Policy & Strategy

DOD omits details of secret disclosures in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ report

Pentagon investigators intentionally omitted details of possible disclosures of top-secret information to the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” in their final review of the department’s involvement in the film.

The movie was a fictionalized chronicle of U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations leading up to the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

{mosads}The Pentagon inspector general’s final report, released Friday, said the Department of Defense (DOD) and CIA took all appropriate measures to protect sensitive details, including the identities of CIA operatives and Special Operations Forces members, from becoming public.

“We did not identify any instances whereby any special operations tactics, techniques and procedures-related information” were provided to filmmakers Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, the report said.

However, those claims contradict the Pentagon investigators’ findings included in a draft version of the IG report, published by The Project on Government Oversight (POGO). 

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who requested the report in 2011, said in an interview he was most concerned that political pressure would somehow affect the report’s findings and final release. 

“It appears political pressure is the reason that it’s going to be held,” King said. “On a matter of this importance, to have a critical report being held up or interfered with is wrong. That to me warrants another inquiry as to why it’s being held this long.”

The Pentagon has vehemently declined such claims by King or others. 

“No third parties, to include anyone from the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Executive Office of the President, attempted to influence the content of the report or its release date,” Bridget Serchak, chief of public affairs for the Defense IG, told The Hill Friday. 

In the undated draft version of the inspector general’s findings, DOD investigators reported that former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta disclosed top-secret information during a 2011 CIA awards ceremony attended by Boal. 

“’During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,’” according to the draft report. 

Panetta was CIA chief at the time of the bin Laden raid. 

“’According to the DOD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release’ under federal law,” it added. 

All mention of Panetta’s comments during the awards ceremony were scrubbed from the final DOD IG report. 

The draft report also claimed Boal and Bigelow learned the identity of a “special operations planner” involved in the operation. The filmmakers were scheduled to meet with the planner, but that was later canceled by Pentagon officials. 

In Friday’s final report, DOD investigators noted that Pentagon leaders “discussed” plans to arrange a meeting between the movie-makers and the special operations planner. 

However, the final report omitted any mention that the identity of the planner was disclosed. 

At no time were the classified identities of the Navy SEAL members on the bin Laden raid, or the special operations and intelligence officers involved in the raid’s planning, released, DOD investigators reported Friday. 

The discrepancies between the draft and final versions of the report were the result of “a rigorous internal review process,” Serchak said Friday. 

“Certain information was excluded from the final report so as to avoid compromising concurrent inquiries” by CIA and other government agencies into the matter, Serchak said. 

Since Panetta was at the CIA at the time of the alleged disclosure, “issues related to … Panetta were referred to the CIA [Inspector General],” she noted. 

The department is still conducting an investigation into whether Defense Intelligence Undersecretary Michael Vickers released any classified details to the movie-makers, according to Serchak. 

Republicans had accused the administration last year of working with the filmmakers in order to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects. The film’s release date was moved until after the election in response to the criticisms, although the final version included little about the president’s role.

The administration has also come under fire recently for the steps the Justice Department has taken to investigate leaks, including searches of journalists’ personal email accounts and labeling a reporter a potential “criminal co-conspirator.”

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