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Judicial Watch announced today that Obama administration officials disclosed in sworn court documents that sensitive information released tothe filmmakers for the upcoming film on the bin Laden raid,  Zero Dark Thirty, could cause an “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk” if released to the public. The admissions, made during the course of Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking records pertaining to cooperation between Obama administration officials and director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal in preparation for the film, raise questions about the public statement to reporters by Obama White House spokesman Jay Carney regarding the controversy: “We do not discuss classified information.”  The government claims that the information shared is not necessarily classified “in isolation.”

“The government cannot have it both ways in this case,” Judicial Watch argued in a countermotion for summary judgment filed with the court on November 12, 2012. “If this information were very sensitive, it would not have been shared with the filmmakers. Since the government did share the information with the filmmakers, the court should conclude that it is necessarily not sensitive … Assisting to make a movie about government accomplishments is not a necessary or important governmental function. If it were, the term for it would be political propaganda.”

JW previously obtained records from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the CIA regarding meetings and communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, and screenwriter Mark Boal in preparation for Zero Dark Thirty.  According to the records, the Obama administration sought to have “high visibility” into bin Laden related projects, and granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film, now scheduled for release in mid-December. The disclosures made to the filmmakers are now part of an investigation by the DOD Inspector General.

The DOD and the CIA have continued to withhold information concerning the names of five CIA and military operatives involved in the bin Laden operation, which were shared with the filmmakers. Judicial Watch has identified the precise emails containing the information it wishes to obtain, and in sworn declarations Obama administration officials conceded that this information was provided to Bigelow and Boal.

Mark Herrington, Associate Deputy General Counsel, testified that the military officers’ “identities would be threatened” if publicly disclosed but admitted that Under Secretary of Defense Mike Vickers released one of the names to Mark Boal.

According to sworn testimony from CIA Information Review Officer Martha Lutz, releasing of this type of information could provide an “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk”:

Nonetheless, I can represent to the Court that the absolute protection for officers’ identities that Congress provided in the CIA Act is extremely important to the functioning of the Agency and the safety and security of its employees. This is true even for the identities of officers who are not undercover, and it is also true with respect to the first names of undercover officers. While such identifying information may not be classified in isolation, the widespread public release of this information creates an unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk for the Agency and its officers.

In its brief seeking to deny Judicial Watch access to the names of the CIA operatives, the government asserts that it had protected the operatives’ confidentiality by asking the filmmakers not to share the names. In its cross motion, however, JW responds that the government has provided no evidence that it asked the filmmakers to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or any other contract that would prevent them from sharing the names as required under law. In addition, the government has provided no evidence that either Boal or Bigelow underwent background checks or received security clearances before being provided the information the DOD and CIA now claim is too sensitive for public disclosure.

“The Obama administration now confirms to a federal court that it released sensitive information to help with a film that was set to portray Barack Obama as ‘gutsy.’  If this is true, then the Obama administration was lying to the American people when it said the leaks were no big deal,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The public has a right to get to the bottom of this scandal and the Obama administration should comply with the open records law and disclose the names that were leaked.”

Judicial Watch initially launched its investigation of the filmmakers’ 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.

In August 2011, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the information leak was originally 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.”

Judicial Watch’s counter motion for summary judgment, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia, petitions the court for an oral hearing on the opposing motions.

DOD Officials Disclosed to Filmmakers Identity of SEAL Team Six Operator and Commander; Ask Film Director to Withhold Operator’s Name, ‘because he shouldn’t be talking out of school.’

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it has obtained records from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding meetings and communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, and screenwriter Mark Boal.  According to the records, the Obama Defense Department granted Bigelow and Boal access to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” which was responsible for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, to assist Bigelow prepare her upcoming feature film.

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The records, obtained pursuant to court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on January 21, 2012, 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). The following are the highlights from the records, which include internal Defense Department email correspondence as well as a transcript from a key July 14, 2011, meeting between DOD officials, Bigelow and Boal:

  • A transcript of a July 14, 2011, meeting between DOD 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 June 9, 2011, email from Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, to Vickers and other DOD staff summarizes a meeting with Boal and notes the release date for the film: “Release date set for 4th Qtr 2012…”
  • 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.”  The name of the White House official who forwarded the request is blacked out.

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 giving 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.”

