Do CIA and Pentagon documents released this week prove that Kathryn Bigelow and the "Zero Dark Thirty" filmmakers received special access to information related to the killing of Osama bin Laden?
Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which published a trove of email exchanges between government officials and screenwriter Mark Boal, seems to think so. In a release accompanying the messages, which Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the site indicates that the Obama administration revealed national security information to the filmmakers in order to burnish the president's re-election chances.
"According to the records, the Obama administration granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film, which was reportedly scheduled for an October, 2012 release, just before the presidential election," the site wrote, noting that "Zero Dark Thirty" will now premiere in December, after the election.
Sony Pictures, which is releasing the film, declined to comment on the report. Spokespeople for Bigelow and Boal did not respond to requests for comment.
Questions surrounding the Defense Department and the CIA's willingness to assist the filmmakers have become a favorite political talking point of conservatives during the election.
Last summer, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, called for an investigation into whether the White House granted Bigelow access to confidential materials for the film. The charges that the Obama administration was exploiting the bin Laden killing for political gain have also made their way into the Republican Party platform, which the GOP is set to endorse at its National Convention in Tampa this week.
“We give the current president credit for maintaining his predecessor’s quiet determination and planning to bring to justice the man behind the 9/11 attack on America, but he has tolerated publicizing the details of the operation to kill the leader of Al Qaeda,” the platform reads.
Except the documents don't reveal much of a smoking gun, beyond the fact that CIA and Defense Department officials get slightly star-struck when it comes to Hollywood requests.
"I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :)," former CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little writes in a July 20, 2011 exchange to Boal.
Also, government officials seem to have really liked "The Hurt Locker," Boal and Bigelow's previous collaboration.
The rest of the emails mostly focus on minutiae involving setting up a meeting between various officials and the filmmakers, arranging car services and a back-and-forth about which department will pay for the coffee and bottled water at a breakfast meeting. WikiLeaks it ain't.
The big reveal — if there is one — is a June 15, 2011 email from Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes stating that there was an effort " … to have visibility into the UBL (Usama bin Laden) projects," but it does not tie that impulse to the president or his re-election campaign. It also does not indicate that any classified information was leaked to Boal and Bigelow.
The documents do indicate that the agencies were cooperative, answering questions about the layout of the bin Laden compound in Pakistan where the Al Qaeda leader was shot down, for example, and providing briefings. According to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson, both then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta were eager to aid the filmmakers because of "The Hurt Locker" and Bigelow's work with military charities.
The correspondence indicates that officials believed that out of several bin Laden projects in the works, Bigelow's film was the most high-profile and the most likely to make it to the big screen.
"I know we don’t “pick favorites’ but it makes sense to get behind the winning horse … Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest," CIA spokesperson Marie Harf wrote in a June 7, 2011 email exchange with the Defense Department. "It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board. It’s just not a close call."
On its site, Judicial Watch calls itself a " conservative, non-partisan educational foundation." It was founded in 1994 by conservative attorney Larry Klayman and has sued presidential administrations from both parties and filed Freedom of Information Act requests for access to government records.