Acting CIA Head Criticizes Zero Dark Thirty

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 23 2012 10:14 AM

Acting CIA Head: Zero Dark Thirty Isn’t Realistic

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Acting CIA Director Michael Morell

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell wants the agency’s employees to know he isn't a fan of Zero Dark Thirty, the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, telling employees in a letter that the film takes too many liberties with the truth but still claims to be historically accurate. In particular, Morell doesn’t like how the movie makes it seem like a large “team effort” was really about a few individuals, also claiming it exaggerates the role “enhanced interrogation techniques” played in nabbing the terrorist leader. “I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film,” Morell writes, “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.”

Although the CIA “interacted with the filmmakers” Morell emphasizes that “we do not control the final products.” He writes that “it would not be practical for me to walk through all the fiction in the film” but outlines three main points:

·        First, the hunt for Usama Bin Ladin was a decade-long effort that depended on the selfless commitment of hundreds of officers.  The filmmakers attributed the actions of our entire Agency—and the broader Intelligence Community—to just a few individuals.  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.
·        Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin.  That impression is false.  As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad.  Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.  And, importantly, 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.
·        Third, 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.
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Read the whole letter here.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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