- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The CIA may have mishandled “briefings, interviews, visits and other support” given to the entertainment industry, says a previously classified report, now declassified and provided to Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report specifically criticizes the CIA’s granting of “secret level” access to the makers of the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” which dramatized the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the raid on his hideout in Pakistan.

While the audit from the CIA’s Office of Inspector General does not specifically name all the projects reviewed, which date back to Jan. 6, 2006, it specifically cites problems involving CIA interactions with “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“There was an instance in which CIA allowed an entertainment industry representative to attend a CIA event in which information classified at the SECRET level was discussed,” the report states.

In a footnote, investigators wrote, “officials told us that the filmmaker involved with Zero Dark Thirty was invited to the event so that he could absorb the emotion of the event and that he was told he could not use anything he heard at the event for his project.”

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency has made changes since the film was made.

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“In the wake of “Zero Dark Thirty,” CIA has completely overhauled its procedures for interaction with the entertainment industry.  Among other things, the Agency created a centralized record-keeping system for entertainment industry requests and, in 2012, issued comprehensive, new management guidance on contacts with and support to the entertainment industry,” Mr. Boyd said. 

“In addition, in response to the Sept. 2013 Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on potential ethics violations, CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) implemented mandatory annual ethics training for all OPA employees that is tailored to circumstances they may encounter and took administrative actions designed to reinforce ethical duties and reporting requirements.”

While the finished film follows the bin Laden killing with a somber down note centering on Jessica Chastain’s character rather than a glorious celebration of a national triumph, many conservatives long have criticized the CIA’s cooperation with the production as at least potential complicity in a pre-election boost for President Obama.

“The Obama administration put Hollywood before national security in order to help Barack Obama win re-election,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement Wednesday. “Has anyone been held accountable for these illegal leaks? The Obama administration put the heroes who killed Osama bin Laden at risk in order to help make this film.”

The CIA is a frequent subject of entertainment industry projects, and CIA officials often work with industry professionals to debunk myths about CIA intelligence work, present a balanced and accurate image of the CIA and lend authenticity to entertainment industry projects.

But the audit is critical of both the agency’s procedures for engaging with the entertainment industry and its record-keeping, saying there is little proof it helps the agency much.

“We found that the records maintained by the OPA [Office of Public Affairs] are not sufficient to document that entertainment industry requests to CIA for briefings, interviews, visits, and other support are handled in a consistent and fair manner and that engagement with the entertainment industry is effective in furthering CIA’s goal for engagement,” reads the report, which Judicial Watch released.

More broadly than the “Zero Dark Thirty” incident, the report said “OPA and other CIA employees have not always complied with Agency regulations intended to prevent the release of classified information during their interactions with entertainment industry representatives.”

The report questioned the access granted by the CIA to foreign nationals in the entertainment industry who may not have been properly vetted before their briefings.

“We also noted three entertainment projects [REDACTED] in which foreign nationals may have participated in briefings, interviews, and visits provided by the CIA,” the report reads.

“However, because of the lack of adequate records, we were unable to determine the extent of CIA’s support to the eight projects, the extent to which foreign nationals participated in CIA-sponsored activities, and whether the Director, OPA approved of the activities and participation of foreign nationals,” it went on.

Investigators stressed that “failure on the part of CIA officers to adhere to regulatory requirements could result in unauthorized disclosures, inappropriate actions and negative consequences for CIA.”

Dean Boyd, CIA’s director of public affairs said the agency has “completely overhauled its procedures for interaction with the entertainment industry” in the wake of “Zero Dark Thirty.” 

This includes creating a centralized record-keeping system for entertainment industry requests and issuing new comprehensive management guidance on contacts with and support to the entertainment industry. 

CIA has also implemented mandatory annual ethics training for all OPA employees and strengthened policies and procedures to ensure the protection of classified information. 

“During engagements with the entertainment industry, CIA’s priority is the protection of classified material and national security equities, while ensuring an informed, balanced portrayal of the women and men of CIA,” Mr. Boyd said. “The many changes implemented since ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ are part of our continuing obligation to the public, to Congress and to CIA to uphold the highest standards of accountability and ethics as we communicate the CIA mission.”

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