“Zero Dark Thirty” Filmmakers Deny Receiving Classified Material

Zero-Dark-Thirty-TrailerWriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, the duo behind the upcoming “Zero Dark Thirty,” deny that they received any classified information to make the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The movie, set for limited release next month but screened for the press in recent days, has stirred controversy over the access obtained by the filmmakers. Last year, after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted the cooperation that the Obama administration was giving to the filmmakers, Republicans on Capitol Hill cried foul, and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) asked the Defense Department and the CIA whether classified material had been released. The implication was that the administration was anxious to cooperate on a project that detailed one of its success stories.

But in an interview with ABC’s “Nightline,” set to air tonight, Boal said, “I certainly did a lot of homework, but I never asked for classified
material. To my knowledge I never received any.”

ABC’s Martha Raddatz reports that President Obama makes only a “fleeting” appearance in the movie.

Nevertheless, the filmmakers did receive cooperation from military and intelligence officials.

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has been seeking documents in the case to discern the Obama administration’s involvement in the making of the movie. In May, they posted emails and other documents they received after filing a freedom of information request. 

The emails and documents showed that although leaders of the Special Operations Command could not talk to them, an undersecretary of defense said they could make available an unidentified Navy SEAL who was involved in the planning. It also noted other types of cooperation, including tours of government facilities.

Judicial Watch continues to seek information from the Department of Defense and the CIA, including five names it claims that the government shared with the filmmakers but refuses to disclose. “When the government shares confidential information selectively with individual industry participants, it should not enjoy the privilege of keeping that information secret from others once disclosed,” Judicial Watch said in a Nov. 12 brief.

“Specifically, the names in question are the true first names only of four CIA operatives who were interviewed by the filmmakers )the last names were apparently never shared with the filmmakers and remain unknown to Judicial Watch), and the full name and rank disclosed to Mark Boal by Undersecretary of Defense Michael Vickers,” Judicial Watch said in its brief. “These five partial or full true names are the only information Judicial Watch seeks, as it appears that all other recorded information the government shared with the filmmakers has already been released to Judicial Watch.”

In its brief, the government says that the names do not have to be disclosed and are exempt from FOIA, arguing that their cooperation with the filmmakers does not waive their ability to protect such information. Attorneys noted that the CIA instructed officers whose names are at issue to share only their true first names when meeting the filmmakers. Only one of the names was disclosed by the Department of Defense.

In a brief filed in September, attorneys for the Defense Department and the CIA say 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.”

They argued that the names were “properly classified” and that the individuals have a need to protect their privacy.

“All of the names at issue in this case are of individual CIA or DoD personnel who played a role in the planning for the Osama bin Laden raid, and soem are undercover,” the government attorneys wrote. “By virtue of their involvement in this highly sensitive mission, these individuals have a strong privacy interest in their names and identities. which would be threatened if their names (even the first names of undercover officers) were revealed. On the other side of the balance, there is no public interest in the public disclosure of these names.”

So the latest wrinkle is not over classified “material,” but classified “names.”

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