JW Obtains Obama Administration Records Detailing Meetings with bin Laden Movie Filmmakers
On Tuesday, Judicial Watch caused a firestorm when we released records from the Obama Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding meetings and communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, and her screenwriter Mark Boal.
Why so much attention?
According to the records, the Obama Defense Department granted the Hollywood filmmakers unprecedented access to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” who was responsible for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, to assist Bigelow prepare her upcoming feature film.
To limit the damage, the Obama administration released them to Judicial Watch late on Friday, May 18. (Obviously this strategy did not work.) Here are a few of the highlights:
- A transcript of a July 14, 2011 meeting between DOD officials, including Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, Bigelow and Boal indicates that Boal met directly with White House officials on at least two occasions regarding the film: “I took your guidance and spoke to the WH and had a good meeting with Brennan and McDonough and I plan to follow up with them; and they were forward leaning and interested in sharing their point of view; command and control; so that was great, thank you,” Boal said according to the transcript.
Vickers asks if the meeting was a follow-up, to which Boal responds, “Yes correct; this was a follow-up.” The documents seemingly reference John O. Brennan, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor to President Obama and Denis McDonough, who serves as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.
- The July 14, 2011, meeting transcript also reveals that DOD provided the filmmakers with the identity of a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six.” (The name is blacked out in the document.) In proposing the arrangement, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers said: “The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because . . . he shouldn’t be talking out of school.” Vickers went on to say during the meeting at the Pentagon: “This at least, this gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.” Boal later responds, “You delivered.”
- A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to “the Vault,” which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: “I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.” (The name of the sender is blacked out.) “Of course this is doable,” an official responds.
- DOD Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson told colleagues in a June 13, 2011, email to limit media access and that he would follow up with the White House: “I think this looks very good as a way forward, and agree particularly that we need to be careful here so we don’t open the media floodgates on this. I’m going to check with WH to update them on status, and will report back.” A day later, he wrote Department of Defense communications staffers, saying: “Ok to set up the second session with Vickers. I am getting additional guidance from WH.”
- Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson and two other DOD communications staffers in a June 13, 2011, email that “[DOD] would like to shape the story to prevent any gross inaccuracies, but do not want to make it look like the commanders think it’s okay to talk to the media.” The email went on to say: “For the intelligence case, they are basically using the WH-approved talking points we used the night of the operation.” The talking points called the raid “a ‘Gutsy Decision’ by the POTUS,” adding that “WH involvement was critical.”
- A June 9, 2011, email from Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, to Vickers and other DOD staff summarizes a meeting with Boal and notes the release date for the film: “Release date set for 4th Qtr 2012…”
- A July 13, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, indicates that Sarah Zukowski, an associate for The Glover Park Group, arranged the July 14, 2011 visit by Bigelow and Boal to the DOD and the CIA. The Glover Park Group is described by Politico as a “Democratic-leaning advocacy firm.”
- A June 27, 2011, email to an official at the Office of the Secretary of Defense suggests that the request from Bigelow and Boal to meet with Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers came via the White House press office. A June 22, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, notes “The White House does want to engage with Mark but it probably won’t be for a few more weeks. We should provide them a read-out of the session you do with Vickers.” The name of the White House official who forwarded the request is blacked out.
As I mentioned, Judicial Watch’s discovery exploded in the press. And when that happens, attention from Congress is a foregone conclusion.
As Congressional Quarterly put it, “Try as both candidates really might, this presidential election will never be exclusively about economic growth and job creation. Not so long as outside groups retain their ever-more-outsized role in framing the debate. And one of the masters of the form, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, is out with another shape-shifter — which Republicans pounced on today as buttressing their passionately held view that Obama is more suited to being celebrity in chief than commander in chief.”
One such Republican, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman took the lead in responding to the Judicial Watch disclosures:
“Filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal may have set out to tell a blockbuster, election-year story about one of the most highly classified operations in American history, but through these emails they’ve ended up telling a damning story of extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration with top officials at the CIA, DoD, and the White House and a top Democratic lobbying firm.”
“After reviewing these emails, I am even more concerned about the possible exposure of classified information to these filmmakers, who as far as I know, do not possess security clearances. The email messages indicate that the filmmakers were allowed an unprecedented visit to a classified facility so secret that its name is redacted in the released email. If this facility is so secret that the name cannot even be seen by the public, then why in the world would the Obama Administration allow filmmakers to tour it? The emails also tell of these filmmakers being allowed to tour the CIA’s vaults, which is absolutely shocking to those of us who know the sensitive nature of materials kept there.
“Also troubling is the fact that the Democratic lobbying firm Glover Park Group was so intimately involved in brokering these filmmakers’ access to clandestine officers and potentially special operators only weeks after the mission and when details were otherwise still very closely guarded, and one of Glover Park’s primary contacts within the Administration, CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf, left shortly thereafter to join President Obama’s reelection campaign in Chicago.
“This is a very serious issue. We simply cannot forget what then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said a week after the raid: ‘Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day.’”
King sent letters to the agencies demanding more information about the “potentially dangerous collaboration.”
Judicial Watch launched its investigation of Bigelow’s meetings with the Obama administration following press reports suggesting the Obama administration may have leaked classified information to the director as source material for Bigelow’s film.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the information leak was designed to help the Obama 2012 presidential reelection campaign: “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…film 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.”
In addition to Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the bin Laden film records, the organization continues to fight in court for the release of the bin Laden post-mortem photos and video. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.
These documents, which took nine months and a federal lawsuit to disgorge from the Obama administration, show that politically-connected filmmakers were given extraordinary and secret access to bin Laden raid information, including the identity of a Seal Team Six leader.
It is both ironic and hypocritical that the Obama administration stonewalled Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the bin Laden death photos, citing national security concerns, yet seemed willing to share intimate details regarding the raid to help Hollywood filmmakers release a movie perfectly timed to give a “home-stretch boost” to the Obama campaign.
By the way, Ms. Bigelow gave a small donation to the Obama campaign in November, 2011 and previously supported Democratic causes. I have the details on my twitter feed here.
Our work forced reactions, mostly disingenuous, from the Obama White House, CIA and Pentagon. But even liberals weren’t buying the White House line. Liberal commentator Sam Stein said on MSNBC, “If Bush had done this with 9/11 and brought in a Hollywood producer, conservative filmmaker and say, ‘I want to talk to you about where I was the morning of and how great and grand we were’ — I just think there would have been a popular outcry. And I think if you’re going to be consistent you have to apply those standards to Obama as well.”
Judicial Watch is consistent. And persistent. The CIA continues to withhold information about the film meetings and our lawyers are considering next steps to obtain the additional information.
Please join me in giving kudos to our staff who investigated, litigated and successfully exposed this major government accountability story. You and other Judicial Watch supporters can see the tremendous impact of your financial and other support.