Did the White House Manipulate the Plot of Zero Dark Thirty?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Lynne Halbrooks (photo: Dept. of Defense)

The Obama administration has been accused of manipulating the plot of Zero Dark Thirty, the Hollywood account of how the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden.


The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says it obtained government documents indicating former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta and Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Michael Vickers provided the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty with unauthorized details of the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that located bin Laden. POGO also claims then acting Defense Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks altered a report to conceal the actions of Panetta and Vickers.


“Especially disturbing,” POGO’s Adam Zagorin wrote, “are the lengths to which [Halbrooks] went to suppress details of the collaboration between Hollywood and the CIA. POGO also obtained an official timeline of the investigation. It shows there was ‘[r]emoval of CIA information’ from the report on the same day that another document indicates she met with then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and discussed the report.”


A major point of controversy in the film is its portrayal of the CIA using torture to extract intelligence that helped lead to the agency locating bin Laden. Some lawmakers took exception to this portrayal, criticizing “as false the movie’s depiction of torture as key to tracking down bin Laden,” POGO said. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), John McCain (R-Arizona) and Carl Levin (D-Michigan) sent a letter in 2012 detailing their concern that “given the CIA’s cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative’s consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by CIA.”


Halbrooks left the Defense Department last Friday, reportedly to take a defense-focused job with a law firm, according to Government Executive. Vickers announced his retirement on March 19 and is expected to leave the Pentagon at the end this month.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Exclusive: New Documents in Zero Dark Thirty Affair Raise Questions of White House-Sanctioned Intelligence Leak and Inspector General Coverup (by Adam Zagorin, Project on Government Oversight)

Newly Revealed Memo Revives Flap Over ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Disclosures (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)

Senate Report Rejects Claim that Torture Helped Search for Bin Laden (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Watered-Down I.G. Report on Pentagon’s “Zero Dark Thirty” Assistance Wins Government Award (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

CIA Director Panetta Revealed Top Secret Info to Hollywood Screenwriter (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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