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Senators: Did CIA tell 'Zero Dark Thirty' filmmakers torture led to bin Laden?

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, at 7:01 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, at 5:45 p.m.

— The chairs of the Senate intelligence and armed services committees are looking into whether the CIA misled the makers of a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden by telling them that “coercive interrogation” of suspected terrorists produced intelligence that led to the al Qaida founder’s hideout in Pakistan.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., were joined by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in writing letters last month to Acting CIA Director Michael Morell asking that he provide the intelligence panel with whatever information the CIA gave to the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Releasing the letters on Thursday, the three said in a statement that they also are seeking clarification from Morell about a Dec. 21 message he sent to the CIA workforce in which he asserted that some of the intelligence that led to bin Laden “came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques.”

Enhanced techniques was the term that the Bush administration adopted for waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other procedures – considered torture by many experts – that CIA and Defense Department interrogators used on suspected terrorists in secret U.S. detention centers.

Feinstein, Levin and McCain previously called the movie by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal “grossly inaccurate,” contending that scenes of brutal detainee interrogations by CIA officers perpetuate “the myth that torture” produced leads to bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Feinstein is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which Levin is an ex officio member. Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and McCain, a former Navy pilot who was tortured in a North Vietnamese prison camp, is the senior Republican member.

Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman, said the CIA would cooperate with the request. “As we’ve said before, we take very seriously our responsibility to keep our oversight committees informed and value our relationship with Congress,” he said in an email.

The Pentagon inspector general has been investigating whether a senior Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, provided restricted information to Bigelow and Boal. The Pentagon denies that he did so. McClatchy reported last month that the inspector general’s office referred the case to the Justice Department in September, but that the department has declined to launch a criminal prosecution.

Bin Laden was killed when U.S. Navy SEALs raided his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. The raid culminated a decade-long hunt for the founder of al Qaida after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently adopted an exhaustive study of the CIA’s interrogation and detention program that found detainees subjected to the brutal interrogation procedures did not provide information about the al Qaida courier who the agency eventually tracked to bin Laden’s hideout.

Moreover, the detainee “who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques,” the three senators said in their statement.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Morell, the senators wrote that they were “concerned that 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” bin Laden.

“While this information is incorrect, it is consistent with public statements” made by Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, they wrote.

They noted that the intelligence panel’s review of more than 6 million pages of CIA records had determined that enhanced interrogation played no role in discovering the existence or the identity of the courier.

“No CIA detainee reported on the courier’s full name or specific whereabouts, and no detainee identified the compound in which (bin Laden) 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,” they wrote.

That information 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 letter said.

“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 (intelligence) 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,” the three wrote.

“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,” they wrote.

Email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @jonathanlanday

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