Judicial Watch • Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden Archives | Judicial Watch

Documents obtained by Judicial Watch also reveal former CIA Director told ceremony attendees: “And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.” 

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained more than 200 pages of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including a previously unreleased CIA internal report confirming that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information at a June 24, 2011, bin Laden assault awards ceremony attended by “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal. The documents were produced in response to a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

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Significantly, the entire transcript of the Panetta speech provided to Judicial Watch by the CIA is classified “Top Secret.”  More than 90 lines are redacted for security reasons, further confirming that significant portions of the speech should not have been made in front of the filmmaker who lacked top security clearance.

At the conclusion his speech, the transcript shows Panetta told the audience at the ceremony, “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

During the speech, according to a draft Pentagon inspector general’s report released earlier this year, “Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name.” Subsequent to the ceremony, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said, “CIA was very sloppy and the administration was very sloppy in enforcing security procedures when it came to Hollywood. It almost seems as if they were star-struck.” Significantly, for some reason, the final IG report omitted any reference to Panetta’s disclosure of “TOP SECRET” and other sensitive information at an event.”

Also, included in the documents provided to Judicial Watch is an October 22, 2012, internal  “Review of UBL Awards Ceremony Attendance” written by the CIA Office of Security (OS) concluding that, “The Agency’s Security policy and administrative procedures were not followed in allowing Mr. Boal, a member of the media, access to the classified Bin Ladin Operation Award Ceremony.” The three-page Review also states, “The review conducted by OS leads to the conclusion that the failure to follow stipulations in ARs [redacted] resulted in the disclosure of classified information to a member of the media, without benefit of any documentation to reflect a waiver to the above policies.”

Highlights of the newly released documents also include:

  • A letter from the Director of Operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Department of Defense Inspector General stating: “It is my determination, as the Original Classification Authority, that both of these transcripts [from the ceremony] contain SECRET / [REDACTED] information. The information in each transcript was classified at the time each incident occurred.”
  • Information revealing that there were actually two classification reviews conducted by the Original Classification Authority (OCA) because the original transcript of Panetta’s speech provided by the CIA to the DOD Inspector General was inaccurate and incomplete: “ISPA [Intelligence and Special Program Assessments] discovered proof of inconsistencies and lack of information on the original transcript received by the CIA in comparison to the video recording. As a result of the inaccurate transcript, OGC determined the OCAs determination are not valid and must been resubmitted for another OCA determination to include the verbatim information.”
  • A CIA Review reference suggesting that former CIA Chief of Staff (then DOD Chief of Staff) Jeremy Bash as the individual responsible for directing the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs to allow Boal to attend the ceremony: “… OS [Office of Security] did speak with an OPA [Office of Public Affairs] representative who was involved in the ceremony, who advised that the ODCIA [Office of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency] directed Mr. Boal to attend the ceremony.”  This appears to confirm information provided in the DOD IG report: “[T]he CIA PAO contacted the DOD PAO to state that efforts failed and the ‘Chief of Staff’ directed that the Hollywood executive be given access to the event.”

The inclusion of Boal at the CIA ceremony was not the only instance of the Obama administration apparently attempting to influence the production of the “Zero Dark Thirty” movie. In August 2012, Judicial Watch released records it obtained from the CIA and the Department of Defense pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit regarding meetings and communications between government agencies, Boal, and film director Kathryn Bigelow, as they prepared to shoot “Zero Dark Thirty.” According to a June 15, 2011, email from Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, the Obama White House was intent on “trying to have visibility into the UBL (Usama bin Laden) projects and this is likely a high profile one.”

“The new CIA internal documents obtained confirm conclusively that former CIA Director Panetta breeched national security in order to curry favor with Hollywood filmmakers who the Obama administration hoped would make a pro-Obama film,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The sensitivities about classifies leaks from this administration don’t seem to extend to top level officials like Mr. Panetta.  This new information suggests that criminal probe of this dangerous leak is appropriate. At the conclusion his speech, Panetta told the audience at the ceremony, “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

Obama Administration Asks High Court to Uphold Secrecy on bin Laden Death Images

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed a reply brief with the United States Supreme Court in opposition to the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) request to deny a petition for a writ of certiorari in the continuing legal battle over the post-mortem images of slain terrorist Osama bin Laden. The reply brief was filed on December 3 in response to an opposition brief filed by the DOD and CIA on November 21.

