Senators press CIA for information on 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Osama bin Laden
January 3rd, 2013
09:30 PM ET

Senators press CIA for information on 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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.

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'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight
Osama bin Laden
December 13th, 2012
01:53 PM ET

'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight

By Pam Benson

A suspected terrorist is held down by his CIA captives at a black site, one of the secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. Cloth covers his entire face as a bucket of water is poured over it.

It's the harrowing first scene from "Zero Dark Thirty," the soon-to-be-released movie about how the CIA found Osama bin Laden. The scene depicts waterboarding, the controversial harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning, and it suggests that waterboarding and other coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to bin Laden.

While only a limited number of people have seen the movie so far at prerelease screenings, its first 45 minutes have reignited the debate over whether the U.S. government engaged in torture.

The scenes are bound to have a bigger effect on moviegoers than the less dramatic sleuthing depicted in the film, said Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst.

"These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden," he wrote in an op-ed in CNN.com's Opinion section this week.

It's not just in a movie. By coincidence, the debate is also front and center as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to vote Thursday on whether to approve a report its nearly four-year investigation of the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Committee staff looked at more than 6 million pages of mostly CIA documents in compiling the 6,000-page report.
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Benghazi talking points omitted link to al Qaeda
November 16th, 2012
12:36 PM ET

Benghazi talking points omitted link to al Qaeda

By Jennifer Rizzo, with reporting from Pam Benson

Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill on Friday that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was an act of terrorism committed by al Qaeda-linked militants.

That's according to Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who spoke to reporters after the closed hearing, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

The account Petraeus gave was different from the description the Obama administration gave on September 14, King said.

Then, the attack was described as "spontaneous," the result of a protest against an anti-Muslim film that got out of control outside the compound.

Petraeus told lawmakers Friday that he had discussed the possibility of it being a terrorist attack in his initial briefing in September, according to King.

"He had told us that this was a terrorist attack and there were terrorists involved from the start," King said. "I told him, my questions, I had a very different recollection of that (earlier account)," he said. "The clear impression we (lawmakers) were given was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and it was not a terrorist attack."

The "spontaneous" adjective was "minimized" during Petraeus' testimony Friday, King said.
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Obama administration officials to brief intelligence committees on Benghazi
Extensive damage at U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya following September 11th attack
November 8th, 2012
05:53 PM ET

Obama administration officials to brief intelligence committees on Benghazi

By Pam Benson

Senior intelligence, State Department and FBI officials can expect to be grilled next week as congressional hearings resume on the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed four Americans.

Lawmakers want answers to many outstanding questions surrounding the September 11 armed assault on the diplomatic facility and a CIA annex in Benghazi.

Specifically, they want to know who was responsible, whether it was planned, the intelligence reporting on the threat to Libya prior the attack, and whether security was adequate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will conduct a closed-door hearing on November 15. Scheduled witnesses include Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen.

Clapper, Petraeus and Olsen will also testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on the same day.

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Battle to reauthorize powerful government spy tools
U.S. Capitol
September 11th, 2012
07:08 PM ET

Battle to reauthorize powerful government spy tools

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

The classified program that arms the U.S. government with powerful authorities to monitor communications of foreigners overseas is at the heart of a debate over just how much people should trust their government.

The Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, originally enacted in 1978, was amended after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, allowing for a dramatic expansion of the abilities of the U.S. government to collect intelligence on foreign people in foreign countries. FISA sets procedures for the intelligence community to intercept e-mails, phone conversations and other communications of foreigners overseas who are suspected of threatening the United States.

The problem is that sometimes, in the course of collecting that electronic information, data also is collected on "U.S. persons" - meaning citizens or foreign residents of the United States.
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First on CNN: Scoop on inside discussions over proposed leak provisions
Top leadership of Senate and House intelligence committees discuss concerns over leaks
July 5th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

First on CNN: Scoop on inside discussions over proposed leak provisions

by Suzanne Kelly

Discussions are ongoing over just how stringent new provisions should be as the Senate targets leakers in its upcoming Intelligence Authorization bill, according to a government source.

