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The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has begun an examination of the contacts between the CIA and the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, which has come under intense criticism in Washington for its depiction of torture during the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
A well-placed Washington source tells The Hollywood Reporter that members of the committee — led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — are trying to determine whether the agency gave director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal inappropriate access to secret materials about the government’s efforts to find the 9/11 mastermind.
According to Reuters, which first reported the probe, the senators want to determine “whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective.”
The move comes weeks after committee chair Feinstein, along with senators John McCain and Carl Levin, expressed outrage over what they believe is the erroneous suggestion in the film that torture led to information that helped kill bin Laden. The senators sent a sharply worded letter to Sony Pictures, Zero Dark Thirty‘s distributor, asking that a disclosure be added to the movie.
According to Reuters, investigators plan to examine records detailing contacts between Bigelow, Boal and the CIA. Government e-mails and other documents turned over last year to the conservative group Judicial Watch indicate that both the CIA and Pentagon gave the filmmakers extensive access.
One of the intelligence officials whom the documents show as having met with the filmmakers is Michael Morell, the CIA’s deputy director at the time and now the agency’s acting chief. Morell penned a letter to CIA personnel in December criticizing the film’s graphic torture scenes, an extraordinary move for a sitting CIA official.
“What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts,” Morell told agency personnel. “CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs, but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.”
A CIA spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
It is highly unusual for government officials to offer condemnations of Hollywood films, which are protected by the First Amendment. An official probe into the access gained by filmmakers to CIA employees is even more rare, especially considering the senators and Morell called the movie fictional in their letters.
A spokesperson for Sony tells THR in a statement: “As the studio distributing Zero Dark Thirty in the United States, we are proud of this important film. Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and their creative team have made an extraordinary motion picture, and we fully support bringing this remarkable story to the screen.”
Boal and Bigalow released a statement in December defending the depiction of torture.
“The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes,” the filmmakers said. “One thing is clear: The single greatest factor in finding the world’s most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort.’
The movie, which is playing in New York and Los Angeles and is considered a likely Oscar contender, is set to be screened Jan. 8 for lawmakers and others in Washington. It opens nationwide Jan. 11.
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