- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
I had been willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Zero Dark Thirty, the upcoming film by director Kathryn Bigelow about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden that has been the target of scrutiny for some lawmakers because of the level of access given to the filmmakers by the administration. After all, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s last film, The Hurt Locker, was a fairly nuanced portrayal of the Iraq war, it’s not unprecedented for the military and government to cooperate with filmmakers, and the movie’s release date had been pushed back until after the U.S. election. The project seemed a bit more respectable than this year’s glorified recruitment video Act of Valor.
But the FOIAed documents on the CIA and Department of Defense’s cooperation with Bigelow and Boal released by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch today don’t really make anyone look good.
The documents follow an earlier release in May, which showed that the filmmakers had been granted access to the commander of SEAL Team Six — though asked not to reveal his name — and shown the facility where the planning for the bin Laden raid took place, as well as being granted interviews numerous other officials who rarely speak with journalists.
Today’s documents show officials being more than accomodating to the visitors from Hollywood, with then CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf urging colleagues to support Bigelow’s film over other competing projects as "It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board." When Boal thanked then CIA director of Public Affairs George Little for "pulling for us at the agency," Little responded, "I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project…PS – I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :)”.
There’s also the matter of whether New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti violated protocol by sharing an unpublished Maureen Dowd column with Harf.
There’s no evidence that classified information was shared with Bigelow and Boal, though as Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy told the Daily Beast in May, the unusual access they were given certainly adds to the perception that "The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”
Here on Passport we’ve had some fun with movies like Georgia’s 5 Days at War and China’s Flowers of War — ostensibly independent projects with some Hollywood names attached that were made with the "cooperation" of local authorities and, in the end, very much felt like it. Obviously, we’ll find out when the movie is ultimately released, but it’s starting to look like Zero Dark Thirty might be in the same genre.