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The Obama administration’s opposition brief came after Judicial Watch filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in August appealing a 2013 Appellate Court decision in favor of the two executive branch agencies (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency). The case stems from Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed against the DOD and CIA in May 2011 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.” In its brief the administration argues that the Court should not grant certiorari because the information was properly withheld under the “Top Secret” classification of FOIA Exemption 1.

In its reply brief filed with the Supreme Court, Judicial Watch argues:

The Executive Branch … argues that the Court, like the courts below, should simply ignore the explicit intentions of Congress as well as the plain language of FOIA and “rubber stamp” the Executive Branch’s withholding of the requested images because the process was, and the justifications are, “good enough. That is not the law. Nor should it be.”

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to take this case before the end of the year.

“This is a pivotal case,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “In an unprecedented act of secrecy, the Obama administration is withholding basic information about the bin Laden raid because it might offend the terrorists.  This president is breaking yet another promise – that ‘transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.’  To deny the public its right to know in order to appease terrorists is an affront to both transparency and the rule of law.”

To access all the briefs and other materials related to this case, click here.

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on September 5, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for records relating to a 2011 directive by U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven, to purge DOD’s systems of all records about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and transfer them to the CIA, where they could be shielded from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense (No. 1:13-cv-01343)).

All records concerning, regarding, or relating to Admiral McRaven’s 2011 directive to purge USSOCOM systems of all records related to the operation leading to the death of Usama bin Laden on or about May 1, 2011Pursuant to its June 7, 2013, FOIA request, Judicial Watch seeks access to the following records:

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request by a letter dated July 1, 2013. By law, a response was due by July 30, 2013. To date, USSOCOM has failed to respond.

The secret move by McRaven to shield the information from public disclosure was first revealed in single passage at the end of a 2011 draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) examining whether the Obama administration gave special access to Hollywood executives planning the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” According the draft report, “ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging the combatant command’s system of all records related to the operation and providing these records to another Government Agency.” According to an Associated Press report, the “Government Agency” was the CIA.  The reference to the document purge did not appear in the final IG report, which was finally published on Friday, June 14, 2013.

McRaven’s directive sent the only copies of the military’s records about the raid to the CIA, which has special authority to prevent the release of “operational files” in ways that often cannot be effectively challenged in federal courts. Under federal rules, transferring government records from one executive agency to another must be approved in writing by the National Archives and Records Administration. According to Archives spokesperson Miriam Kleiman, the Archives was not aware of any request from USSOCOM to transfer its files to the CIA.

The move by McRaven may have come, at least in part, in response to aggressive efforts by Judicial Watch to obtain images of the bin Laden raid that the Obama administration had refused to disclose. On May 4, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the 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.” An identical request had been filed on May 3, 2011, with the CIA. When neither the DOD nor the CIA complied with the FOIA requests within the 20 business days as required by law, Judicial Watch, in June 2011, filed its FOIA lawsuits against both agencies.  In the course of the litigation, the DOD denied that it had any documents and did not disclose that it had transferred any documents to the CIA.

On April 26, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg accepted the Obama administration arguments, ruling that the images could remain secret while conceding: “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.” On May 21, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmedthe District Court decision while conceding that the documents may not have been properly classified.

On August, 19, 2013, Judicial Watch announced that it had filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to review the Appeals Court ruling.

“The fact that the Obama administration has gone into a full stonewall mode about this bin Laden document purge raises serious questions as to what it is hiding,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “In our experience, government officials with nothing to hide don’t hide things.”

Draft IG report accused former CIA Director of revealing name of SEAL unit and ground commander that carried out bin Laden raid at ceremony attended by “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal 

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on June 21, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seeking access to records identifying attendees at a June 24, 2011, awards ceremony for individuals involved in the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden. The lawsuit also seeks all records of communications from CIA employees regarding the attendance of “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal at the event. (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency (No. 1:13-cv-00945)).

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Judicial Watch seeks the following records pursuant to a December 19, 2012, FOIA request:

  • Any and all guest lists or other records identifying individuals who attended and/or were invited to attend the June 24, 2011 awards ceremony at CIA Headquarters for individuals involved in the search for, and killing of, Osama bin Laden
  • Any and all records of communication between any official, employee, or representative of the Central Intelligence Agency and any other party regarding the attendance of Mr. Mark Boal at the aforementioned awards ceremony.

