It’s been over a year since whodunit-turned-American propaganda film “Zero Dark Thirty” offered consumers a peek into the Central Intelligence Agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. The film was both criticized and praised for sequences depicting the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed in the agency’s hunt for its primary target, and is perhaps most well-known for the relationship between its makers and the uber-secretive CIA.
Now, thanks to a report from the Project on Government Oversight revealing the Department of Defense Inspector General’s findings on the government employee who revealed the CIA’s role in the film, it will be known as the movie that indirectly demonstrated the hypocrisy with which the federal government treats those who share classified or secretive information.
The report states that Dan Meyer shared a “prohibited” document showing that former CIA director Leon Panetta “mishandled highly classified information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden,” when he revealed some details of the raid to the film’s screenwriter and director. The IG’s office now asserts that Meyer made an “unauthorized disclosure” when he gave that document to Congress, according to the Project on Government Oversight’s report.
This means that the man who shared a document with Congress describing the breach made by the former director of one of the most secretive intelligence agencies is being more carefully scrutinized than the person who shared highly classified information to help make a movie. And, according to the Project on Government Oversight, the document wasn’t even classified:
The memorandum from Brett A. Mansfield, Deputy Chief of Staff at the IG’s office, refers to the unauthorized disclosure of an OIG draft report without identifying the report; people familiar with the matter said that was a reference to the investigation involving Panetta. The memorandum also spelled out strictures against sharing unpublished IG reports with Congress.
For example, it says, ‘In general the OIG does not provide draft reports to outside stakeholders to include members of Congress and their staff.’ It adds that Meyer was ‘reminded of his responsibility to ensure the protection of sensitive information to include information marked For Official Use Only (FOUO),’ a designation commonly employed to keep various kinds of unclassified material from public release. It says that ‘the lack of FOUO markings does not make information automatically releasable’—implying that releasing information to Congress is not an official use. It discusses restrictions on ‘draft and pre-decisional information.’ And it says that the only people who had the authority to approve Meyer’s disclosure to Congress were the Inspector General or a particular subordinate.
This isn’t the first time a government agency has claimed that unclassified materials were improperly shared with Congress. The CIA made a similar claim earlier this year when the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that it had removed thousands of documents from a system meant to help an investigation into the agency’s post-9/11 torture programs (which, fittingly enough, were shown in “Zero Dark Thirty.”) Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chairwoman, rejected the viability of designations meant to protect unclassified material when she gave a speech condemning the CIA’s actions before Congress earlier this month. She said:
As with many other documents provided to the committee at the CIA facility, some of the Internal Panetta Review documents—some—contained markings indicating that they were ‘deliberative’ and/or ‘privileged.’ This was not especially noteworthy to staff. In fact, CIA has provided thousands of internal documents, to include CIA legal guidance and talking points prepared for the CIA director, some of which were marked as being deliberative or privileged.
Moreover, the CIA has officially provided such documents to the committee here in the Senate. In fact, the CIA’s official June 27, 2013, response to the committee study, which Director Brennan delivered to me personally, is labeled ‘Deliberative Process Privileged Document.’
We have discussed this with the Senate Legal Counsel who has confirmed that Congress does not recognize these claims of privilege when it comes to documents provided to Congress for our oversight duties.
Meyer’s disclosure showed that Panetta revealed highly classified information, yet he has not been censured for the activity. Feinstein’s statement showed that the agency would prefer to keep documents, which are said to support the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the post-9/11 torture programs, away from its overseers. And now the report from the Project on Government Oversight shows that sharing unclassified but “For Official Use Only” with Congress is more scandalous than sharing highly classified information with filmmakers.
As the Project on Government Oversight’s report states:
At a time when the government has been cracking down on whistleblowers and national security leaks, the Zero Dark Thirty case showed a security lapse at the highest levels of the CIA. It showed members of the Obama Administration going to substantial lengths to help the makers of a Hollywood movie about a national security success. And it showed the Pentagon’s Inspector General, an internal watchdog, sparing leaders at the Pentagon from the public accountability that could result from a potentially damaging report.
How’s that for oversight?