December 21st, 2012
08:13 PM ET

CIA challenges accuracy of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

By Pam Benson

The CIA joined on Friday the chorus of those challenging the accuracy of a new movie on the Osama bin Laden raid that suggests that harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists helped the agency find the man considered behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

In an unusual move, the acting director of the CIA , Michael Morell, issued a statement to employees on Friday that emphasized that "Zero Dark Thirty" is not a historically accurate film.

Of particular concern are the harrowing scenes at the beginning of the movie that depict a suspected terrorist being interrogated at a secret CIA prison overseas with waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The suggestion in the movie is that those coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was living.

Morell acknowledged that the interrogations played a role but said that they were not as important as the movie implied. "That impression is false," Morell said. There were multiple streams of intelligence, according to Morell. "Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well."

Screenwriter on interrogation debate

Morell also criticized the film for implying that just a few individuals were responsible for the successful operation when in fact hundreds were involved. He also took exception to the "liberties" the filmmakers took in depicting CIA officers, especially ones who had died. "We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them," he said.

Morell acknowledged the agency had interacted with the filmmakers but said the movie is a "dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts ... we do not control the final product."

Morell's comments followed objections earlier in the week from Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain, who called on Sony Pictures Entertainment to publicly state that the movie is not based on fact.

" 'Zero Dark Thirty' is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the films fictional narrative," the senators wrote.

In response to the senators' criticism, filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal said the film condenses 10 years of intelligence work into a 2 1/2-hour film.

"We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes," their statement said. "We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."

"Zero Dark Thirty" opened in theaters on Wednesday.

Peter Bergen on senators slamming torture scenes

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