(Read full statement below
Morell was upset with the movie's alleged suggestion that the CIA relied mainly on harsh interrogation techniques in the effort to acquire information that led to finding bin Laden, who allegedly masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
According to a CNN
review, the film shows a scene in which a CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain), watches as another agent, Dan (Jason Clarke), interrogates an Arab prisoner, using the waterboarding technique that involves the prisoner being "held down on the floor with a cloth over his face and... water poured into his mouth until he is half-drowned... leaving the prisoner gasping like a dying fish."
Dan warns the prisoner: "If you lie to me, I hurt you."
In a move considered unusual, the acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell, issued a statement that said that "Zero Dark Thirty" is not historically accurate in its portrayal of the CIA and its agents.
According to the Daily Mail
, Morell said the movie is a "dramatization" of history and not a factual representation. He said that although the agency interacted with the filmmakers through its Office of Public Affairs, "as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product."
The CIA director appeared most concerned about the disturbing scenes at the beginning of the movie that show a terrorist suspect undergoing interrogation at a clandestine CIA prison outside the United States. The CIA agent is shown using the already infamous waterboarding technique, among others, which the CIA evasively terms "enhanced interrogation techniques."
While Morell objected to the torture scenes, he did not quite suggest that the "interrogations" were mostly polite chats at lunch table, as the movie shows in a particular scene. Rather, he protested the movie's emphasis on torture, saying that the impression that tortures ("enhanced techniques") played a major role in information gathering in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is false. The Daily Mail
reports Morell said: "The film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false."
Morrell claimed that the CIA relied on several sources of intelligence: "Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well."
However, in spite of the CIA's chief's statement, The New York Times
reports that earlier this year, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was in charge of the agency's counterterrorism operations at the time the CIA used "enhanced interrogation techniques," said that the hunt for Bin Laden “stemmed from information obtained from hardened terrorists who agreed to tell us some (but not all) of what they knew after undergoing harsh but legal interrogation methods.”
The New York Times
also reports that Michael V. Hayden, CIA chief in the George Bush administration, wrote last year that “a crucial component of the information that led to Bin Laden was information provided by three C.I.A. detainees, all of whom had been subjected to some form of enhanced interrogation.”
Morell also criticized "Zero Dark Thirty" for allegedly promoting the impression that only a few individuals played a significant role in the success of the search for bin Laden. The Daily Mail
reports Morell said that the search of for bin Laden was a group effort involving hundreds of officers over a period of a decade and not "just a few individuals" as he argues the movie suggests.
Morell said that the movie suggests that the character Maya, was largely responsible for finding the Abbottabad compound in Afghanistan. The CIA chief comments: "This may make for more compelling entertainment, but it does not reflect the facts."
According to the CNN
, Morell also objected to the filmmakers taking "liberties" in their portrayal of CIA officers. The Daily Mail
reports that he said, with special reference to CIA agents who have died, "The film takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them."
According to the CNN
, earlier in the week, before Morell issued his email statement, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain, called on Sony Pictures Entertainment to issue a public statement acknowledging that the movie is not historically accurate. CNN
reports the Senators wrote:
" 'Zero Dark Thirty' is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the films fictional narrative."
According to CNN
, filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, have reacted to the Senators, saying the film struggles to condense 10 years of intelligence work in a two-and-a-half hour narrative. They said that attempting to cram so much in a few hours of the movie was challenging.
The Daily Mail
reports Boal said:
"I’m trying to compress a program that lasted for years into a few short scenes... 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, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."
The film, which opened in the theaters on Wednesday, is currently playing in a few theaters before its full release in January. The film has been nominated for four Golden Globe awards.
The Daily Mail
published Morell's full email statement to CIA employees:
Statement to Employees from Acting Director Michael Morell: "Zero Dark Thirty"
December 21, 2012
I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film, but I think it important to put Zero Dark Thirty, which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context. The film, which premiered this week, addresses the successful hunt for Usama Bin Ladin that was the focus of incredibly dedicated men and women across our Agency, Intelligence Community, and military partners for many years. But in doing so, the film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate.
What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.
It would not be practical for me to walk through all the fiction in the film, but let me highlight a few aspects that particularly underscore the extent to which the film departs from reality.
First, the hunt for Usama Bin Ladin was a decade-long effort that depended on the selfless commitment of hundreds of officers. The filmmakers attributed the actions of our entire Agency—and the broader Intelligence Community—to just a few individuals. This may make for more compelling entertainment, but it does not reflect the facts. The success of the May 1st 2011 operation was a team effort—and a very large team at that.
Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.
Third, the film takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them.
Commentators will have much to say about this film in the weeks ahead. Through it all, I want you to remember that Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. What you should also remember is that the Bin Ladin operation was a landmark achievement by our country, by our military, by our Intelligence Community, and by our Agency.