Senate panel drops ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ probe

By Pam Benson CNN

The Senate Intelligence Committee has dropped its probe of the CIA’s contacts with the makers of Zero Dark Thirty.

The step was taken after the CIA responded to the panel’s questions about whether the agency may have contributed to the movie’s suggestion that harsh interrogations of a suspected terrorist helped find Osama bin Laden, a congressional aide said.

News of the decision came just one day after the movie was shut out of any significant Academy Awards, a snub many felt came in part because of criticisms, including from members of Congress, that the movie glorified torture.

A bipartisan group of senators expressed concern the CIA may have provided information about the search for the al Qaeda leader that might have “misled” the filmmakers.

Deputy Director Mike Morell and other CIA officers met with movie director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal shortly after the May 2011 raid on the Pakistan compound where bin Laden was hiding.

The movie depicts harrowing scenes of a suspected terrorist being interrogated with waterboarding and some of other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The suggestion is those techniques helped identify the courier who led the CIA to the compound.

One of the conclusions of a recent four-year study of the CIA’s interrogation and detention program by the Intelligence Committee was that the CIA did not learn about the existence of the courier from any terrorist subjected to harsh interrogation.

In a December letter to now Acting Director Morell, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin along with Republican Sen. John McCain asked the CIA to provide the Intelligence Committee all information and records the CIA, former officials and contractors provided the filmmakers about the raid.

The senators acknowledged at the time that the CIA could not be held responsible for how its activities were depicted in a movie.

“The senators received additional information from the CIA in response to its questions,” a congressional aide told CNN. “The committee doesn’t plan additional investigations at this point.”

The three senators had also sent a letter in December to Sony Pictures Entertainment, the distributors of Zero Dark Thirty, calling the film “grossly inaccurate and misleading” and asking the studio to publicly state the movie was not based on fact.

In response to the criticism, Bigelow and Boal said the film condenses 10 years of intelligence work into a 2 ½-hour film.

“We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt,” their statement said.

Zero Dark Thirty was one of the films nominated for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards. It lost out to another CIA-related movie, Argo, the story of the dramatic rescue of six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis that began when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized by demonstrators in 1979.

Some have suggested the negative publicity about Zero Dark Thirty effectively nixed its chances of winning the Oscar.

In a separate but related matter, the committee is still waiting for Morell’s answers to questions they have about a message he sent to the CIA workforce shortly after the movie was released last year.

Morell stated that enhanced interrogation techniques played a role in finding bin Laden, but they were not as important as the movie implied. “Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well,” Morell said.

The senators asked Morell to provide specific details about what information gathered from harsh interrogations helped find bin Laden.

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