Declassified: CIA Helped Produce Hollywood Blockbuster That Grossed over $100 Million

September 10, 2015   |   Carey Wedler

Carey Wedler
September 10, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) The widely-celebrated and iconic 2012 film, Zero Dark Thirty, which detailed “the most classified mission in history” — one the U.S. government reported resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden — was developed and manipulated by the CIA, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Vice News. The report also shows the CIA provided classified information to the filmmakers. Over one hundred pages of documents reveal a symbiotic relationship between the high-powered film producers and intelligence officials and raise particular questions about the depiction of torture in the film  — which was heavily criticized for insinuating “enhanced interrogation techniques” were essential in tracking down Osama bin Laden.

The documents reveal that throughout the filmmaking process, filmmaker Mark Boal was in close contact with Leon Panetta, who was the head of the CIA when the film went into development and production. The documents include two reports, “Alleged Disclosure of Classified Information by Former D/CIA [Director of CIA]” from March, 2014 and a September 2013 report from the Inspector General’s office called “Potential Ethics Violations Involving Film Producers.”

The relationship between Boal and fellow filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, who made The Hurt Locker in 2009, began a year before the raid on bin Laden in Pakistan, when the pair sought to make a film titled Tora Bora about the CIA’s failure to capture him. However, bin Laden died, nullifying the film’s premise. Only days after Obama announced bin Laden’s death in May of 2011, Boal was in contact with Panetta in the hopes of making a film about the killing. According to Vice News, “Less than three weeks after bin Laden’s death, Boal and Michael Feldman, a public relations representative for Tora Bora, met with CIA officials to discuss the new project.”

Further, “…the CIA gave Boal access to CIA personnel and facilities less than a month after bin Laden was killed in order to ‘further his research’ for the ZDT screenplay.” Boal was even invited to a CIA award ceremony around the same time, though the Inspector General’s report seemed unclear as to who had invited him — the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs or Panetta himself. Panetta denied any knowledge of his presence and said he would have been unable to recognize Boal, even though he sat at the same table as Boal and Bigelow at the 2010 White House Correspondents dinner and instructed them to contact him when they were ready to make Tora Bora.

The CIA ethics report confirmed that “The [bin Laden] operation team provided the filmmakers background on the intelligence portions of the [bin Laden] raid.” Boal and Bigelow made multiple visits to CIA headquarters in Langley, VA and also met with officials in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. One official claimed Boal “needed to talk to Agency officers as part of the project to get a feeling of what it was like to hunt [bin Laden].”

The developing script for Zero Dark Thirty was continuously reviewed by CIA agents. Boal “‘[read] his script over the telephone’ to public affairs officers on October 26, November 1, November 18, and December 5 ‘so that [public affairs] could determine if the script inadvertently exposed any sensitivities.’” While some technical changes included removing a dog from an interrogation scene and cutting scenes of drunken parties for “accuracy,” more serious manipulation appears to have transpired.

According to Vice News, “Other concerns were raised about detainee debriefing scenes that depicted captives being ‘punched and kicked.’” Further, according to the documents, as well as a memo released in 2013 that also indicated the CIA’s involvement in the film, “It appears that an early version had Maya [the protagonist CIA agent] participating in the torture. But during their conference calls, the CIA told Boal that this was not true to life.”

Others have begged to differ, arguing the bigger picture was intentionally deceptive.

Former counterterrorism official for George W. Bush, Richard Clarke, saidThe movie left the American people with the impression that torture worked and that without it we never would have been able to trace the trail back to Abbottabad and to find bin Laden.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein — an authoritarian lawmaker who has personally squared off with the CIA — actually walked out of a screening of the film because it depicted torture as essential to finding bin Laden. “I couldn’t handle it because it’s so false,” she said. Senator Mark Udall, who was a member of the intelligence committee, called the film “…a form of propaganda, so that the general public believes this is what happened when in fact the facts don’t prove that to be the case.”

