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Washington DC(AFP): The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) leaked propaganda material to the team of Zero Dark Thirty to build a positive spin on how its brutal torture programmes yielded intelligence used to find and kill Osama bin Laden, according to evidence shown in a documentary film this week.
In Secrets, Politics and Torture, which premiers on Tuesday on the PBS Frontline channel, internal memos of the CIA show that the Agency deliberately chose to back the film by Kathryn Bigelow given its likely success at the Oscars, and the opportunity it presented to rewrite the narrative on whether torture yielded any valuable intelligence.
In one memo apparently authored by ex-CIA Spokesperson Marie Harf, the discussion focusses on “picking favourites.”
Ms. Harf wrote, “I know we don’t ‘pick favourites,’ but it makes sense to get behind the winning horse… Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it and two Oscar winners on board.” Sure enough, the 2012 film went on to win critical acclaim, receiving nominations in five categories at the 85th Academy Awards, and winning in one of them. It also scooped up multiple Golden Globe Award nominations and a Best Actress award.
The documentary reveals some senior members of Congress serving on intelligence committees had serious reservations about the film’s narrative on how the intelligence obtained — using torture techniques like water-boarding on Guantanamo Bay inmates — was of actual value in the May 2011 raid in which bin Laden was killed. Democrat and California Senator Dianne Feinstein was one such lawmaker.
As Chair of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence since 2009, she had intimate knowledge of the Agency’s torture programmes and was in fact leading the fight against the CIA’s attempts to recast the efficacy of the programmes.
In the PBS documentary, she said, “I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty, candidly… I got into it [for] about 15-20 minutes [and then] I left. I couldn’t handle it, because it’s so false.”
For years, lawmakers such as Senators Feinstein and Mark Udall have fought to bring to light a parallel narrative to the one pushed by the CIA.
In December 2014, they succeeded, the PBS documentary notes, with the publication of the Committee’s review of the “enhanced interrogation” techniquesof the CIA, a report that found these methods to be “brutal and far worse” than the CIA let on, and further, that it was ineffective, detrimental to national security and did not help find bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.