Panetta Revealed Classified Info to Zero Dark Thirty Filmmaker

Internal review: CIA violated procedure in allowing filmmaker access to award ceremony
Leon Panetta leaked classified information to Zero Dark Thirty director

A scene from Zero Dark Thirty / AP


Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information at a 2011 awards ceremony attended by Zero Dark Thirty filmmaker Mark Boal, according to documents obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

The CIA allowed Boal, the screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty, to attend a June 24, 2011 award ceremony celebrating the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan that May.

A transcript of Panetta’s speech that night obtained by Judicial Watch is labeled “top secret,” and significant portions of it are redacted.

At the conclusion his speech, Panetta told the audience, “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

An internal review of the ceremony written by the CIA Office of Security (OS) concluded that “the Agency’s Security policy and administrative procedures were not followed in allowing Mr. Boal, a member of the media, access to the classified Bin Laden Operation Award Ceremony.”

“The review conducted by OS leads to the conclusion that the failure to follow stipulations in ARs [redacted] resulted in the disclosure of classified information to a member of the media, without benefit of any documentation to reflect a waiver to the above policies,” the three-page review continued.

A letter from the Director of Operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Department of Defense Inspector General said “that both of these transcripts contain SECRET / [REDACTED] information. The information in each transcript was classified at the time each incident occurred.”

Judicial Watch obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Judicial Watch had previously obtained a conversation between screenwriter Boal and Undersecretary of Defense Michael Vickers, wherein Vickers gave Boal the name of a SEAL Team 6 operator and commander who was involved in planning the bin Laden raid.

Additionally, the group obtained an email from Benjamin Rhodes, the White House’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, saying the White House was intent on “trying to have visibility into the UBL (Usama bin Laden) projects and this is likely a high profile one.”

Zero Dark Thirty, released in 2012, portrayed the 10-year manhunt and eventual SEAL raid that killed bin Laden.

The high-level access to the intelligence community of the film’s creators drew concern from both liberals, who said the film glorified the CIA’s interrogation techniques, and conservatives, who said the administration was using the film to puff up its image during an election year.

“The new CIA internal documents obtained confirm conclusively that former CIA Director Panetta breeched national security in order to curry favor with Hollywood filmmakers who the Obama administration hoped would make a pro-Obama film,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The sensitivities about classified leaks from this administration don’t seem to extend to top level officials like Mr. Panetta.”

Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) told CNN in December, 2012, that the White House placed inappropriate pressure on the Department of Defense to cooperate with the filmmakers.

“I asked for this investigation a year-and-a-half ago because there were many examples, I felt, of too much collusion, too much pressure being brought by the administration on people in the CIA and the Defense Department,” King said. “People who are operators came to me, and they said the pressure was wrong. … In addition to that, the movie producers got access to special operators. They were brought to CIA locations they shouldn’t have been at. They also, as Mark Boal himself said, were given sensitive information that was not being made available to the public.

The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CJ Ciaramella   Email CJ | Full Bio | RSS
CJ Ciaramella is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, he was a reporter for the Daily Caller. He was also a Collegiate Network year-long fellow at the San Diego Union-Tribune and has written articles for the Weekly Standard and Oregon Quarterly. Ciaramella attended the University of Oregon, where he edited the award-winning student magazine, the Oregon Commentator. He lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @cjciaramella. His email address is