By letter dated December 27, 2012, the CIA acknowledged having received Judicial Watch’s request on December 19, 2012. The letter stated that it was unlikely the CIA could respond to the request within 20 working days as required by law, adding, “You have the right to consider our honest appraisal as a denial of your request and you may appeal to the Agency Release Panel.” Because the statement was not an adverse determination within the meaning of the law, however, no administrative appeal was possible, therefore Judicial Watch filed the June 21, 2013, FOIA lawsuit.

On June 5, 2013, Politico reported:

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the name of the Navy SEAL unit that carried out the Osama bin Laden raid and named the unit’s ground commander at a 2011 ceremony attended by “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal.

Panetta also discussed classified information designated as “top secret” and “secret” during his presentation at the awards ceremony, according to a draft Pentagon inspector general’s report published Wednesday by the Project on Government Oversight.

According to a CIA news release, the purpose of the ceremony was to honor “the dedication and commitment of CIA officers, military service members, and Intelligence Community partners for their work on the historic operation that concluded the hunt for Usama Bin Ladin.” But the guest list also included filmmaker Boal, who had been invited to attend what Fox News reported as “a speech classified as secret to a group of CIA attendees.”

During the speech, according to the draft Pentagon inspector general’s report, “Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name.” The draft report added, “Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET….” The final inspector general’s report omitted any reference to Panetta’s speech, a Pentagon spokesperson saying the matter had been referred to the CIA IG.

The inclusion of Boal at the CIA ceremony was not the only instance of the Obama administration attempting to influence the production of the “Zero Dark Thirty” movie by leaking classified information. In August 2012 – after having repeatedly been told by the Obama administration that nothing inappropriate had been leaked – Judicial Watch obtained “overlooked” documents from the CIA and the Department of Defense (DOD) through FOIA lawsuit regarding meetings and communications between government agencies, Boal, and film director Kathryn Bigelow, in which the filmmakers were apparently provided classified details about the bin Laden assault.

The documents, which the CIA and DOD held back for eight months, revealed that 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. In a June 15, 2011, email to Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson noted that “Boal has been working with us and with the CIA (via George Little) for initial context briefings – at DoD this has been provided by Mike Vickers, and at CIA by relevant officials with the full knowledge and full approval/support of Director Panetta.”

Just one month after the Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit revelations, the Pentagon Inspector General made a criminal referral to the Holder Department of Justice (DOJ) implicating Undersecretary of Defense Michael Vickers in the improper release of classified information.  Obama administration officials later disclosed in sworn court documents related to the Judicial Watch lawsuit that the sensitive information released to Bigelow and Boal could cause an “unnecessary security and counterintelligence risk” if released to the public. To date, the Holder DOJ has failed to file any charges against those responsible for the leaks.

“Panetta’s disclosures at the CIA ceremony with Mark Boal present, along with the leaks revealed in the earlier documents obtained by Judicial Watch, provide conclusive backing to the serious charge that the Obama administration has played fast and loose with national security information in order to help Hollywood filmmakers make a pro-Obama film,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “In light of the Manning conviction and Snowden drama, it is clear that the Obama administration is more than a little two-faced when it comes to enforcing the law on illegal leaks.”

Judicial Watch: “The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law.

The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws.”

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today criticized a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirming a U.S. District Court decision allowing the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to withhold 59 images from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the terrorist mastermind’s burial at sea (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (No. 12-5137)).  Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton issued the following statement reacting to today’s ruling:

“The opinion is craven, absurd, and undermines the rule of law.  The court seems to acknowledge that the images were improperly classified but gives the Obama administration a pass. The court’s interpretation would allow terrorists to dictate our laws. Americans’ fundamental right to access government information and, frankly, the First Amendment are implicated in this ruling.  As one of the judges on this panel suggested that the Benghazi attack was caused by an Internet video, this decision is perhaps unsurprising.  The courts need to stop rubberstamping this administration’s improper secrecy.  There is no provision of the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies.  Our lawyers are considering our next legal steps.”

The Appeals Court decision upheld an April 26, 2012, ruling by the District Court denying a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Judicial Watch 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.”

While ruling against Judicial Watch, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg had conceded, “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.”

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