August 28th, 2012
11:33 PM ET

E-mails show White House support for bin Laden movie

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.

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Filed under: CIA • Osama bin Laden • White House
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Jeb

    So this is the Obama administration secret weapon to get the American people to forget his massive failures on economic matters and how divisive he has been for the country? Could be brilliant, but he should declare it 'real reality TV' and hire JLo to appear in the opening credits if he wants their full attention...oh and get lady gaga to do a halftime show during intermission.

    August 31, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  2. boarddog

    So where are all the comments about how Obama is a traitor like the seal that's releasing the book?

    August 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  3. SirDirtiness

    I agree with the Obama news network theory. This would be a top headline if he was a Republican

    August 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  4. American

    Do you actually believe that Obama would kill one of his Muslim brothers who has the same goal as Obama, to bring down the Great Satin the USA.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:26 am | Reply
    • voradtralundir

      Did you mean the Great Satan or were you actually interested in the quality of sheen? Also, since you sound so educated... it's interesting to note that the film was pushed back until after the election while the movie "2016" is now playing, and is simply a hatchet job on the President. I'm not sure but I'm beginning to think people aren't as much upset because he's President as much as he is a smart black man in charge. Too bad you weren't as embarrassed as I was by the joke that was Bush for the eight years he drove this country around like a Ford Mustang rental car.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
      • Cindy

        I don't care what color he is, I don't like him. He's made it clear he doesn't care about the American people.

        August 31, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  5. fubarack Obamadinejad

    Obama should be in jail.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
    • Travis

      Thank you, fubarack. I couldn't agree more! This President keeps on ordering the obscene butchery of defenseless people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen with those godless drones and Apache helicoptors day after day. This is truly a national disgrace!!!

      August 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
      • voradtralundir

        I think you two make a lovely couple. I wish you the best but please don't breed.

        August 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  6. old golfer

    Interesting, seeing as how there is no actual proof that Bin Laden is in fact dead. Slid into the ocean according to the authorities. Strange, hunters always bring their kill home to show off.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
    • voradtralundir

      Spoken like a man with an esteem problem that feels the need to prove something.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  7. billy bob

    CNN the Obama news network.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Travis

      Maybe, billy bob. CNN is certainly not a moderate news network since many of my posts are either blocked or deleted.

      August 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • soul68

      If CNN was the Obama News Network they would be trying to hide this, not report it.

      Logic: it requires a brain.

      August 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  8. Pnm9pnm

    U cowards.pnm.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  9. Pnm9pnm

    As in what would of bin if u all gave me n or legally payed me.pnm.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply
  10. Pnm9pnm

    Ya the air engender as in to make car go is mine came up with a long time ago am much more did not think it would go fast.pnm.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:07 am | Reply
    • voradtralundir

      Step away from the keyboard... I think Barney is on PBS for your entertainment right now. If you hurry, maybe mommy will bring yoru rag rug and a glass of milk and cookies.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  11. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    I see that they're going to make a movie to glorify the murder of the purported Ossama bin Laden which will greatly enhance the popularity of Barack Obama, too! It appears that the general public gets blood thirstier year after year! I get so sick and tired of this right-wing lynch mob mentality. Besides, we don't even know whether or not that that was the true bin Laden who actually got murdered on May 2 of last year!!!

    August 29, 2012 at 5:08 am | Reply
    • voradtralundir

      Ah conspiracy theories... I have my own, it has to do with the tremendous number of incompetent people I see every day that usually are just doing the best they can. You may find this hard to believe but mediocre people actually drive the world more so than some secret society with nefarious plans.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply

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