Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, has been working on a film about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. It was carefully timed to hit screens right before the election, in October 2012, but consternation that the film amounted to a massive “super PAC” commercial for the Obama campaign prompted the studio to move it back to December 2013.
Watchdog group Judicial Watch wanted some questions answered about the degree of access to classified information the White House granted to these very friendly filmmakers. As always, getting such information from the most opaque Administration in history was comparable to dental surgery, but in a press release on Tuesday, Judicial Watch announced that their Freedom of Information Act root canal was complete.
Poring through 153 pages of documentation from the Defense Department and 113 pages of records from the CIA, Judicial Watch discovered that Bigelow’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, enjoyed a meeting with President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism and deputy national security advisors.
Bigelow and Boal were also given the name of a SEAL Team Six commander by the Defense Department, and got to sit down for a little chat about SEAL tactics. They also received a tour of the CIA’s tactical planning facilities. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers expressed an understandable desire to “shape the story to prevent any gross inaccuracies,” perhaps shuddering with long-suppressed memories of Charlie Sheen’s “Navy SEALs,” but worried about making it look “like the commanders think it’s okay to talk to the media.”
This was all kept under wraps, because everyone involved knew they were playing a dangerous game with national security. DoD Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson said in an email to colleagues, “we need to be careful here so we don’t open the media floodgates on this. I’m going to check with [the White House] to update them on status, and will report back.”
In case there’s any doubt about what sort of film this will be, Vickers said in an email, “For the intelligence case, they are basically using the WH-approved talking points we used the night of the operation.” As Judicial Watch points out, those are the notorious “gutsy call” talking points that said “White House involvement was critical.”
The working title for the film is reportedly “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is a lousy title. It should be called “Gutsy Call: The Movie,” or “The Obama Sanction.” There have been jokes floating around that Bigelow will show Obama personally leading the raid while a body double hangs out with Hillary Clinton, or maybe remote-controlling the SEAL weapons with telepresence gear. I’ll tell you what actually might end up in the in the movie: frequent cross-cuts to scenes of a tense Obama fingering his chin and looking deeply concerned while the raid goes down. Maybe we’ll get scenes of SEALs racing through the halls of bin Laden’s compound, interspersed with matching footage of Obama racing through the halls of the White House.
Movie producers often seek to work with the Defense Department and military officers to enhance realism, and get authentic military hardware into their films. A very good recent movie, Act of Valor, featured actual Navy SEALs. Even silly fluff like Battleship secured cooperation from the Navy. That’s why the Navy looked good in the movie, but the aliens were stupid. If the aliens had cooperated with Hollywood, they would have come off better.
The trick is to avoid compromising national security, which seems to have been a real concern with this production. It’s also more than a little unseemly to see this level of White House interest in the crafting of a Hollywood movie.
Update: A very good point I’ve seen popping up on Twitter: this is the same Administration that claims it’s too busy to hand over subpoenaed material on Operation Fast and Furious, isn’t it?
Maybe Hollywood should do its patriotic duty and begin production on “Not That Fast & Furious, The Other One” and see if they can succeed in obtaining information long hidden from Congressional investigators.