JW Obtains Stack of “Overlooked” CIA Records Detailing Meetings with bin Laden Filmmakers
As you may recall, in July, the CIA admitted that it had “discovered” a batch of “overlooked” documents responsive to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The stack of records, 4-5 inches high the agency originally estimated, detailed communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, and her screenwriter, Mark Boal, in preparation for their film Zero Dark Thirty, which details the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. (The film was reportedly scheduled for an October 2012 release, just before the presidential election, but the trailers are running now until the rescheduled release in December.)
Of course, we should have had these documents in our hands a month ago pursuant to a court order in a FOIA lawsuit filed on January 21, 2012. They finally reached our offices last Friday and after our investigations team finished its analysis, we released them this week.
Here’s my take on the headline: According to the records, not only did the Obama administration grant Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film, but the Obama White House was evidently seeking out opportunities to “have high visibility into the UBL [Usama bin Laden] projects.”
Here are the key findings from these records, which include internal Department of Defense, White House and CIA email correspondence with the filmmakers:
- According to a June 15, 2011, email from Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, to then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson, then-CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Jaime Smith, the Obama White House was intent on “trying to have visibility into the UBL (Usama bin Laden) projects.”
- According to e-mail exchange on June 7, 2011, CIA spokesperson Marie E. Harf openly discussed providing preferential treatment to the Boal/Bigelow project over others related to the bin Laden killing: “I know we don’t pick favorites but it makes sense to get behind a winning horse…Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board…”
- In a July 20, 2011, e-mail, Mark Boal writes to thank then-CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little for “pulling for him” with the agency, noting that it made, “all the difference.” Little responds: “…I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project…PS – I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :)”
- On July 13, 2011, Mark Boal’s assistant, Jonathan Leven, sent CIA spokesperson Marie Harf a copy of the floor plan of the bin Laden compound and asked him to verify its accuracy: “Per your conversation with Mark, can you verify whether this floor plan is accurate?” The next day Harf responds: “Ok, I checked with our folks, and that floor plan matches with what we have. It looks legit to us.”
- On July 14, 2011, Mark Boal asks CIA spokesperson Marie Harf to provide detailed information regarding the third floor of the compound that were not present on the open-source floor plan: “Would you mind looking into getting us some of the third floor specs…as the open source plan is missing those: height of wall, etc..? We will be building a full scale replica of the house. Including the inhabitants of the animal pen!” Harf responds minutes later: “Ha! Of course I don’t mind! I’ll work on that tomorrow…
- In an internal CIA memo regarding Kathryn Bigelow’s visit to agency headquarters dated July 14, 2011, CIA spokesperson Marie Harf describes Boal’s contact with the agency as a “deep dive.” (The memo was originally classified Secret.) “Kathryn is not interested in doing the deep dives that Mark did; she simply wants to meet the people Mark has been talking to.”
- On August 5, 2011, CIA Spokesperson Marie Harf exchanges several e-mails with New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti about the Boal/Bigelow project and, specifically, about a column by Maureen Dowd to be published August 7, 2011, making critical reference to the access the filmmakers were given. Mazzetti gave Harf an advance copy of the article, with the caveat, “this didn’t come from me… and please delete after you read. See, nothing to worry about!” (The coziness between the New York Times reporter and the CIA caused quite the stir in the media, including some self-criticism and internal strife at the Grey Lady.)
- In a June 15, 2011, e-mail, to Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes, Doug Wilson notes that the cooperation that Boal and Bigelow had been getting from the CIA was with the “full knowledge and full approval/support” of Director Panetta. “Boal has been working with us and with the CIA (via George Little) for initial context briefings – at DoD this has been provided by Mike Vickers, and at CIA by relevant officials with the full knowledge and full approval/support of Director Panetta.”
- In a July 17, 2011, e-mail, CIA spokesperson Marie Harf advises then CIA Director of Public Affairs Greg Little that Boal and Bigelow would be “meeting individually with both [name redacted] and the translator who was on the raid…”
Judicial Watch launched its investigation of Bigelow’s meetings with the Obama administration following press reports suggesting that the Obama administration may have leaked classified information to the director as source material for Bigelow’s film.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that the information leak was designed to help the Obama 2012 presidential reelection campaign: “The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film [sic] by the Oscar-winning pair who made ‘The Hurt Locker’ will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 – perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.”
In addition to our pursuit of the bin Laden film records, we continue to fight in court for the release of post-mortem images of bin Laden and the alleged burial at sea. The Obama administration continues to withhold these records citing national security concerns.
So on the one hand, the Obama administration says it can’t release photos of bin Laden’s dead body because it might offend the terrorists, yet, at the same time, the administration clearly played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers.
No wonder we’ve had to fight one year of stonewalling from the administration. Though some of the pro-Obama media has tried to spin our revelations otherwise, these new documents show there is no doubt that Obama White House was intensely interested in this film that was set to portray President Obama as “gutsy.”
