official, told investigators.

He said he was "not eager to deal with" Mr. Boal and Ms. Bigelow because he was unhappy with how their previous movie, "The Hurt Locker," portrayed its military characters.

"The Hurt Locker," which won the 2010 Academy Award for best picture, told the story of a bomb-disposal specialist in Iraq who feels compelled to take increased risks and cannot adjust to life back in the States.

Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, the incoming SOCOM commander, told Mr. Vickers "that he did not want to be involved in the [bin Laden] project," but might be able to identify a planner to provide background to the filmmakers — if the Pentagon made a formal decision to support the movie.

According to Defense Department regulations, such formal support required the filmmakers to submit their script and their final edit to Pentagon officials for approval, a condition few filmmakers regard as congenial, the inspector general report states. Even requesting formal support involves submitting a script for approval.

However, Mr. Boal asked for and received assistance from senior officials but never formally requested support from the Defense Department.

He did not submit a "Zero Dark Thirty" script for Pentagon approval.

The inspector general's report says that certain issues that arose during the investigation have been referred to other inspectors general. The report did not provide further details. The matters were not disclosed in Friday's report because doing so might prejudice other investigations, the authors stated.

The report also says that policy and procedural issues arising from the investigation will be addressed in a separate report.

The investigation was launched at the insistence of Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, after Freedom of Information Act requests from the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch revealed the effort by Obama administration officials to help the filmmakers.

Mr. King was not available for comment by press time Monday.

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