In January, the Pentagon began investigating whether the White House had shared classified information with Kathryn Bigelow, director of an upcoming film about the search for Osama bin Laden. Now, conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch has obtained records that reveal President Obama’s Defense Department did provide Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal access to high-level information and resources – including a “planner, Operator and Commander” of the Navy SEAL team that successfully captured and killed bin Laden last year.
A Department of Defense meeting transcript reveals that the filmmaker learned the identity of the SEAL Team 6 commander, but was asked never to name him as a consultant “because…he shouldn’t be talking out of school.” (The commander’s name is blacked out in Judicial Watch’s document.) According to an internal CIA email, Bigelow and Boal also gained access to “the Vault,” a CIA building where the bin Laden raid was partially planned.
All in all, Judicial Watch obtained 153 pages of records from the Department of Defense, as well as 113 pages of records from the CIA. “These documents, which took nine months and a federal lawsuit to disgorge from the Obama administration, show that politically-connected filmmakers were giving extraordinary and secret access to bin Laden raid information, including the identity of a Seal Team Six leader,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said in a statement.
House Committee on Homeland Security chair Rep. Peter King (R-NY) expressed dismay with these findings, saying in a statement that Bigelow and Boal engaged in an “extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration with top officials at the CIA, DoD, and the White House and a top Democratic lobbying firm.”
Both the Pentagon and Judicial Watch investigations came in the wake of an August 2011 column by New York Times writer Maureen Dowd, in which Dowd accused President Obama’s administration of giving “top-level access to the most classified mission in history” despite having tried “to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.” During a press briefing that same month, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called Dowd’s claims “ridiculous”: “We do not discuss classified information. And I would hope that as we face a continued threat from terrorism, the House Committee on Homeland Security would have more important topics to discuss than a movie,” he continued.
Carney went on to explain that the Obama administration had only given Bigelow’s team information that “focused on the President’s role” in the bin Laden raid. “There is no difference in the information that we’ve given to anybody who is working on this topic from what we gave to those of you in this room who worked on it in the days and weeks after the raid itself,” he said.
In the wake of the controversy last summer, Bigelow and Boal released a joint statement: “Our upcoming film project about the decade long pursuit of bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic and non-partisan, and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”
Bigelow’s drama, now titled Zero Dark Thirty, is scheduled to be released Dec. 19, 2012. At press time, representatives for the Oscar-winning director had not responded to requests for comment.