Fox News Channel and other major media covered this important story – confirming Judicial Watch’s ability to shape national public policy debates.
By the way, right now news is breaking regarding a new book written by one of the Navy SEALS who took part in the raid. His story regarding the bin Laden capture is very different from that of the Obama administration, which makes our FOIA requests all the more critical.
(And speaking of books, have you picked up your copy of my New York Times best-seller The Corruption Chronicles? It’s on sale now! The book provides the inside scoop on a number of Obama administration scandals, including the administration’s decision to stonewall the release of key bin Laden records.)
Judicial Watch and True the Vote Sue Ohio to Force Clean Up of Voting Rolls
Now Ohio is a battleground this election season for one more reason…
On August 30, 2012, JW filed a lawsuit in partnership with True the Vote against election officials in the State of Ohio, alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio election officials have failed to take reasonable steps to maintain clean voter registration lists as required by Section 8 of the NVRA.
This is now the second state we’ve been forced to sue over dirty voter registration lists.
As you may recall, on February 6, 2012, JW sent a letter to Ohio Secretary Jon Husted notifying him that the State of Ohio was in violation of Section 8 of the NVRA and that, as the chief State election official in the State of Ohio, he is responsible for Ohio’s compliance with Section 8 of the NVRA.
Based upon an analysis of U.S. Census and other data, Judicial Watch found that the number of persons listed on voter registration rolls in three counties in the State of Ohio exceeded 100% of the total voting age population. We also noted that 31 other Ohio counties contained registration rolls that contain between 90% and 100% of total voting age population. Typically, only 71% of eligible voters register to vote.
Clearly, the numbers do not add up. And what’s worse, the State of Ohio couldn’t care less.
On March 2, 2012, the Secretary, through his Chief Legal Counsel, responded to Judicial Watch’s February 6, 2012, letter indicating that Secretary Husted and his office “share your concerns about the accuracy of our voting lists.” The letter pointed to a directive issued on April 18, 2011, to remove ineligible voters from the list due to change of address. But this “directive” appears to be all bark and no bite. The letter failed to mention a single initiative undertaken to comply with the directive. Moreover, the response failed to reference a single initiative by the State of Ohio to removed deceased or otherwise ineligible voters from voting lists.
In the March 2, 2012, response, the Secretary asserted that the State of Ohio’s efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls “have been hampered . . . by the restrictions and seemingly inconsistent provisions of the NVRA” and noted that he had written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “to discuss possible solutions,” but had not received a response.
Of course Attorney General Holder has no time to “discuss possible solutions” to the dirty voter registration list problem in Ohio. He’s too busy suing states that are trying to implement election integrity solutions on their own – such as voter ID laws.
But that doesn’t get Ohio off the hook.
According to Judicial Watch’s lawsuit: “The March 2, 2012, response, the lack of any further response, and the failure to produce any additional documents regarding any other voter list maintenance programs or activities undertaken by the State of Ohio confirms that the State of Ohio has failed to satisfy its voter list maintenance obligations under Section 8 of the NVRA.”
Judicial Watch is asking the court to force the State of Ohio to do what the law requires and manage its lists in a manner consistent with the NRVA.
“To date, we have been given no signal that voter rolls are being properly maintained across the state, which only further inhibits our ability to research more flagrant forms of fraud. If we can’t assure the public that even the most basic principles of federal election law are being upheld, faith in our voting system can become irrevocably shaken,” said True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht.
Here’s the statement I offered to the press: “Election officials in the State of Ohio are shirking their responsibility to maintain clean voter registration lists. Dirty election rolls can lead to voter and election fraud. Ohio’s voting rolls are a mess and we hope a court will require that they be cleaned up prior to Election Day.”
This is a point worth emphasizing, because the left claims that dirty voter registration lists don’t matter because they do not result in fraudulent votes. This is pure nonsense.
A recent article in the New York Post makes the point: “Current voter-registration systems are flawed, with huge numbers of dead or disqualified voters still on the rolls. And, since voter-ID enforcement is poor, in many places a person can simply claim to be one of those people and vote in their name with no one the wiser.”
And, as we point out in our lawsuit, voter registration lists are a mess nationwide, creating an environment where election fraud can thrive: “According to research conducted by the Center for the States of the non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) inaccurate voter registrations are rampant. Pew’s independent research published in February 2012 indicates that approximately 24 million active voter registrations throughout the United States – or one out of every eight registrations – are either no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.”
According to our own investigation, voter rolls in the following states appear to contain the names of individuals who are ineligible to vote: Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama, California, and Colorado. And this is why we started our 2012 Election Integrity Project, one of the most important initiatives in our history.
We have put all of these states on notice that they must clean up their voter registration lists or perhaps face Judicial Watch lawsuits.
