Memo Suggests CIA Shaped 'Zero Dark Thirty' Narrative

Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain Researching - H 2012
Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain Researching - H 2012

Screenwriter Mark Boal responds that certain requests were honored to "keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential."

Months after the intense debate surrounding Zero Dark Thirty has died down, a newly declassified CIA document suggests the agency played a direct hand in shaping the film's narrative.

Calling it "the biggest publicity coup for the CIA this century outside of the actual killing of Osama bin Laden," Gawker reports that the memo, prepared by the CIA's public affairs department after consulting with Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal during the film's early development stages, contains multiple passages detailing requests that scenes in the screenplay be altered or removed entirely. Boal agreed to several of them.

Most notably, the original version of the Zero Dark Thirty screenplay depicted the film's protagonist, Maya (Jessica Chastain), participating in the enhanced interrogation -- i.e. torture -- of a detainee suspected of harboring information that could help lead to Bin Laden's whereabouts. 

"For this scene we emphasized that substantive debriefers [i.e. Maya] did not administer [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] because in this scene he had a non-interrogator, substantive debriefer assisting in a dosing [i.e. waterboarding] technique." The memo goes on to read, "Boal said he would fix this."

Another scene cut from the screenplay involved the use of a threatening dog during an interrogation scene.

"We raised an objection that such tactics would not be used by the Agency...Boal confirmed in January that the use of dogs was taken out of the screenplay," the memo reads.

Boal responded to the Gawker piece with this statement: "We honored certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers."

A Senate investigation into the nature of Boal and Zero Dark director Kathryn Bigelow's involvement with the CIA -- spearheaded by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. -- was abandoned last February the day following the Oscars, where the film won a single award for sound editing.