Zero Dark Thirty: ‘And the Award Goes to…’

Photograph by Jonathan Olley/Zero Dark Thirty LLC via Bloomberg

A scene from “Zero Dark Thirty” is shown in this handout photo taken on April 27, 2012.

Critics and millions of fans let out a collective groan when the captivating, controversial “Zero Dark Thirty” failed to capture Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

Another award connected with film-making — bestowed at a closed June 12 Pentagon Inspector General awards ceremony — is also generating groans, albeit for different reasons.

Acting Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks presided over the “24th Annual IG Awards” where a “Team of the Year” award went to intelligence analysts for their preparation of a report on Pentagon cooperation with “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers, including screen writer Mark Boal.

Critics say the 14-page report was delayed too long and shorn of its most sensitive passage — a couple of paragraphs in a draft disclosed June 5 that said then-CIA director Leon Panetta at a June 2011 agency ceremony uttered the name of the SEAL Team 6 commander who lead the raid killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Instead of beaming with pride, press spokeswoman Bridget Serchak wouldn’t discuss the citation, directing a reporter instead to file a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy.

Since the document “was not released by DoD IG, we cannot provide any information regarding it,” she said.

The citation — included in the 37-page awards program — said the four-person team “conducted an exhaustive review” after interviewing some of the Pentagon’s “most senior military and civilian officials.” The team produced a report “that is focused and timely and will potentially result in making a significant impact within the Defense intelligence enterprise.”

Seth MacFarlane would have a field day with this one.

Exhaustive?

The skimpy 14-page final report recited DoD regulations governing media dealings and largely summarized e-mails, most released in May 2012 by Judicial Watch, a Washington-based legal organization that chronicled cooperation between the CIA, Pentagon and filmmakers.

It told us what the Judicial Watch documents already disclosed: Pentagon press types, along with equally giddy CIA press counterparts — at White House direction — met with the screen writers a few times to discuss potential Pentagon and CIA support.

The Pentagon’s top intelligence official offered to provide the filmmakers a commando planner involved in the raid.

The IG report, unlike the Judicial Watch document, failed to note that the official, Michael Vickers, disclosed to Boal that the secret Seal Team Six conducted the raid — a fact no Pentagon official would tell reporters on the record.

Bottom line: no planner met with the filmmakers and they never asked DoD for assistance. The taut, realistic film used no Pentagon-provided equipment.

Timely?

When a lawmaker asks, the IG should respond and investigate a legitimate inquiry. The inquiry was requested August 9, 2011 by then-House Homeland Security Committee Chairman New York Republican Peter King.

“Enough is enough,” King wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel June 5 after a draft was released by the Project on Government Oversight. “I demand the immediate release” of the findings.”

That came nine days later.

Focused?

It’s hard to take that seriously when the final version knocked out the Panetta paragraphs.

The preliminary draft version said Panetta “specifically recognized the unit” involved in the raid and “identified the ground commander by name,” a classified fact, said the draft.

Still, the draft didn’t allege that Panetta violated the law or say that he knew Boal was in the audience.

A former Panetta aide told us the director disclosed the commander’s name in a “shout out” before about 1,300 in the tent ceremony and didn’t know Boal was in the audience.

“Most senior officials” interviewed:  That didn’t include Panetta, who was defense secretary when the inspector general’s inquiry began.

Rigorous internal review process?

“I’ve heard disconcerting allegations of mishandling and possible suppression” of the report, Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and long-time IG thorn, said through spokeswoman Beth Levine. “It’s a concern and something I’m looking into.”

Why an award?

“Why give investigators an award and then fail to publish their results?” asked Adam Zagorin, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, which made public the draft.

“After sitting on this and other significant material for close to two years, Panetta’s missteps and other key elements of the team’s conclusions were excised from the report’s final and official version,” Zagorin said in an e-mailed statement.

Asked why Panetta wasn’t interviewed and the paragraphs about him censored from the final version, spokeswoman Serchak said:“’The final report was responsive to the congressional queries without an interview with Secretary Panetta.”

“As with any IG work product, the working draft was edited and revised during a rigorous internal review process,” she said.

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