CIA: 'Zero Dark Thirty' is 'not a documentary'

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency sent a memo to CIA employees on Friday informing them that the new movie "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, "is not a documentary." 

"The film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate," CIA Acting Director Michael Morell wrote. 

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The film, by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, has already achieved both Oscar predictions and controversy in Congress. The movie depicts the international search for the al Qaeda leader, highlighting one CIA analyst. It ends with the successful Navy SEAL raid of bin Laden's compound that resulted in his death in May, 2011. 

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has prompted an investigation into whether filmmakers were given classified access in order to create the film, something the Pentagon has denied.

The depiction of waterboarding as a useful interrogation technique has also drawn criticism from several senators who call it a "dangerous" dramatization. Morell sided with those objections in the memo, asserting that it is "false" to claim information gained through enhanced interrogation was the key to finding bin Laden. 

"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," Morell wrote. 

"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."

Morell, while noting it would "not be practical for me to walk through all the fiction in the film," specifically pointed to other specific dramatizations in the movie.

Despite the film's focus on a few driven individuals who hunt down bin Laden, Morell wrote that "the selfless commitment of hundreds of officers" actually deserve the credit for the "landmark achievement by our country, by our military, by our Intelligence Community, and by our agency."

He also objected to "considerable liberties" taken while depicting some real-life officers as characters in the film. "We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them," he warned.

"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," he concluded. "Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts."