ENTERTAINMENT
12/22/2012 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

CIA Disputes 'Zero Dark Thirty' Accuracy: Acting CIA Director Issues Public Statement

After the CIA reportedly forbid the agent who served as the model for Jessica Chastain's character in "Zero Dark Thirty," from speaking to journalists, acting director Michael Morell, has issued a rare public statement disputing the critically lauded film's accuracy.

On Dec. 21, Morell posted a message on the CIA’s public website addressing the film's depiction of interrogation methods used during the course of the successful manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, writing that "the film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate."

"What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product," Morelle wrote in the letter before going on to highlight a few aspects that "particularly underscore the extent to which the film departs from reality."

Morell went on to express to employees that torture did not play a role in hunt for the Al Qaeda leader.

"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," he wrote, adding, "Some [information] 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."

Morell also took issue with the film's depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including those who died, and stressed that they "cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them."

The letter concludes by telling employees that there will be much discussion and commentary about the film in the coming weeks, but that agency employees must remember that "'Zero Dark Thirty' is not a documentary."

The unexpected statement comes just days after senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain, and Carl Levin, sent their own letter to the film's distributor, because of its "grossly inaccurate and misleading” torture scenes. The trio of senators demanded that Sony Pictures attach a disclaimer to the film, stating that "the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.”

THE ENTIRE LETTER:

Message from the Acting Director: "Zero Dark Thirty"
Statement to Employees from Acting Director Michael Morell: "Zero Dark Thirty"

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. 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.

What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.

It would not be practical for me to walk through all the fiction in the film, but let me highlight a few aspects that particularly underscore the extent to which the film departs from reality.

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.

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.

Michael Morell

PHOTO GALLERIES
'Zero Dark Thirty' Reactions

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