Many of the options up for consideration put far stricter limits on communications between intelligence officials and reporters, according to the source, who told CNN that early proposals included requiring government employees who provide background briefings to reporters to notify members of Congress ahead of time.

Such background meetings are not widely seen as opportunities to discuss classified programs. Reporters routinely use background briefings to gather contextual information on stories they are covering.

According to the government source, there were also discussions about consolidating some of the press offices within the intelligence community, limiting the number of people who are available to answer common media inquiries.

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Pentagon ordered to preserve materials related to leak investigation
Pentagon ordered not to shred leak documents. (CNN Photo)
June 25th, 2012
03:59 PM ET

Pentagon ordered to preserve materials related to leak investigation

 By Barbara Starr

CNN Pentagon Correspondent

Defense Department officials are under a Justice Department order to preserve all e-mails and documents that may be related to the ongoing investigation into leaks to the news media of national security information, a senior Pentagon official confirmed Monday.

"We are complying with the preservation order," the official told CNN.

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FIRST ON CNN: Director of national intelligence expected to roll out new measures against leaks
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
June 25th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

FIRST ON CNN: Director of national intelligence expected to roll out new measures against leaks

By Suzanne Kelly

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is expected to roll out new measures aimed at ending leaks of classified information after a spate of recent leaks.

Those leaks affected an ongoing intelligence operation against the al Qaeda arm in Yemen back in May, and included recent disclosures about the classified drone program and a cyber warfare program known as Stuxnet, aimed at an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility.

A source tells CNN that Clapper believes the source of such leaks span multiple government agencies, departments and branches of government.

While the new measures are expected to apply only to the intelligence community that Clapper oversees, they are not expected to apply to members of the National Security Council, who advise the president on sensitive and classified programs.

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Leaks drip with confusion
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan
June 8th, 2012
04:24 PM ET

Leaks drip with confusion

By Pam Benson and Carol Cratty

It may be one of the most confusing set of investigations going on. It's not just about one leak, it's at least three, all part of exclusive news reports happening within a two-week period.

We know the FBI is investigating two of the unauthorized disclosures, one involving the report about a mole who helped thwart a Yemen bomb plot targeting the U.S. and the other about how the United States and Israel were behind Stuxnet, the mysterious computer virus that caused Iranian nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control.

It is unclear whether there is an investigation of yet another story concerning the Obama administration's expansion of the drone program and how it determines which suspected terrorists will be targeted for a missile strike.

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June 6th, 2012
06:10 PM ET

Feinstein: "Avalanche of leaks"

by Suzanne Kelly

As lawmakers call for formal investigations into the sources of recent leaks that have divulged details of highly classified national security programs, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is looking to the Intelligence Authorization Bill as a way to make people who leak such information more accountable.

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room, Feinstein said, "I think what we're seeing, Wolf, is an avalanche of leaks and it is very, very disturbing. It's dismayed our allies. It puts American lives in jeopardy. It puts our nation's security in jeopardy."

Ranking members of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees have joined Feinstein, D-California, in her calls for adding provisions that would require that lawmakers be notified in a more timely fashion when authorized disclosures are made, and for individuals to report the rationale behind those decisions. Other provisions are expected to call for more robust investigations of unauthorized disclosures of information and are expected to ask for additional authorities that would make it easier to drill down on the source of leaks and then prosecute those found to be responsible.

Government employees with access to highly classified information are violating federal laws and nondisclosure agreements if they pass classified information to persons who have not been cleared to receive it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to add the leak provisions when it takes up the FY13 intelligence authorization bill later this month. The plan is for the full Senate to vote on the measure before the summer recess. Although the House has already passed a version of the bill without the leak provisions, they would likely be added during a conference with the Senate.

CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report


Filed under: Barack Obama • drones • Iran • Israel • McCain • Obama • Senate Select Committee on Intelligence • Stuxnet
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