By Pam Benson
The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to know exactly what the CIA told the makers of a controversial movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that might have contributed to the film's suggestion that the harsh interrogation of a suspected terrorist helped find the al Qaeda leader.
A bipartisan group of senior senators said in a statement Thursday that they had written two letters to CIA Acting Director Michael Morell asking for all information and documents the agency provided to the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty." They also want Morell to provide proof for comments he made saying that harsh interrogations played a role in finding bin Laden.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they are concerned that the CIA may have provided information that might have misled the movie's director Kathryn Bigelow and its writer Mark Boal. Morell and other CIA officers met with the filmmakers shortly after the May 2011 raid.
The movie begins with harrowing scenes that depict a suspected terrorist being interrogated at a secret CIA prison overseas with waterboarding, one of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The suggestion in the movie is that those coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who led the CIA to the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was living.
In the first letter to Morell on December 19, the senators wrote, "The CIA cannot be held accountable for how the Agency and its activities are portrayed in film, but we are nonetheless concerned, given the CIA's cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative's consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA."
They cited a recently released four-year study of the CIA's interrogation and detention program by the Intelligence Committee that concluded that the CIA did not learn about the existence of the courier from any terrorist subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
The senators asked for the CIA to provide all information that it gave to the filmmakers and all records related to CIA discussions about the cooperation provided to them.
The second letter from the senators is dated December 31 and is in response to a statement about the movie that Morell sent to CIA employees on December 21.
In that statement, Morell acknowledged that enhanced interrogation techniques played a role in finding bin Laden, but he also said 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."
The senators have asked Morell to provide to the Intelligence Committee with specifics about what information was gathered from harsh interrogations that assisted in the bin Laden operation.
When asked about the lawmaker's request, CIA spokesman John Tomczyk said, "As we've said before, we take very seriously our responsibility to keep our oversight committees informed and value our relationship with Congress."
The senators also sent a letter on December 19 to Sony Pictures Entertainment, the distributors of "Zero Dark Thirty," stating the film was "grossly inaccurate and misleading" and calling on the studio to publicly state the movie is not based on fact.
In response to the senators' criticism, Bigelow and Boal said the film condenses 10 years of intelligence work into a 2 ½-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 scent taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the file dramatizes," their statement said.