Watchdog chided CIA for Hollywood outreach

Watchdog chided CIA for Hollywood outreach

CIA officials did not take appropriate steps to properly protect secret information while pushing the agency’s image out to Hollywood, its internal watchdog warned in 2012.

A previously secret inspector general report released Wednesday warned the CIA that officials “have not always complied with agency regulations" to keep classified information secret "during their interactions with entertainment industry representatives.”

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The 20-page report was released by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act. The report outlines some of the concerns swirling around the storied spy agency around the time that it worked with Hollywood producers on “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Oscar-nominated film about the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

Since that 2012 movie, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said, the agency has “completely overhauled” its efforts to engage with the media.

“The many changes implemented since ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ are part of our continuing obligation to the public, to Congress and to CIA to uphold the highest standards of accountability and ethics as we communicate the CIA mission,” Trapani said.

Its priorities are “the protection of classified material and national security equities,” while also making sure portrayal of the CIA is “informed” and “balanced," he added.

For its 2012 report, the inspector general reviewed the CIA’s interaction with officials for eight unnamed media projects, and raised concerns about whether appropriate precautions were taken to protect agency secrets.

Among other issues, the watchdog report claimed employees in the CIA’s public affairs office did not report some officials’ contacts with media companies and did not tell “several” staffers how to behave during meetings to assist the media.

“Failure on the part of CIA officers to adhere to the regulatory requirements could result in unauthorized disclosures, inappropriate actions and negative consequences for CIA,” it warned.

The watchdog further questioned whether the CIA was right in deciding not to ask for reimbursement of costs to support its interaction with the entertainment world. The agency needed a policy in writing, the inspector general claimed, about how to handle extra costs associating with assisting media efforts.

The CIA proactively took steps to respond to the criticism, the watchdog report said.

The spy agency has routinely provided assistance to filmmakers, authors and others that are depicting it in fictional or historic stories.

However, it had been criticized for its heavy involvement assisting filmmakers during the production of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the blockbuster starring Jessica Chastain as a determined CIA officer trying to track down bin Laden. Critics accused the Obama administration of being over-eager to publicize the high-profile raid, at the expense of official secrets.