Congressional critics of bin Laden film step up pressure on CIA

Published: Updated:
Three U.S. senators, including the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have stepped up their pressure on the CIA over its response to “Zero Dark Thirty,” a new film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

In a letter sent to the CIA and released on Thursday, Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Intelligence Committee, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and Senator John McCain asked the agency for evidence that “enhanced interrogation techniques” produced information that helped U.S. authorities locate and kill the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.

The letter is the latest broadside in a renewed political fight over enhanced interrogation techniques, which some equate with torture, touched off by the nationwide premiere of “Zero Dark Thirty” on Jan. 11.

The movie depicts a detainee being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, which President George W. Bush’s administration later abandoned, and suggests they played a role in finding bin Laden, who was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Last month, in response to an earlier letter from the senators, acting CIA director Michael Morell said in a statement that some of the information that led agency analysts to conclude that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan, “came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques but there were many other sources as well.”

In their latest letter, sent on Monday, the lawmakers said that an Intelligence Committee review of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program determined that an agency detainee who provided the most accurate information about a courier who led the CIA to bin Laden “provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.”

A lengthy report on the investigation, which the committee approved last month in a mostly party-line vote, remains highly classified.

Feinstein, Levin and McCain requested the CIA produce evidence to back up Morell’s assertion that useful information related to the hunt for bin Laden came from detainees subjected to harsh techniques, and whether it was obtained before, during or after enhanced interrogations.

The senators’ release of the letter came a day after Reuters reported that Feinstein’s committee was reviewing CIA records about the agency’s interactions with “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal to see if the spy agency gave them “inappropriate” access to secret material.

The committee also will investigate whether CIA personnel are responsible for the film’s portrayal of harsh interrogation practices and the implication that they were effective, a person familiar with the matter said.

Asked for comment on the senators’ latest request, CIA spokesman John Tomczyk said: “As we’ve said before, we take very seriously our responsibility to keep our oversight committees informed and value our relationship with Congress.”