Leaking classified information probably happens more frequently in Washington than it has any right to. The capital is filled with lobbyists, defense contractors and legislative aides, all of whom probably know more information about America’s defense or intelligence infrastructure than is, strictly speaking, secure. Nevertheless, these leaks tend to be kept under the radar, and happen in places far away from the halls of power in order to minimize institutional culpability.

And when that leaked information goes public, as it did when journalist Robert Novak outed CIA agent Valerie Plame? Scandals follow in its wake.

So what on earth was the White House thinking when it invited people in the entertainment industry, whose job it is to publicize information, to not only get leaks, but entire treasure troves of classified information, directly from sources so secret their names are still redacted in documents released to the public?

In this case, probably that a movie about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden would do wonders for President Obama’s poll numbers, seeing as it’s his one undisputed accomplishment since entering office. MSNBC reports:

Judicial Watch has released hundreds of Defense Department and CIA communications that reveal the Obama administration leaked classified information to filmmakers on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.[...]

According to the documents, the filmmakers were granted access to a Navy SEAL captain who was the “planner, operator and commander of SEAL Team Six,” which killed bin Laden.  In one memo one of the filmmakers says he had a “good meeting with Brennan and McDonough” and says “they were forward leaning, sharing their point of view on command and control.”

John Brennan is the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, and Denis McDonough is deputy national security adviser.

In putting the filmmakers together with the SEAL Team Six commander on the raid, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers writes in one document, “The only thing I ask is that you not reveal his name in any way … because he shouldn’t be talking out of school.”

The filmmakers include Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director of “The Hurt Locker,” and screenwriter Mark Boal.

Obama Administration Allowed Director Kathryn Bigelow and Screenwriter Mark Boal to Obtain Classified Information from CIA and Talk to Undercover Navy SEAL In Order to Make Movie About Bin Laden Raid

Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow

Judicial Watch’s website goes into even more excruciating detail about just what information was sent down the pike to these highly uncredentialed civilians:

  • A transcript of a July 14, 2011, meeting between DOD officials, including Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, Bigelow and Boal indicates that Boal met directly with White House officials on at least two occasions regarding the film: “I took your guidance and spoke to the WH and had a good meeting with Brennan and McDonough and I plan to follow up with them; and they were forward leaning and interested in sharing their point of view; command and control; so that was great, thank you,” Boal said according to the transcript. Vickers asks if the meeting was a follow-up, to which Boal responds, “Yes correct; this was a follow-up.” The documents seemingly reference John O. Brennan, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor to President Obama and Denis McDonough, who serves as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.
  • The July 14, 2011, meeting transcript also reveals that the DOD provided the filmmakers with the identity of a “planner, SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander.” (The name is blacked out in the document.) In proposing the arrangement, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers said: “The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because . . . he shouldn’t be talking out of school.” Vickers went on to say during the meeting at the Pentagon: “This at least, this gives him one step removed and he knows what he can and can’t say, but this way at least he can be as open as he can with you and it ought to meet your needs.” Boal later responds, “You delivered.”
  • A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to “the Vault,” which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: “I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.” (The name of the sender is blacked out.) “Of course this is doable,” an official responds.
  • DOD Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson told colleagues in a June 13, 2011, email to limit media access and that he would follow up with the White House: “I think this looks very good as a way forward, and agree particularly that we need to be careful here so we don’t open the media floodgates on this. I’m going to check with WH to update them on status, and will report back.” A day later, he wrote Department of Defense communications staffers, saying: “Ok to set up the second session with Vickers. I am getting additional guidance from WH.”
Now, leave aside the principled issues with allowing Hollywood filmmakers who likely don’t even have security clearances into this kind of situation for a minute, because it gets worse.
You see, the screenwriter involved, Mark Boal, has a problematic history when it comes to disguising his sources. Shortly before his previous film, “The Hurt Locker,” came out, for instance, Boal was sued by one of the soldiers he’d covered as a journalist, who claimed that Boal had basically appropriated his entire military career as the basis for the film’s main character. The soldier – Sergeant Jeffrey Sarver – lost the case and was ordered to pay legal fees to Boal (though he said at the time that he planned to appeal).
Did this register at all with the Obama administration, who (as the excerpts above show) recognized that they were giving highly sensitive information to Bigelow and Boal? And how thoroughly did they screen to find out whether Boal really was innocent of this kind of poor source masking, since a similar incident in the upcoming film could out a Navy SEAL whose identity is classified? The whole episode stinks of a lack of due diligence.
But that’s not the most ironic part. As it turns out, for all the scandal caused by this report, the Obama administration won’t even get a political bump out of it. The Huffington Post reports that Sony decided to push the release of the picture – titled “Zero Dark Thirty” – back to mid December, by which point the election will already be over.
No news yet as to whether Hollywood studios will become the Obama administration’s next target in its attempt to root out greedy profiteering capitalists.