New questions are being raised about the Obama administration’s handling of confidential information after Judicial Watch, the government-watchdog organization, obtained emails regarding White House cooperation with a filmmaker planning a movie about the death of Osama bin Laden.
“These new documents provide more backing to the serious charge that the Obama administration played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“No wonder we’ve had to fight one year of stonewalling from the administration. These new documents show there is no doubt that [the] Obama White House was intensely interested in this film that was set to portray President Obama as ‘gutsy,’” he said.
The organization today confirmed it has gotten access to records from the Central Intelligence Agency as well as the Department of Defense on the issue.
The records include emails regarding meetings and communications between the government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “The Hurt Locker,” and screenwriter Mark Boal. They were working on a film, “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is supposed to detail the capture and killing of bin Laden.
The movie originally was scheduled to be released at the height of the 2012 election campaign, but now apparently has been delayed until at least December.
Judicial Watch said the records reveal that the White House granted Bigelow and Boal unusual access to agency information in their work on the film.
“The records – which should have been produced months ago pursuant to a court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed on January 21, 2012 – include records from a ‘stack’ of ‘overlooked’ documents discovered by the CIA in July 2012,” Judicial Watch reported.
The organization provided a list of some of the “highlights” from the records, which include internal DOD, White House and CIA email correspondence with the filmmakers:
- According to a June 15, 2011, email from Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, to then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson, then-CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Jaime Smith, the Obama White House was intent on “trying to have visibility into the UBL (Usama bin Laden) projects.”
- “…We are trying to have visibility into the UBL projects and this is likely the most high profile one. Would like to have whatever group is going around in here at the WH [White House] to get a sense of what they’re doing / what cooperation they’re seeking. Jamie will be POC [point of contact].”
- According to e-mail exchange on June 7, 2011, CIA spokesperson Marie E. Harf openly discussed providing preferential treatment to the Boal/Bigelow project over others related to the bin Laden killing: “I know we don’t pick favorites but it makes sense to get behind a winning horse … Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board …”
- In a July 20, 2011, e-mail, Boal writes to thank then-CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little for “pulling for him” with the agency, noting that it made, “all the difference.” Little responds: “… I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project … PS – I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :)”
- On July 13, 2011, Boal’s assistant, Jonathan Leven, sent Harf a copy of the floor plan of the bin Laden compound and asked for verification of its accuracy: “Per your conversation with Mark, can you verify whether this floor plan is accurate?” The next day Harf responds: “Ok, I checked with our folks, and that floor plan matches with what we have. It looks legit to us.”
- On July 14, 2011, Boal asks Harf to provide detailed information regarding the third floor of the compound that were not present on the open-source floor plan: “Would you mind looking into getting us some of the third floor specs … as the open source plan is missing those: height of wall, etc … ? We will be building a full scale replica of the house. Including the inhabitants of the animal pen!” Harf responds minutes later: “Ha! Of course I don’t mind! I’ll work on that tomorrow …”
- In an internal CIA memo regarding Bigelow’s visit to agency headquarters dated July 14, 2011, Harf describes Boal’s contact with the agency as a “deep dive.” (The memo was originally classified Secret.): “Kathryn is not interested in doing the deep dives that Mark did; she simply wants to meet the people Mark has been talking to.”
- On August 5, 2011, Harf exchanges several e-mails with New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti about the Boal/Bigelow project and, specifically, about a column by Maureen Dowd to be published August 7, 2011, making critical reference to the access the filmmakers were given. Mazzetti gave Harf an advance copy of the article, with the caveat, “this didn’t come from me … and please delete after you read. See, nothing to worry about!”
- In a June 15, 2011, e-mail, to Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes, Doug Wilson notes that the cooperation that Boal and Bigelow had been getting from the CIA was with the “full knowledge and full approval/support” of Director Panetta. “Boal has been working with us and with the CIA (via George Little) for initial context briefings – at DoD this has been provided by Mike Vickers, and at CIA by relevant officials with the full knowledge and full approval/support of Director Panetta.”
- In a July 17, 2011, e-mail, Harf advises then CIA Director of Public Affairs Greg Little that Boal and Bigelow would be “meeting individually with both [name redacted] and the translator who was on the raid …”
Judicial Watch said it started investigating the meetings with the Obama administration after reports suggested the Obama administration may have leaked classified information to the director as source material for the film.
Dowd wrote that the information leak was designed to help the Obama 2012 presidential re-election campaign, Judicial Watch said.
The organization quoted her, saying: “The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film [sic] by the Oscar-winning pair who made ‘The Hurt Locker’ will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 – perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.”
Judicial Watch previously confirmed it is fighting for access to records of the U.S. Navy Seal raid in Pakistan and the subsequent burial at sea of bin Laden, filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Navy for records showing “any funeral ceremony, rite or ritual” for bin Laden before he was buried at sea.
The government has reported that after the May 2, 2011, Navy Seal Team Six raid that led to bin Laden’s capture and death, the al-Qaida leader reportedly was transported by the USS Carl Vinson and then buried at sea “in accordance with Muslim law.”
According to Navy regulations cited by Judicial Watch, the burial ceremony would have included a prayer to “Allah” to allow bin Laden to “enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave and the punishment of hell.”
Judicial Watch confirmed it has requested “Any and all records utilized, referenced, or relied upon during the preparation and execution of any funeral ceremony, rite or ritual for Osama bin Laden on the USS Carl Vinson prior to his burial at sea. This request includes, but is not limited to, the text of any prepared remarks or prayers, any instructions provided to those in attendance, or any instructions or guidance regarding the handling of bin Laden’s remains.”
The organization also wants access to “Any and all records of communication between any official or employee of the Department of the Navy and any official or employee of any other government department, agency or office regarding any funeral ceremony, rite, or ritual for Osama bin Laden prior to his burial at sea.”
The information request had been submitted in March and a response was due before the end of April, but Judicial Watch said it had not received anything.
“Barack Obama is playing politics with bin Laden’s death and ignoring the rule of law – especially the transparency laws that his appointees violate with impunity,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “I suspect the Obama administration is embarrassed by the burial ceremony, which explains our having to go to court to get basic information about this important piece of history.”
When word of the raid on the Pakistani compound where bin Laden was found and killed by Navy SEALS came out, ABC reported that bin Laden was buried at sea within 24 hours of his death – to follow Muslim law.
Reports at the time said bin Laden’s burial was conducted by a Muslim seaman, who said prayers.
And existing U.S. Navy rules require that the prayer for Muslim burials includes the following: “O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, pardon him, grant him security, provide him a nice place and spacious lodgings, wash him (off from his sins) with water, snow and ice, purify him … make him enter paradise and save him from the trials of grave and the punishment of hell.”
Judicial Watch also is demanding the bin Laden postmortem photos and video.
Obama administration officials continue to withhold those records.