While the CIA manipulated the narrative of the film, the filmmakers also managed to manipulate CIA agents. The released documents reveal Bigelow and Boal took agents out to expensive dinners, sometimes totalling over $1,000. Boal told one of the agents on whom “Maya” was based that he could get her tickets to a Prada fashion show. She declined, but that didn’t stop Boal from attempting to have her to sign a release form so he could not be sued for his depiction of her. Another officer “relaxed” at a Malibu beach house with Boal, though the agent claimed he paid for his own trip and notified the agency about where he was going.

Other gestures were not as genuine. The filmmakers allegedly gave agents a bottle of tequila they said was “worth hundreds of dollars,” but upon doing (super-secret-special ops) research online, the agents found it was worth $169.99, at best. Bigelow gifted an officer black Tahitian pearl earrings, but when they were turned over for investigation into possible ethics violations, they were judged to be fake.

These incidents prompted the investigations into ethics violations, as well as potential inappropriate leaks of classified information. Contact between CIA officials and Boal and Bigelow was eventually broken over these concerns, but the Department of Justice failed to act upon urgings from the CIA that Boal and Bigelow be investigated for ethics violations. Of course, the CIA was not investigated, either.

While the government is no stranger to pushing narratives through cinema, the story of Zero Dark Thirty is particularly jarring because Osama bin Laden was, for years, a foundational tenet of the adventurist war on terror. The filmmakers could have depicted the government’s inability to find him for a decade (granted, this was Boal and Bigelow’s intention, though they still sought the CIA and Panetta as their source of information). They could have investigated and told a story about the murky circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s death. They could have explored the fervent war hysteria of the American populace, spurred by perpetual propaganda from the establishment pitting Osama bin Laden as a bogeyman warranting total imperialist intervention. Instead — with box office revenue over $130 million worldwide — they added to that fanaticism with the help of the government that created it.


This article (Declassified: CIA Helped Produce Hollywood Blockbuster That Grossed over $100 Million) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Carey Wedler and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Carey Wedler

Carey Wedler joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in September of 2014. Her topics of interest include the police and warfare states, the Drug War, the relevance of history to current problems and solutions, and positive developments that drive humanity forward. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she was born and raised.

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  19. This history plays like an extended Marx Brothers film, without the comedy. Of course, the Nixon-Reagan 'War on Drugs' is still playing out in America.

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    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting people to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, break up their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” –John ErlichmanProhibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011 a study at the University of Colorado found that, in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities have dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan—more than the national average, while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as "the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving", which "is arguably a positive thing". Despite occasional accidents, eagerly reported by police-blotter ‘journalists’ as ‘marijuana-related’, a mix of substances was often involved. Alcohol, most likely, and/or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, heroin, and a trace of the marijuana passed at a party ten days ago. However, on the whole, as revealed in big-time, insurance-industry stats, within the broad swath of mature, experienced consumers, slower and more cautious driving shows up in significant numbers. A recent Federal study has reached the same conclusion. And legalization should improve those numbers further.No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. It's the most benign 'substance' in history. Most people—and particularly patients who medicate with marijuana–use it in place of prescription drugs or alcohol.Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuro-protectant which actually encourages brain-cell growth. Research in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries has discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one's arm. 'The works of Man are flawed.'Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. Why despair? Consider the current medical term for cannabis sativa: a “mood elevator”. . . as opposed to antidepressants, which ‘flatten out’ emotions, leaving patients numb to both depression and joy. The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. But Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kaneh bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples. And a ‘skinful’ of medicinal oil could certainly calm one’s nerves, imparting a sense of benevolence and connection with all living things. No wonder that the ‘anointed one’ could gain a spark, an insight, a sense of the divine, and the confidence to convey those feelings to friends and neighbors.I am appalled at the number of 'Christian' politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated by most of the world’s major religions.

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  21. I am curous as to if there was motive inolved in the production of the 2015 'American Ultra' movie.

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