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 “If Obama is so concerned with how terrorists might react to these photos, then why has he made bin Laden’s death the cornerstone of his reelection campaign?” 

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton issued a statement today in response to a Thursday, April 26 decision by federal Judge James Boasberg of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia blocking access to photos and videos taken of the deceased Osama bin Laden (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense, et al (1:11-cv-00890)).

On May 4, 2011, President Obama told CBS News in an interview that he would not release the death photos of Osama bin Laden, who was captured and killed by U.S. Navy Seals, to the public, saying “we don’t need to spike the football” or “gloat.”  Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on May 13, 2011, to gain access to the photos or video. The Obama administration denied access to the records citing vague national security implications.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton stated:

The court got it terribly wrong.  There is no provision under the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies.  We will appeal.

The Obama campaign seems perfectly happy to “spike the football” on the bin Laden raid to collect votes for his reelection.  If Obama is so concerned with how terrorists might react to these photos, then why has he made bin Laden’s death a cornerstone of his reelection campaign?

Barack Obama has taken a schizophrenic approach to the bin Laden raid. On the one hand he doesn’t want to spike the football for fear of offending terrorists abroad while on the other he gloats about it here at home. He can’t have it both ways.  And the president’s secrecy on this issue flies in the face of his promises of transparency.

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit seeks “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.” As Judicial Watch noted in its court filings, Judicial Watch “does not seek the production of any photographs or video recordings that have been properly classified or would actually cause harm to the national security by revealing intelligence methods or the identity of U.S. personnel or classified technology.  [Judicial Watch] solely seeks those records that have not been properly classified as well as those records for which no military or intelligence secrets would be revealed.”

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on January 13, 2012, against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to obtain documents regarding meetings and communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker (Judicial Watch v. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (No. 12-00049)).

At issue is the possibility the Obama administration leaked classified information to Bigelow and Annapurna Pictures as source material for the making of the not-yet-released film, tentatively titled “Killing bin Laden.”

Pursuant to Judicial Watch FOIA requests filed with the DOD and the CIA on August 9, 2011, Judicial Watch seeks the following:

All records of communications between any officer, official, or employee of the Department of Justice and Kathryn Bigelow, as well as with Mark Boal, Megan Ellison, and employees of Annapurna Pictures.

The same request was made of the CIA with regard to Bigelow, Boal, Ellison, and employees of Annapurna Pictures.

The DOD acknowledged receiving the FOIA request on August 22, 2011, but advised Judicial Watch that “at this time, we are unable to make a release determination on your request within twenty (20) working days” of August 9, which would have been by September 6, 2011. The CIA acknowledged receiving the FOIA request on August 16, 2011, indicating that “the large number of FOIA requests CIA received has created unavoidable delays, making it unlikely that we can respond with the 20 working days the FOIA requires.”

As of January 13, 2012, the date of the filing of the lawsuit, the DOD and the CIA have neither provided the documents nor demonstrated that the documents are exempt from the FOIA request. Nor have the agencies indicated when the documents would be produced.

Bigelow’s film, which has the working title of “Killing bin Laden” and has been in the works since 2008, originally intended to document the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. However, the top-secret Navy SEAL team mission leading to the capture and killing of bin Laden provided the writers and producers of the film with new content and conclusion to the script. As reported by Reuter’s, “It has been alleged that Bigelow…in preparation for the script to their Annapurna Pictures movie about the killing of Osama Bin Laden — received classified information regarding his death.”

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.

The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.

It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently – to the surprise of some military officers – at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals [sic].

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 post mortem photographs and video recordings of bin Laden. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.

“The lawsuit seeks to determine whether the Obama administration improperly released classified information on the bin Laden raid to help with President’s Obama’s reelection campaign,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “I find it both ironic and disturbing that the Obama administration, citing public relations concerns, continues to stonewall release of the bin Laden photos and video, yet seems willing to leak classified details regarding his capture and killing to Hollywood filmmakers.”

“Under FOIA…the American people have a right to these historical artifacts…”

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it has filed a new court document in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seeking “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011” (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense et al. (No. 1:11-cv-00890)).  Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit on May 13, 2011.

On December 14, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a “Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and in Support of Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.”  (In order for a Motion for Summary Judgment to be granted by the court, the moving party must demonstrate that there are “no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”)  Judicial Watch also seeks a court hearing on the matter.

