WASHINGTON -- Obama administration officials made "a planner, operator and commander of SEAL Team Six" who killed Osama bin Laden available to a Hollywood director and screenwriter working on a movie about the successful raid, according to Pentagon and CIA records obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
The group released hundreds of pages of documents on Tuesday, secured under a Freedom of Information Act request, that it says show transcripts of meetings and communication between government agencies, Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award-winning director of "The Hurt Locker," and screenwriter Mark Boal.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement Wednesday that the emails tell a "damning story of extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration" with top officials at the CIA, Department of Defense and the White House, as well as with a top Democratic lobbying firm, the Glover Park Group.
The email messages are likely to stir controversy for the Obama administration as the presidential campaign gets into full swing.
The emails "indicate that the filmmakers were allowed an unprecedented visit to a classified facility so secret that its name is redacted in the released email," King said in his statement. "If this facility is so secret that the name cannot even be seen by the public, then why in the world would the Obama Administration allow filmmakers to tour it? The emails also tell of these filmmakers being allowed to tour the CIA’s vaults, which is absolutely shocking to those of us who know the sensitive nature of materials kept there."
King sent letters Wednesday to Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers and Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell voicing his concerns.
Among the revelations posted on the Judicial Watch website:
- A transcript of a July 14, 2011, meeting between DOD officials, including Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, Bigelow and Boal indicates that Boal met directly with White House officials on at least two occasions regarding the film: “I took your guidance and spoke to the WH and had a good meeting with Brennan and McDonough and I plan to follow up with them; and they were forward leaning and interested in sharing their point of view; command and control; so that was great, thank you,” Boal said according to the transcript. Vickers asks if the meeting was a follow-up, to which Boal responds, “Yes correct; this was a follow-up.” The documents seemingly reference John O. Brennan, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor to President Obama and Denis McDonough, who serves as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.
- The July 14, 2011, meeting transcript also reveals that the DOD provided the filmmakers with the identity of a “planner, SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander.” (The name is blacked out in the document.) In proposing the arrangement, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers said: “The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because . . . he shouldn’t be talking out of school.” Vickers went on to say during the meeting at the Pentagon: “This at least, this gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.” Boal later responds, “You delivered.”
- A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to “the Vault,” which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: “I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.” (The name of the sender is blacked out.) “Of course this is doable,” an official responds.
- DOD Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson told colleagues in a June 13, 2011, email to limit media access and that he would follow up with the White House: “I think this looks very good as a way forward, and agree particularly that we need to be careful here so we don’t open the media floodgates on this. I’m going to check with WH to update them on status, and will report back.” A day later, he wrote Department of Defense communications staffers, saying: “Ok to set up the second session with Vickers. I am getting additional guidance from WH.”
The document dump comes amid an internal Pentagon investigation launched last year under pressure from King, after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the White House was pulling out the stops for Bigelow for a film to be released that "will no doubt reflect the president's cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds."
The movie, originally called "Kill Bin Laden" and now known as "Zero Dark Thirty," was scheduled to be released just before the presidential election, potentially giving Obama a big boost. But Sony Pictures decided not to release it on Oct. 12 after all and now it is set to open in the United States on Dec. 19.
When asked for comment Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor referred back to comments made by White House spokesman Jay Carney at an August 2011 news briefing, when he said it was "ridiculous" and "simply false" that classified information had been leaked.
He later emailed an updated statement to The Huffington Post. “When people, including press, authors, filmmakers, documentarians, who are working on projects that involve the President ask to speak with administration officials, we do our best to accommodate them to make sure the facts are correct.," he said. "That’s hardly a novel approach to the media. We do not discuss classified information. The information that the White House provided about the bin Laden raid was focused on the President’s role in that decision making process. The same information was given to the White House press corps.”
King maintained that "the disclosures demonstrate just how valid [his] concerns were and how reckless Administration conduct was."
UPDATE: May 24, 10:10 a.m. -- At a press event on Wednesday, Press Secretary George Little told reporters that "it's my understanding that while a planner was suggested as a possible point of contact for information on the bin Laden raid, the meeting between that planner and the producers of the film never occurred."
"There were others in the entertainment industry who were -- who were interested in the bin Laden operation, and U.S. officials met with them too," he continued. "This was not some kind of exclusive opportunity for one set of producers. This is something that we do on a regular basis all the time."