The CIA on Friday said that a Hollywood movie portraying the hunt for Osama bin Laden “departs from reality” in significant ways, and emphasized that despite assistance it provided to the filmmakers, the agency had no control over the final product.
In an unusual letter to CIA employees, acting Director Michael Morell said that the highly anticipated film, “Zero Dark Thirty,” leads viewers to believe that a “few individuals” were behind the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader, instead of the “hundreds of officers” who were involved over the course of a decade. He also rejected the film’s depiction of the CIA’s interrogation program — and the implication that it helped extract valuable information from detainees.
“The film takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country,” Morell said. “We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them.”
Producers have described the film as the result of investigative reporting, but acknowledged that it takes dramatic license in chronicling the 10-year hunt.
Morell’s letter follows similar criticism from a group of lawmakers who objected to the movie’s depiction of agency interrogation techniques as “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
The senators, Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), noted that the movie opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events,” and called on the film’s producers to make clear that those depictions are “not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.”
A Senate committee last week approved a report that concluded that water-boarding and other brutal CIA interrogation methods did not produce meaningful results. The contents of the report, based on a three-year review of internal CIA records, remain classified.
In his letter, Morell — who would need to be confirmed by the Senate as CIA director if nominated — urged agency employees to remember that the film “is not a documentary.”
“What you should also remember,” he said, “is that the Bin Laden operation was a landmark achievement by our country, by our military, by our Intelligence Community, and by our Agency.”