Judicial Watch contends that the Obama administration’s arguments for withholding the bin Laden documents should fail because it has “failed to satisfy even the most basic requirements of FOIA.”  The agency has failed to provide sufficient evidence that it has conducted an adequate search for responsive records or demonstrate that the records were properly classified pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13526 signed on December 29, 2009 which provided a “uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information.”  The Obama administration has also failed to provide any evidence of “whether the withheld records are photographs or video recordings, accounted for the various circumstances in which the records were created, or sufficiently correlated specific claims of exemption to particular records or categories of records.”

Conversely, Judicial Watch contends that its “Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment” should be granted because the Defendants “cannot legally justify their claims of exemption” for some of the withheld records.  Judicial Watch “does not seek the production of any photographs or video recordings that have been properly classified or would actually cause harm to the national security by revealing intelligence methods or the identity of U.S. personnel or classified technology.  [Judicial Watch] solely seeks those records that have not been properly classified as well as those records for which no military or intelligence secrets would be revealed.”

Judicial Watch concludes that the American people “have a right to these historical artifacts to capture this moment.  To date, the government has failed to provide a legally sufficient justification for why such records must not be released.  Therefore, the government must be held accountable.  The law requires it.”

On May 4, 2011, President Obama told CBS News in an interview that he would not release the death photos of Osama bin Laden, who was captured and killed by U.S. Navy Seals, to the public, saying “we don’t need to spike the football” or “gloat.”  Obama’s decision reportedly came after a debate within his administration.  CIA Director Leon Panetta said some photos would be released.  But Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton reportedly lobbied against it.

“We shouldn’t appease our enemies by undermining our nation’s core government accountability law – the Freedom of Information Act.  We suspect the administration is playing shell games with the bin Laden death photos and video.  President Obama is asking the court to allow his administration to withhold documents simply because their disclosure may cause controversy.  There is simply no legal precedent for this,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “President Obama’s political calculations are no substitute for the rule of law. The Obama administration has no legal right to withhold this material from the American people, especially now that he is using this military victory in his presidential campaign.  The killing of Osama bin Laden is a tremendous historic event.  The law simply doesn’t allow President Obama to put the bin Laden photos and video down the memory hole.”

Contact Information:
Press Office 202-646-5172, ext 305

Washington, DC — June 9, 2011

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD). In the lawsuit Judicial Watch is seeking access “to all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011 (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (No.11-00890)).
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the CIA on May 4.The CIA has 20 business days legally to respond to a FOIA request. While acknowledging receipt of the FOIA request on May 23, the CIA has since failed to produce any documents or demonstrate that responsive records are exempt from production. The agency has not indicated whether, or when, any responsive records will be produced. Judicial Watch filed an identical FOIA request with the DOD on May 2, and is now engaged in an active lawsuit against the DOD, and now the CIA as well, for failure to produce the photos and videos.“The American people by law have a right to know basic information about the killing of Osama bin Laden. President Obama’s personal reluctance to release the documents is not a lawful basis for withholding them. The Obama administration will now need to justify its lack of compliance in federal court. This historic lawsuit should remind the administration that it is not above the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Contact Information:
Press Office 202-646-5172, ext 305

Washington, DC — May 12, 2011
Judicial Watch will announce a major new development in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) efforts to obtain “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.” Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Defense (DOD) for the bin Laden information on May 3. An identical request was filed on May 4 with the CIA.

When: Friday, May 13, 10 AMWhere: Judicial Watch
Main Conference Room
425 Third Street, SW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20024

The press conference will be live-streamed beginning at 10AM.

Contact Information:
Press Office 202-646-5172, ext 305

Washington, DC — May 13, 2011

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD) seeking “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011” (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:11-cv-00890) (JEB)).
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the DOD on May 3.Under the Freedom of Information Act, the DOD has 20 business days legally to respond. Rather than follow the law, the DOD has stated:

At this time, we are unable to make a release determination on your request within the 20-day statutory time period.

Judicial Watch filed an identical FOIA request with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on May 4. The CIA has yet to acknowledge or respond to the request.“The American people have a right to know, by law, basic information about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Incredibly, the Obama administration told us that it has no plans to comply with the Freedom of Information law, so we must now go to court. President Obama’s not wanting to ‘spike the football’ is not a lawful basis for withholding government documents. This historic lawsuit should remind the Obama administration that it is not above the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

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