"Zero Dark Thirty" entertaining but inaccurate: ex-CIA agents

PARK CITY, Utah Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:30pm EST

Cast members Jessica Chastain and Edgar Ramirez greet each other at the premiere of ''Zero Dark Thirty''at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood, California December 10, 2012. The movie opens in the U.S. on January 11. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Cast members Jessica Chastain and Edgar Ramirez greet each other at the premiere of ''Zero Dark Thirty''at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood, California December 10, 2012. The movie opens in the U.S. on January 11.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden movie "Zero Dark Thirty" may be an entertaining film, but it fails to capture the true nature of the work of those involved in his hunt and capture, according to three former CIA agents.

Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Marty Martin are featured in HBO documentary "Manhunt," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week. It offers an alternative look at the long search by U.S. agents for the al Qaeda leader, who was killed in Pakistan in 2011.

"Zero Dark Thirty," which has been nominated for five Oscars, portrays the hunt for bin Laden through the eyes of a young CIA officer, played by Jessica Chastain, and is described by the filmmakers as based on first-hand accounts.

"It's entertaining. It's a movie, that's the purpose of the film. What it's not, it's not a documentary, it's not a completely accurate portrayal of how national security works, or even how the CIA works," Bakos, a former CIA officer, said of the Hollywood thriller in comments to Reuters.

"Manhunt" attempts to shed light on the larger scale of the operation, dating back nearly 20 years. It focuses on "The Sisterhood" - a team of female CIA analysts leading the search - and "Alec Station," the code name for the larger group involved in the hunt.

All three CIA agents retired from service in 2007 or 2008 and were given clearance to talk to the "Manhunt" filmmakers.

They agreed that the U.S. Navy SEAL team raid scene on bin Laden's Pakistan compound was well done in the Hollywood movie. But they were irked by the "Zero Dark Thirty" portrayal of CIA agent "Jessica," based on real-life agent Jennifer Matthews (played by Jennifer Ehle), who died in a suicide bombing.

"I was so angry at this heated depiction of Jennifer as some fluffy-headed schoolgirl ... I just lost respect for it right there," said Storer, an analyst who tracked bin Laden from 1995.

"The portrayal of who we're supposed to assume is Jennifer Matthews is not accurate. This was not representative of who she was as a person," Bakos added.


Bakos said the controversial "Zero Dark Thirty" torture scenes, included waterboarding and beatings, were "horrific to watch."

And Martin, who ran clandestine operations in top field cases in the 1990s, said, "the interrogation stuff - that was totally inaccurate as well." He declined to be more specific.

In "Manhunt," the CIA search is juxtaposed with journalist Peter Bergen's own insight into al Qaeda.

Bergen produced a CNN interview with bin Laden and correspondent Peter Arnett in 1997 that marked the first time the al Qaeda leader was profiled on U.S. television, when he said he wanted to harm Americans.

Director Greg Barker said he wanted to present as many details as possible by showcasing how both the CIA and how Bergen covered the events, and to structure the documentary in a way that would inform and captivate viewers.

"It was a story that I had to understand for myself, and I saw it also as a spy movie. I make narrative documentary features that play like movies so I wanted to find very compelling characters, who through them, we can enter into the last decade," Barker told Reuters.

Barker said he hoped the documentary would give viewers a better understanding of the detailed search for America's No.1 enemy, and a cause for reflection in future.

"I think there's going to be another crisis, and we'll all want the government to do something to prevent it from happening again. That's what we all felt like after 9/11 ... It's time now to step back and tell this story in a compelling way that people want to watch but also so that people can reflect," Barker said.

"Manhunt" will be shown on cable channel HBO later this year.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Eric Walsh)

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Comments (2)
saavedra wrote:
Reuters is a terrific on-line publication. This red-hot issue is critical because America will no doubt suffer future attacks. I can only hope and pray we don’t have another nefarious Dick Cheney in the white House who will project his own wrong-headed, soulless vision on American foreign policy; because as we’ve seen through phony programs like FOX’s “24″ and Zero Dark Thirty, the rank and file public is quite easily suckered into these false assumptions, like “torture works.”

Jan 25, 2013 6:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Trend1 wrote:
The public still doesn’t understand what happened in the lead up to 9/11. Many CIA agents say the agency warned the White House but Bush administration officials dropped the ball and scapegoated the CIA after 9/11. This view is supported by an urgent CIA briefing on July 10, 2001 for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The dispute (and what the public has been prevented from understanding because journalists have been unwilling to find out) concerns deliberate CIA withholding of information about Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. CIA agents knew in January of 2000 that these two guys had entered the country and for unknown reasons refused to tell the FBI. What was the point of urgent White House briefings when the CIA was intentionally withholding information about the likely perpetrators of those feared attacks?

The FBI UBLU (intelligence side Bin Laden unit) was finally told in late August that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were in the country. The UBLU was a unit that was located in the ITOS (International Terrorism Operations Section). In the Summer of 2001 Tom Wilshire, a high level CIA officer in the CIA Bin Laden unit (Alec Station) was moved to the FBI ITOS where he functioned as a deputy chief. He was one of the CIA officials involved in all the withholding decisions. When some FBI criminal side agents found out that the two al Qaeda guys were in the US they were incredulous that the UBLU agents were using the so called criminal/intel wall restrictions as an excuse to keep the criminal agents from involvement in finding them. Wilshire was part of the decision loop that justified this withholding on false pretenses. There are a number of reasons why the wall excuse is not credible: 1)Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were linked to an al Qaeda communications hub in Yemen. This hub was previously associated with planning for the 1998 al Qaeda attack on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 2)They were linked to USS Cole attackers by way of a terrorist meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in early January 2000. 3)Sherry Sabol, the NSLU attorney that supposedly told UBLU IOS Dina Corsi that the wall prevented criminal side agents from being involved said on the record that she gave no such advice. It is beyond comprehension that such an important investigation would be left to an FBI analyst’s judgement.

The bottom line is the CIA and FBI ITOS have not been honest about their conduct in regard to Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. If these CIA agents truly want the public to understand 9/11, Bin Laden, al Qaeda and US counterterrorism policy then they should step up and explain what happened in regard to these two hijackers. It should be noted that the media has never interviewed Richard Blee (chief of Alec Station from mid-’99 until 12/01), Tom Wilshire (the deputy chief of Alec Station who moved over to the FBI ITOS in June 2001), Rodney Middleton (the chief of the UBLU) or Dina Corsi (the UBLU IOS who kept the criminal side agents from being involved in the case). How is the public able to understand what happened when the media refuses to interview the key people?

Jan 25, 2013 11:01pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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