Will “Zero Dark Thirty” Flap Chill Movie-Military Cooperation?

Zerodarkthirty_wilshire

As the filmmakers behind “Zero Dark Thirty” launch into an Oscar-season
publicity blitz, they are stressing how nonpolitical their pic about the
hunt for Osama bin Laden is. President Obama, for instance, appears
only in a brief news clip.

The reason is that even before the first
frame of film was shot, they’d stepped in to a partisan thicket:
Republicans asserted that the Obama administration bent over backwards
to help director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal — and may
have provided classified material — to trumpet one of the White
House’s signature successes.

Boal, in an interview this week with
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, said, “I certainly did a lot of homework, but I
never asked for classified material, and to my knowledge, I never
received any.”

The conservative watchdog org Judicial Watch,
having filed a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained a trove of
emails and other documents related to the interaction that the
filmmakers had with the Department of Defense and the CIA. Their release
didn’t exactly shake the corridors of power, but Judicial Watch is
pressing forward with its case and continues to seek the partial names
of four CIA operatives the government arranged for the filmmakers to
interview as they researched the script, as well as the full name and
rank of a Navy SEAL they say the Department of Defense provided to Boal.

“As
the government has stated, it routinely provides information to
filmmakers who request it for the purpose of ensuring artists who wish
to portray government functions and historical events accurately may do
so,” Judicial Watch said in a Nov. 12 brief with the U.S. District Court
in D.C. “While that may normally be a perfectly harmless endeavor, when
the government goes from simple information sharing to selectively
providing non-public information to some filmmakers while refusing to
release it generally, this once-harmless activity crosses a line of
appearance.”

The org claims that by releasing the partial or full names to the filmmakers, the government is waiving an exemption from FOIA.

Attorneys
for the Defense Department and the CIA, however, say that the CIA
operatives, all of whom played a role in planning the raid, only
provided their full first names, not last names or pseudonyms, during
their interviews. In a brief filed in September, the DoD and the CIA
said that they “disclosed the names to the filmmakers, not the general
public, and only for the limited purpose of facilitating the filmmakers’
meeting with the individuals. … The CIA and DoD did not authorize the
filmmakers to make names they shared with them public, to publicly
associate the individuals with the CIA or DoD, or to expose those
individuals’ identity in any publicly released film, and there was no
reason for the CIA or DoD to have believed that any of this would have
happened.”

Attorneys for the agencies contend that the government
has “reasonably withheld” the names from disclosure “pursuant to
well-established FOIA exemptions.” They point to a court decision last
year in which the FBI allowed civil rights groups to view chapters of an
operations guide, and even take notes, during a two-hour meeting at FBI
headquarters. But the U.S. District Court ruled that the FBI did not
fully waive its right to withhold chapters from release.

Mark
Caramanica, freedom of information director at the Reporters Committee
for the Freedom of the Press, said that the “Zero Dark Thirty” case
suggests that the agencies are being “hypocritically selective,”
particularly with a project that puts the administration in a good
light, and wonders just how much information would have been released
had they not been compelled to do so.

“If the names are truly a
national security secret, they shouldn’t be disclosing them to anybody,”
Caramanica said. “They shouldn’t be picking and choosing based on who
has rights and who doesn’t.”

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