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CIA Defends Withholding of First Names in “Zero Dark Thirty” Case

As “Zero Dark Thirty” is getting much scrutiny over how it portrays the role of torture in yielding information that led to Osama bin Laden, a legal battle continues over the access that the government gave to Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal.

Earlier this year, the conservative org Judicial Watch obtained a trove of documents related to the access that the Department of Defense and the CIA gave to the filmmakers of “Zero Dark Thirty.” But the government is refusing to release the true first names of four undercover CIA officers who met with the filmmakers, as well as the full name and rank of a Defense official who also was involved in the planning of the raid. At issue is whether the CIA and Defense Department waived their right to protect the names from disclosure when they provided them to the filmmakers.

In a filing last week with the U.S. District Court in D.C., attorneys for the government argue that the names “provide the public with no substantive information that it does not already have.”

They cite the fact that the Defense Department and the CIA did not disclose the names to the public and preserve them in the public record, but that they were provided to the filmmakers “for the limited purpose of meeting with the officers.” They also said that the CIA officers did not waive their privacy interests because they did not sign release forms, and “nor is there any support for plaintiff’s rank speculation that the movie will reveal the officers’ identity.”

They also argue that there was an “important governmental purpose” in assisting the filmmakers: “to ensure an accurate portrayal of the facts and the people involved in the raid.” The cooperation, the brief states, “is a function of public affairs offices across the Government.”

“Just because Judicial Watch is curious about ‘how the government decided who should inform the details of the cinematic portrayal of the Abbottabad raid’ does not make it something the public is interested in,” the brief states.

In the past week, there has been new interest in the model for Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, and how she became the heroine of the film. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller wrote this week about the real female CIA operative who met with the filmmakers and is, presumably, one of the first names that Judicial Watch is seeking.

Miller noted that the operative’s “contacts with the ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmakers have also
been examined as part of an inquiry, apparently by the CIA inspector
general, into the information that agency officials shared with
outsiders about the bin Laden raid.”

Miller, however, writes that the operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion and has sparred with colleagues over credit for the mission.

“The agency is a funny place, very insular,” a former CIA official told Miller. “It’s like middle-schoolers with clearances.”

This is also probably further fodder for limiting access to filmmakers in the future.

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