In a rare statement from the Central Intelligence Agency, the agency’s acting director slammed the film “Zero Dark Thirty” as unrealistic in its portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
“I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film, but I think it important to put ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context,” Michael Morell said in statement on the CIA’s website Friday.
“The film, which premiered this week, addresses the successful hunt for Usama Bin Ladin that was the focus of incredibly dedicated men and women across our Agency, Intelligence Community, and military partners for many years. But in doing so, the film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate.”
The film has received positive reviews from critics — not to mention Golden Globe nominations for best picture, director and actress — but the CIA’s criticism adds to the negative reaction from members of Congress about some of the film’s elements.
The CIA cooperated with director and screenwriter Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal during filmmaking, “but as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.”
Morell first denounced the notion that the successful hunt for bin Laden was mainly the result of one singular person’s mission. In the film, Jessica Chastain plays a CIA operative, Maya, who is integral in locating the terror mastermind in Pakistan.
“The filmmakers attributed the actions of our entire Agency — and the broader Intelligence Community — to just a few individuals,” Morell said. “This may make for more compelling entertainment, but it does not reflect the facts. The success of the May 1st 2011 operation was a team effort — and a very large team at that.
He also denounced the notion that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ultimately what led to bin Laden’s capture. He wrote, “whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”
Finally, Morell condemned the way the film portrays some agency members that died while on the mission. He said, “the film takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them.”
Morell concluded, “Commentators will have much to say about this film in the weeks ahead. Through it all, I want you to remember that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not a documentary. What you should also remember is that the Bin Ladin operation was a landmark achievement by our country, by our military, by our Intelligence Community, and by our Agency.”
Last week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain wrote a letter to Sony Pictures decrying the notion that the use of techniques that they consider was critical in leading to bin Laden’s location.
“We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden,” the letter reads. “[The film] clearly implies that the CIA”s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.”
The bipartisan group of senators asked Sony to add a disclaimer saying that the film is a work of fiction.
But Bigelow — who already received a Golden Globe nomination for best director for the film — and Boal said in a statement to The Wrap that the scene in question is taken out of context.
“This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden,” the statement reads. “The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.”
“Zero Dark Thirty” first came under fire last year when some members of Congress alleged that Bigelow and Boal were receiving an unprecedented amount of help from the White House, including even the use of classified documents.