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Pentagon IG report: Security lapses revealed names to 'Zero Dark Thirty' filmmakers

Jun. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Several weeks after overseeing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the name of the raid commander in a speech attended by the writer of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” according to a draft report by Pentagon investigators.

Under security rules, the commander’s name was not to be made public, but the draft report did not say whether Panetta knew a member of the public was in his audience at CIA headquarters. A former CIA official familiar with the event said Wednesday that Panetta did not know of the writer’s presence; if the disclosure was inadvertent it would not constitute a violation of the rules by Panetta.

The former official spoke on condition of anonymity because a security issue was involved.

The unpublished draft report was first disclosed by the Project on Government Oversight and confirmed by Rep. Peter King, who asked for the investigation nearly two years ago. The draft report did not accuse Panetta of wrongdoing.

King, R-N.Y., said he has not seen the draft report but was briefed on some of its contents. “It’s been told to me what’s in there,” King said. He said it confirmed his suspicion that the Obama administration cut corners on security in its dealings with Hollywood executives eager to produce a film about the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

King said it would not surprise him if Panetta was unaware that the movie writer was in his audience.

“Whatever he did was not done intentionally,” King said, adding that he still questions why someone allowed a person without proper security clearances to attend.

In the movie, which received a best picture Oscar nomination, Panetta’s character was played by James Gandolfini.

“CIA was very sloppy and the administration was very sloppy in enforcing security procedures when it came to Hollywood,” King said in a telephone interview. “It almost seems as if they were star-struck.”

The episode is among many that have raised questions about leaks of classified information and the apparently selective enforcement of security rules by government officials.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said the Defense Department had no comment on the draft report by its inspector general.

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said there is no projected date for finishing the report. She said that if it is unclassified when completed, it will be made public.

The report cited two instances when administration officials divulged the names of individuals involved in the bin Laden operation — in both cases to makers of “Zero Dark Thirty.” The movie told the story of the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaida leader and the dark-of-night Navy SEALs raid in which he was killed.

The first instance was a July 15, 2011, interview of the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, Michael Vickers, by the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, and screenwriter Mark Boal. In that session Vickers gave them the name of a special operations planner whose identity was supposed to be protected from public release, the report said.

The second instance was a June 24, 2011, awards ceremony at CIA headquarters in which Panetta identified the ground commander of the SEALs raid, with Boal in attendance. The report did not say whether Panetta knew Boal was present. But the former agency official, who was present at the ceremony, said Wednesday that Panetta did not know Boal was in the audience and assumed that everyone in the audience of at least several hundred people had proper security clearances. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a security matter was involved.

The report said the ground commander’s name was supposed to be protected from public release, under federal law. Although the name was mentioned in Boal’s presence, Boal did not subsequently use the name in any public manner.

The report also said without further explanation that Panetta “also provided (Defense Department) information identified by original classification authorities as top secret.”

The report did not address the question of possible penalties for Panetta’s actions.

Several days after the ceremony, Panetta became defense secretary. He held that post until February 2013, when he retired.

A telephone call to his office in California on Wednesday was not immediately returned.

“I think Secretary Panetta should explain what happened, why it happened,” King said. “And that’s all I’ll say right now on it. It is a serious matter. I’m sure there was no malice at all by Panetta.”

The draft report said that although one or both of the movie executives were present at both the Vickers interview and the CIA awards ceremony, investigators concluded that no classified or sensitive information about Navy SEALs tactics, techniques or procedures was exposed.

In his August 2011 request for an investigation by the Pentagon, King also asked the CIA’s inspector general to look into the matter. He said Wednesday that the CIA is now in the second phase of its investigation.

In the first phase of its probe, the CIA found that the agency’s office of public affairs did not keep adequate records on its dealings with the entertainment industry, King said, and that “CIA employees did not always comply with agency regulations to prevent the release of classified information during their dealings with the entertainment industry.”

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