By Jim Kouri
A Washington, DC-based group that investigates, exposes, and combats government corruption at the highest levels, surprised members of the news industry by obtaining documents that one source said “were almost as hard to get from the Obama administration as buying a winning lottery ticket at the local grocery store.”
What is revealed in these records is disturbing, even shocking, say a number of counterterrorism and political experts who spoke with the Law Enforcement Examiner.
The noted — and feared by a number of politicos — public-interest organization, Judicial Watch, reported on May 21 that its officials obtained records from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency regarding meetings and communications between Obama-run federal agencies and veteran filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow.
Bigelow, the ex-wife of director James Cameron (Titanic), garnered an Oscar for her direction of The Hurt Locker, an acclaimed motion picture about a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq at the height of the insurgency.
According to the newly obtained records, the Obama Defense Department granted Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal access to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” the special forces unit that killed the world’s most famous and most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, in a daring covert operation inside Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
According to Judicial Watch officials, the Obama administration wished to assist Bigelow in her preparations for her upcoming feature film.
One document — which sets the tone of the communications between officials and filmmakers — notes: The talking points called the raid “a ‘Gutsy Decision’ by the POTUS [Obama],” adding that “WH (White House) involvement was critical.”
The records — obtained through a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on January 21, 2012, by Judicial Watch — include 153 pages of records from the DOD and 113 pages of records from the CIA (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:12-cv-00049)).
The documents were delivered to Judicial Watch late last Friday (May 18), at a time known to be the beginning of a usually “slow news weekend.”
“If you’re a government official who wishes a minimum number of Americans will learn about a certain fact or situation, just send out your press releases, official statements, and other documents on Friday after 5:00 PM,” quipped political strategist and attorney Mike Baker. “It’s one of the oldest political tricks in U.S. politics.”
“Kudos to Judicial Watch for waiting until Monday [May 21] in order to get maximum coverage. This investigation is that important,” said Baker.
While the released records are lengthy, Judicial Watch provided members of the media with the highlights from the documents, which include internal Defense Department email correspondence as well as a transcript from a key July 14, 2011, meeting between Pentagon officials, Bigelow and Boal:
- A transcript of a July 14, 2011 meeting between Pentagon officials, including Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, Bigelow and Boal indicates that Boal met directly with White House officials on at least two occasions regarding the film: “I took your guidance and spoke to the WH and had a good meeting with Brennan and McDonough and I plan to follow up with them; and they were forward leaning and interested in sharing their point of view; command and control; so that was great, thank you,” Boal said according to the transcript. Vickers asks if the meeting was a follow-up, to which Boal responds, “Yes correct; this was a follow-up.” The documents seemingly reference John O. Brennan, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor to President Obama and Denis McDonough, who serves as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.
- The July 14, 2011, meeting transcript also reveals that the DOD provided the filmmakers with the identity of a “planner, SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander.” (The name is blacked out in the document.) In proposing the arrangement, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers said: “The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because . . . he shouldn’t be talking out of school.” Vickers went on to say during the meeting at the Pentagon: “This at least, this gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.” Boal later responds, “You delivered.”
- A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to “the Vault,” which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: “I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.” (The name of the sender is blacked out.) “Of course this is doable,” an official responds.
- DOD Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson told colleagues in a June 13, 2011, email to limit media access and that he would follow up with the White House: “I think this looks very good as a way forward, and agree particularly that we need to be careful here so we don’t open the media floodgates on this. I’m going to check with WH to update them on status, and will report back.” A day later, he wrote Department of Defense communications staffers, saying: “Ok to set up the second session with Vickers. I am getting additional guidance from WH.”
- Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson and two other DOD communications staffers in a June 13, 2011, email that “[DOD] would like to shape the story to prevent any gross inaccuracies, but do not want to make it look like the commanders think it’s okay to talk to the media.” The email went on to say: “For the intelligence case, they are basically using the WH-approved talking points we used the night of the operation.” The talking points called the raid “a ‘Gutsy Decision’ by the POTUS,” adding that “WH involvement was critical.”
- A July 13, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, indicates that Sarah Zukowski, an associate for The Glover Park Group, arranged the July 14, 2011 visit by Bigelow and Boal to the DOD and the CIA. The Glover Park Group is described by Politico as a “Democratic-leaning advocacy firm.”
- A June 27, 2011, email to an official at the Office of the Secretary of Defense suggests that the request from Bigelow and Boal to meet with Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers came via the White House press office. A June 22, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations notes, “The White House does want to engage with Mark but it probably won’t be for a few more weeks. We should provide them a read-out of the session you do with Vickers.” [My emphasis] The name of the White House official who forwarded the request is redacted.
Judicial Watch launched its investigation of Bigelow’s meetings with the Obama administration following press reports suggesting that the Obama administration may have leaked classified information to the director as source material for Bigelow’s film.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the information leak was designed to help the Obama 2012 presidential reelection campaign: “The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film by the Oscar-winning pair who made ‘The Hurt Locker’ will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.”
In addition to Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the bin Laden film records, the organization continues to fight in court for the release of the bin Laden post-mortem photos and video. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.
“These documents, which took nine months and a federal lawsuit to disgorge from the Obama administration, show that politically-connected film makers were given extraordinary and secret access to bin Laden raid information, including the identity of a Seal Team Six leader,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“It is both ironic and hypocritical that the Obama administration stonewalled Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the bin Laden death photos, citing national security concerns, yet seemed willing to share intimate details regarding the raid to help Hollywood filmmakers release a movie ‘perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost’ to the Obama campaign,” he added.