CIA Director Panetta Revealed Top Secret Info to Hollywood Screenwriter

Friday, June 07, 2013
Leon Panetta

The controversy over how the Obama administration helped the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty surfaced again this week, with a previously classified report indicating former Defense Secretary and Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta revealed secret information about the Osama bin Laden operation to the film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal.


The Defense Department’s inspector general produced a report that was kept hidden until the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a copy this week. Inside the unofficial report were details about Panetta, then head of the CIA, attending a June 24, 2011, event at agency headquarters honoring participants in the raid that killed bin Laden.


Panetta reportedly discussed information pertaining to the raid with attendees, who included Boal, the screenwriter of The Hurt Locker who was then working on Zero Dark Thirty. Boal had begun contacting Pentagon public affairs officials within 24 hours after the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden. Previously released emails revealed that by mid-June the CIA had decided to cooperate with Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow.


“During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the draft report says. “According to the DoD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release” under federal law, the report says, which also states however that “no precautionary measures were taken to protect special operators from being identified by the Hollywood executive at this event.”


Panetta “also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM,” the report says. Panetta was not interviewed for the report, according to POGO.


In a separate incident on July 15, 2011, Mike Vickers met at the Pentagon with Boal and Bigelow and “provided the name of the Special Operations Planner.” At the time of the raid, Vickers was assistant secretary of defense for special operations. Two weeks after the raid, he was promoted to undersecretary of defense foe intelligence.


The U.S. Senate conducted a hearing in June 2012 after it became public that the Obama administration had assisted Boal and director Bigelow with their film.


When asked about this help, Panetta, who is now secretary of Defense, told lawmakers: “Look, let me first say as a former Director of the CIA, I deplore the unauthorized disclosures of classified information. I think that this is something that does have to be fully investigated, and it has to be very clear that this is intolerable if we’re going to try to protect the defense of this country. We’ve got to be able to protect those who are involved in clandestine operations.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Unreleased: Probe Finds CIA Honcho Disclosed Top Secret Info to Hollywood (by Adam Zagorin and David S. Hilzenrath, Project on Government Oversight)

Release of Department of Defense Information to the Media (Department of Defense Inspector General) (pdf)

Zero Dark Thirty Director Clueless about Film’s False Justification for Torture (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

CIA Emails Reveal How Hollywood Won Rights to Bin Laden Killing Details (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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