Zero Dark Thirty Hero's Office Headache

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 11 2012 10:10 AM

She Helped Catch Osama Bin Laden. She Also Hit "Reply All."

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, and Claire Danes in Homeland.
Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Photo by Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures Industries.

The Washington Post's Greg Miller this morning offers the latest brush strokes in the picture of what we know about the thirtysomething CIA analyst who played a key role in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

While that operative remains very much undercover, she's nonetheless becoming something of a public figure thanks to Zero Dark Thirty, the much-talked-about new movie from Kathryn Bigelow about the raid that killed the 9/11 mastermind. The analyst in question served as the model for the movie's hero, "Maya," played on screen by Jessica Chastain (and, some have speculated, possibly also for Homeland's Carrie).

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The part of the story WaPo offers today is what came after the raid, namely what Miller calls the "more problematic script" that the headstrong agent's CIA career has followed since Bin Laden was killed by members of SEAL Team Six. While it's impossible to know exactly when that internal friction began within the clandestine agency, this likely didn't help:

This spring, she was among a handful of employees given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, its highest honor except for those recognizing people who have come under direct fire. But when dozens of others were given lesser awards, the female officer lashed out. "She hit 'reply all' " to an e-mail announcement of the awards, a second former CIA official said. The thrust of her message, the former official said, was: "You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award."

It's tough to make out the exact chronology from the WaPo article, but sometime over the past year—either before or after she hit the Reply-All button—she was denied a promotion that would have bumped up her civil service rank from GS-13 to GS-14, a move that would have boosted her annual salary by $16,000. The fact she was passed over for the promotion was unthinkable for many of her colleagues given the role she played in one of most successful operations in CIA history:

Officials said the woman was given a cash bonus for her work on the bin Laden mission and has since moved on to a new counterterrorism assignment. They declined to say why the promotion was blocked.
The move stunned the woman’s former associates, despite her reputation for clashing with colleagues. "Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?" the former official said. "If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone."

You can check out the whole WaPo piece here, which also includes a few more details about how many within the agency were none too pleased with her contacts with filmmakers and others about the OBL mission.