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Secret Report: Panetta Gave Up bin Laden Raid Details for 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The Atlantic Wire

Government investigators have figured out the source of one particular leak of classified information to the media. But that leak — the classified identity of the soldier who led the raid on the bin Laden compound — probably won't be the subject of the seventh Obama administration leak prosecution. The leaker was former CIA head and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; the leak recipient, the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. The investigation into the leak, which was apparently completed last July, has not yet been released.

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That didn't prevent the Project on Government Oversight from getting a draft copy. In December 2011, the Defense Department Inspector General began investigating whether or not the administration, Department of Defense, or intelligence agencies had provided details to director Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and other people involved in making the movie. The IG was doing so at the request of Rep. Peter King of New York, who'd written with specific questions to that effect the previous September. Of the five questions in King's letter, the draft report responds to four. (You can read the full report below.)

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The most significant finding revolves around an event at the CIA held on June 24, 2011, intended to celebrate the success of the raid. At that event, which Boal attended, Panetta identified both the Navy SEAL team that conducted the raid and its commanding officer — both points of information that were, at the time, classified.

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The Project on Government Oversight explains the significance of that classification.

The “SI” part of the Top Secret marking refers to Special Intelligence, another term for communications intelligence, according to a Defense Department classification manual. It applies to electronic intercepts, said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. The rest of the Top Secret marking – “REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL”—means that the information can be released to properly cleared personnel of the United States, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand.

It's not clear if Panetta knew that Boal was there. Clearly, Navy Admiral William McRaven wasn't expecting him to be.

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According to the report, this event was one of two times that the filmmakers were given classified names; the other was during an interview with a staffer. It was not the only time the team interacted with government staffers, though. Beginning literally the day after the public announcement that bin Laden had been killed, Boal and Bigelow were in email contact with representatives of the Department of Defense, a chain extensively cataloged in the document. Panetta was excited about the idea of the movie; as the report notes (and as has been reported previously), he hoped he'd be played in the movie by Al Pacino. (He had to settle for James Galdofini.)

The report also notes that "DoD officials do not expect Hollywood executives to provide a pre-publication review of the film." Happily, the CIA took a look at the script, and made sure it was flattering for both agencies.

There are two questions stemming from the Project on Government Oversight's release of the draft document. The first is why it hasn't been released by the government. The group suggests that the process to do so began a while ago.

Within the office, there was a push to make findings public as early as a year ago, sources speaking on condition of anonymity said. Last fall, the office took steps toward releasing some version of the report, including putting it through a Pentagon vetting process and preparing talking points to explain the contents, a person familiar with the investigation said.

Politico indicates that it was told last July that the report was "essentially complete," and that "the findings could be politically significant." Which is certainly true. King's initial letter is predicated on his "concern regarding ongoing leaks" from the Administration, one of the more significant critiques Obama faced on his foreign policy work during last year's campaign. The release of this document would have made those critiques more significant.

The other question is this: Will the Project on Government Oversight be investigated by the government to determine how it acquired the draft report? If so — and if its leaker faces federal charges — the situation would be somewhat ironic.

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