By Pam Benson, CNN Senior National Security Producer
Newly released e-mails show the Obama administration was eager to help the makers of an upcoming documentary on the dramatic raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden - and the e-mails are likely to once again raise questions about whether the filmmakers had special access.
The records from the CIA and Defense Department were made public Tuesday by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the e-mails indicate the Obama administration "played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers," and that there was no doubt the "White House was intensely interested in this film that was set to portray President Obama as 'gutsy'" - a reference to one of the e-mails that said the raid "was a gutsy decision" by the president.
The e-mails indicate filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal and other members of their team were given special access to senior administration officials just weeks after the May 1, 2011, raid as they researched their movie entitled "Zero Dark Thirty," originally scheduled to come out in October but now delayed until after the presidential election.
In an e-mail to her boss on June 7, 2011, CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf wrote, "I know we don't 'pick favorites' but it makes sense to get behind the winning horse.... Mark and Kathryn's movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It's got the money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board."
Bigelow and Boal won Oscars for their movie "The Hurt Locker," a fictional story about a bomb disposal team in Iraq.
On June 15, the Pentagon asked for guidance from the White House on how to proceed with the requests for assistance on the movie.
Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes responded: "We are trying to have visibility into the UBL (Osama bin Laden) projects, and this is likely the most high profile one. Would like to have whoever the group is that's going around in here at the WH to get a sense of what they're doing/what cooperation they are seeking."
According to the e-mails, meetings were set up at the CIA, first with Public Affairs Director George Little and Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash and later with CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell.
On July 17, 2011, Haft wrote to Little, "Mr. Morell gave them 40 minutes.. talked some of the substance again, told them we're here to help with whatever they need."
Representatives from the agency's Counter Terrorism Center also met with the movie makers and according to July 17 e-mail a meeting was scheduled "with both ______(name redacted) and the translator who was on the raid."
According to the e-mails, Bigelow wasn't as much interested as Boal in detailed information. In a July 14 memo to her colleagues in the press office, Harf said, "Kathryn is not interested in doing the deep dives that Mark did; she simply wants to meet the people that Mark has been talking to."
And there were requests for information. One of Boal's assistants asked the CIA to verify a floor plan of the bin Laden compound that was available in the media. The CIA confirmed the diagram matched what the agency had.
Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence met at least twice with the filmmakers.
In a July 27, 2011, e-mail from Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Robert Mehal to an unidentified person, Mehal said that Vickers told Boal and Bigelow "he and the ADMs (admirals) had identified someone who could help give them some background pertaining to the DoD side of the operation."
In a July 20 response to a note from Boal, the CIA's Little wrote about "how excited we all are (at DoD and CIA) about the project." And he added a postscript: "I want you to note how good I've been about not mentioning the premiere tickets.:-)"
The assistance to the movie makers has been harshly criticized by members of Congress who claim the White House gave the filmmakers special access to top Pentagon, CIA and administration officials with knowledge of the bin Laden raid.
When Rep. Peter King, R-New York, first made an issue of the movie, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, "There is no difference in the information that we have given to anybody that is working on this topic from what we gave to those in this room who worked on it in the days and weeks after the raid itself."
The CIA had no comment on the documents released, but spokesman Todd Ebitz defended the assistance the CIA gives to the entertainment industry.
"The nature of our interaction varies and depends on many factors, including the specifics of the project and of the request," Ebitz said. "Always keeping in mind our duty to protect sources and methods, our standard practice is to answer questions by authors or script writers and debunk myths about the Agency. On some occasions, when appropriate, we arrange visits to the Agency for unclassified meetings with some of our officers."
And Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Gregory also said the Department of Defense regularly engages with the entertainment industry, but downplayed the meetings with the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty."
"We did meet with the producers briefly, but no detailed information about the operation was discussed nor was material assistance ever granted; the producers never actually sent a script for DoD consideration of additional support," Gregory said.