WH photographer asked CIA to declassify Situation Room document

WH photographer asked CIA to declassify Situation Room document
© White House photo/Pete Souza

White House photographer Pete Souza lobbied the Central Intelligence Agency to declassify a document that was in the Situation Room when he snapped his iconic photo of the president watching the Osama bin Laden raid.

“I actually tried to get the document declassified, but the CIA did not want to declassify that document at the time,” Souza said in an interview with Bloomberg’s “The Charlie Rose Show.”

Souza wanted to release the historic photo without any alterations. In the end, the document on the conference room table was pixilated to prevent viewers from learning its contents before the photo was released.

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“I just felt that it was such an important photograph, as did my colleagues in the communications office, that we decided to pixelize the document so you couldn’t see it, but then make sure people understood we had done that, so we put that in the caption,” he explained.

Sousa said he had never obscured part of his photographs before, and has not done so since.

The photographer described the mood during the raid as “very tense” and said there was “very little conversation” among those present as a team of Navy SEALs hit bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Souza also said he discussed with then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Saagar Enjeti ponders Hillary Clinton's 2020 plans Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 MORE if it was OK to use the picture, which shows her covering her mouth with her hand.

“She didn’t even realize there was a photographer in the room,” Souza said.

Souza, who also served as President Reagan’s photographer, said he never staged photographs and tried to work with a “small footprint,” shunning the use of flash and only using quiet cameras.

He said he was cognizant of “trying to integrate the historical elements” of the White House in his photography, pointing to a recent image where a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. was featured in a shot of the president and young civil rights leaders discussing the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

But while the White House often prominently features Souza photographs — and his access routinely draws complaints from the media — he did concede that “occasionally” President Obama does not like a photo he releases.

“Sometimes my artistic ability is not always greatly appreciated,” he said.