Feinstein, McCain, Levin Ask CIA for 'Zero Dark Thirty' Documents

Concerned that CIA’s cooperation was inappropriate, potentially misled filmmakers

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Washington—Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senate Armed Service Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) have sent two letters to Acting CIA Director Michael Morell seeking information provided to the filmmakers of the film Zero Dark Thirty and clarification of comments made to CIA employees related to the use of coercive interrogation techniques on CIA detainees.

In the first letter, [PDF] dated December 19, 2012, Feinstein, McCain and Levin stated their concern that “given the CIA’s cooperation with the filmmakers [of the film Zero Dark Thirty] and the narrative’s consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by CIA” and requested “all information and documents provided to the filmmakers by CIA officials.” The film credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program concluded that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of the bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and that the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.

The senators sent a second letter [PDF] to the CIA on December 31, 2012, following a message the Acting Director sent to CIA employees on December 21. In his message, Acting Director Morell stated that “Some [intelligence related to bin Laden’s location] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.” The senators’ letter asks Acting Director Morell to provide information obtained from CIA detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques and whether such information was provided prior to, during, or after the detainee was subjected to such techniques.

Full text of both letters follows:

December 19, 2012

Mr. Michael Morell
Acting Director
Central Intelligence Agency

Dear Acting Director Morell,

We are writing to request information and documents related to the CIA’s cooperation with the makers of the film, Zero Dark Thirty. We are concerned by the film’s clear implication that information obtained during or after the use of the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques played a critical role in locating Usama Bin Laden (UBL).

As you know, the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound. While this information is incorrect, it is consistent with public statements made by former Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

The CIA cannot be held accountable for how the Agency and its activities are portrayed in film, but we are nonetheless concerned, given the CIA’s cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative’s consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA.

In an unclassified letter you provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on May 31, 2012, you wrote that the CIA engaged with the filmmakers “to ensure an appropriate portrayal of the Agency’s mission as well as the dedication of the men and women of the CIA who played a key part in the success of that mission.” The film opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events,” and according to now publicly released CIA records, the filmmakers met extensively with CIA personnel. Specifically, one publicly released email notes that the filmmakers met with you for forty minutes, during which you provided “substance again.” Another publicly released CIA email states that “As a [sic] Agency, we’ve been pretty forward-leaning with [the filmmaker], and he’s agreed to share scripts and details about the movie with us so we’re absolutely comfortable with what he will be showing.”

Pursuant to the Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program, Committee staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of CIA records. Based on that review, and with prior notification to the CIA, Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Senator Carl Levin released the following findings on April 30, 2012, regarding the UBL operation:

  • The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the UBL courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier's identity from CIA detainees subjected to coercive techniques. No CIA detainee reported on the courier’s full name or specific whereabouts, and no detainee identified the compound in which UBL was hidden. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name, and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.
  • Information to support the UBL operation was obtained from a wide variety of intelligence sources and methods. CIA officers and their colleagues throughout the Intelligence Community sifted through massive amounts of information, identified possible leads, tracked them down, and made considered judgments based on all of the available intelligence.
  • The CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.

In addition to the information above, former CIA Director Panetta wrote Senator McCain in May 2011, stating:

“…no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.”

Given the discrepancy between the facts above and what is depicted in the film, previous misstatements by retired CIA officials, as well as what appears to be the CIA’s unprecedented cooperation with the filmmakers, we request that you provide the Committee with all information and documents provided to the filmmakers by CIA officials, former officials, or contractors, including talking points prepared for use in those meetings. Furthermore, we request copies of all relevant records discussing the cooperation between CIA officials, former officials, or contractors and the filmmakers, including records of the meetings that occurred, notes, internal emails, Sametime communications, and other documentation describing CIA interactions with the filmmakers.

Thank you for your assistance on this matter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
Chairman
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Carl Levin
Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
Ex-Officio Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

John McCain
Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee
Ex-Officio Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

December 31, 2012

Mr. Michael Morell
Acting Director
Central Intelligence Agency

Dear Acting Director Morell:

In your December 21, 2012, statement to CIA employees regarding the film, Zero Dark Thirty, you state that “the film creates the strong impression that enhanced interrogation techniques” were “the key to finding Bin Ladin” and that this impression “is false.” However, you went on to refer to multiple streams of intelligence that led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad and stated that “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.”

In our previous letter of December 18, 2012, we made several points based on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program that are potentially inconsistent with your press release. Principal among those points was that “The CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.”

Accordingly, we would ask that you provide the following to the Committee:

  1. In regards to the Bin Laden operation, what information was acquired from CIA detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques? When was this information provided: prior to, during, or after the detainee was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques? If after, how long after? Please note whether such information corroborated information previously known to the CIA.
  2. Please provide specific examples of information that was obtained in a “timely and effective” way from CIA detainees subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques? When was this information provided: prior to, during, or after the detainee was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques? If after, how long after? Please note whether such information corroborated information previously known to the CIA.

Thank you for your assistance on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
Chairman
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Carl Levin
Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
Ex-Officio Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

John McCain
Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee
Ex-Officio Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence