WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. admiral who oversaw the operation to kill Osama bin Laden denied on Thursday that he or his staff helped advise Hollywood film makers shooting a movie about last year’s secret raid to kill the al Qaeda leader.
A conservative legal group this week made public documents which it said showed how the Obama administration arranged special access to top officials for film makers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the director and screenwriter of “The Hurt Locker,” a 2008 film about the Iraq war that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Judicial Watch said the documents indicated that the Pentagon granted Bigelow and Boal access to a “planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six,” the Navy commando unit that carried out the raid during which bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he apparently had lived for years.
But Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the mission and was later promoted to head the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), denied anyone from USSOCOM dealt with the filmmakers in any way.
“I ... had no interaction, neither has anyone at USSOCOM had any interaction, with folks that are making this movie,” McRaven told reporters, speaking a press conference in Tampa, Florida. “We have not provided any planners.”
The most revealing document obtained by Judicial Watch is a 16-page transcript of a July 15, 2011 meeting between the two filmmakers and Michael Vickers, Undersecretary of Defence for Intelligence and one of the key administration officials involved in the bin Laden operation.
In the transcript, Vickers says that the Pentagon was willing to “make a guy available” to them who “was involved from the beginning as a planner; a SEAL Team Six Operator and Commander.”
Upon hearing this, screenwriter Mark Boal exclaimed: “That’s dynamite.” Director Kathryn Bigelow said: “That’s incredible,” according to the transcript.
A Defence Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged McRaven’s command offered to make available a “planner” who was not a current member of SEAL Team Six as a possible point of contact for additional information, if instructed by the Pentagon to do so.
But the official said the Defence Department did not grant the filmmakers access to that individual “nor to our knowledge was it pursued by the filmmakers.”
The film project, titled “Zero Dark Thirty” about the May 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound, became a focus of controversy last year when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that its producers planned to release it weeks before the November 6 election in which President Barack Obama is seeking a second term in office.
The release has been pushed back to December.
Boal last year denied the film was tied to any political party, noting the killing of bin Laden was “an American triumph, both heroic and non-partisan.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor noted on Wednesday that it was common practice to help authors, reporters and film makers working on projects related to the president “to make sure the facts are correct.”
“We do not discuss classified information. The information that the White House provided about the bin Laden raid was focused on the President’s role in that decision-making process,” Vietor said. “The same information was given to the White House press corps.”
McRaven played down the sensitivity of the mechanics of the raid itself.
“There was nothing frankly overly sensitive about the raid. We did 11 other raids much like that in Afghanistan that night,” McRaven said.
“From a military standpoint, this was a standard raid and really not very sexy.”
Editing by Warren Strobel and Eric Walsh