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Leon Panetta's 'Zero Dark Thirty' Secret

Did the ex-CIA director leak details about the bin Laden raid?

Leon Panetta; Mark Boal
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images; Jeff Vespa/WireImage
December 11, 2013 2:15 PM ET

According to newly declassified documents first reported by the Associated Press, former CIA chief Leon Panetta revealed secret information to Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal while the latter was in attendance for a debriefing about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. "I had no idea that individual was in the audience," Panetta said in a statement, referring to his 2011 speech at CIA headquarters. His spokesman, Jeremy Bash, added that Panetta assumed everyone in the audience had the proper clearance.

Read Mark Boal's Landmark Story "The Kill Team"

The conservative group Judicial Watch filed a request for 200-plus pages concerning the CIA's internal investigation of its role in the film, which won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Sound Editing. Those documents, which the CIA released yesterday, revealed that Panetta spoke the name of the ground commander that carried out the raid that killed bin Laden. While parts of Panetta's speech remain blacked out, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency has since "overhauled its procedures for interaction with the entertainment industry." An earlier e-mail exchange also obtained by Judicial Watch relayed that CIA officials had briefed Boal "with the full knowledge and full approval/support" of Mr. Panetta.

Four Revelations About Osama bin Laden's Final Years

Following its release in December 2012, Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow came under fire from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John McCain (R-Arizona), who called their torture scenes "grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of bin Laden." In a statement, Boal and Bigelow said that the movie showed "a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods" and "that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt." The CIA cosigned that release with their own statement, which said the film was a "dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts," and that while the CIA had "interacted" with Boal and Bigellow, the agency didn't "control the final product."

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