Sometimes, all that is necessary is the threat of a lawsuit. For example, election officials in Lincoln County, West Virginia immediately started cleaning up their lists, an effort that continues to this day. And so did election officials in Florida. Click here to see how officials in Missouri officials responded.
Other states, however, require a more direct legal response.
Judicial Watch filed a separate lawsuit against the State of Indiana related to its dirty voter registration lists as well. And now Ohio is on our list.
I should point out that we’re not alone in this battle. Judicial Watch is partnering with True the Vote and the Election Law Center’s J. Christian Adams, who previously served in the voting rights section of the Department of Justice (DOJ), on a nationwide campaign to ensure the integrity of the 2012 elections. Also working with us in Ohio is the law firm Langdon Law LLC.
Are you prepared to help us combat voter fraud and threats to the integrity of our elections? I encourage to support our cause. The pressure will be intense and the attacks on us will continue. I attended an event in Ohio last weekend run by True the Vote. The meeting was infiltrated by leftists who hurled outrageous and false accusations at me and other speakers. I won’t back down, Judicial Watch won’t back down, and neither should you. You can support our 2012 Election Integrity effort by clicking here.
JW Files Amicus Curiae Brief with Supreme Court Supporting the Constitutional Right of Citizens to Obtain Records from State Government Institutions
As you know, JW is one of the nation’s most ardent advocates for open government. We believe government officials must err on the side of openness and transparency whenever possible, which is consistent with open records laws.
But that’s not what’s happening in the state of Virginia, where a lawsuit involving a parent’s pursuit of delinquent child support could lead to widespread harm to the attempt to force the release of government documents.
And JW, as you might expect, is right in the thick of this important battle.
On August 29, 2012 we filed an amicus curiae brief with the United States Supreme Court in conjunction with the Allied Educational Fund (AEF) asking the High Court to resolve a Virginia lawsuit involving the constitutional right of American citizens to obtain records from state governments.
The lower court ruling at issue in the amicus brief, if allowed to remain in force, would obstruct a citizen from gaining access to public records from a state government entity if the citizen is not a resident of the petitioned state.
As Judicial Watch and AEF note in their brief, the Supreme Court must resolve the case as “there is a split between the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Third and Fourth Circuits as to whether the right of access to public records is a ‘privilege and immunity’ under the U.S. Constitution.” (The Privileges and Immunity Clause states, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”) The Third Circuit held that the right of access to public records is a “common law right.” However, the Fourth Circuit disagreed, ruling that the denial of records did not violate any constitutional right.
So this really comes down to whether or not state government records might have some bearing on issues of a national concern, which would mean that a citizen would have the constitutional right to petition for access to the state records, no matter where they reside.
I think you know where we stand.
Here’s a squib from our brief:
The right of access to public records pre-exists the formation of the Nation. In fact, the right of access to public records predates the development of the states. Individuals have always sought public records from city, county, and state governments to ensure that the people’s representatives are properly and positively maintaining democracies and adhering to good government principles.
If not overturned, the Fourth Circuit’s ruling will hinder, if not abolish, the people’s ability to monitor the workings of all governments. Because many policy decisions and activities of local governments are being debated or implemented in other localities across the Nation or effect the United States as a whole, the right of access to a public record not only sheds light on local government, but it also bears upon the vitality of the Nation as a single entity. For the foregoing reasons, Amici respectfully request that the petition for a writ of certiorari be granted.
The lawsuit in question involves Mark J. McBurney, a former resident of Virginia, who sought access to Virginia government records that relate to McBurney’s pursuit of child support payments from his ex-wife.
Mr. McBurney’s ex-wife allegedly defaulted on her child support obligations. McBurney filed a Virginia FOIA request with the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) seeking “all emails, notes, files, memos, reports, policies, [and] opinions” pertaining to McBurney, his son, and his ex-wife, as well as “all documents regarding his application for child support” and information regarding the handling of child support claims. His intent was to determine the cause for the delay in child support payments.
The DCSE denied McBurney’s FOIA request on the grounds that the information was confidential and protected under Virginia law, and because McBurney was not a citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Mr. McBurney at the time of the filing resided in Rhode Island.) A second substantively identical request was also denied by DCSE solely on the grounds that McBurney was not a citizen of the Commonwealth, precipitating McBurney’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It should not make any difference where a person happens to reside when issuing open records requests with state government entities. The Founding Fathers believed it was fundamental right for citizens to access government information. The Supreme Court should take action to preserve the public’s right to know what the government is up to.
As this case demonstrates, it is necessary to keep a watchful eye on lawsuits in state and county courts, as decisions made at those levels have a bearing on the rights of individuals in other places around the country.
You should be proud our brief in this transparency case. Your support enabled Judicial Watch to look out for the interests of the public in an important constitutional dispute that few others may have noticed.
Until next week…