A newly declassified memo, detailing conversations between a screenwriter and the CIA, appears to show how the US intelligance agency shaped the narrative of Zero Dark Thirty – last year’s Oscar-nominated film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The agency allegedly pressured the writer, Mark Boal, to alter or remove scenes of torture from the script. The memo was released after a freedom of information request by the Gawker website, and is part of a cache of documents regarding the relationship between the CIA, Mr Boal and the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow.
It outlines five phone calls in late 2011 in which Mr Boal “verbally shared” his screenplay with the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA). “The purpose of these discussions was for OPA officers to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the Bin Ladin operation,” the memo says.
Mr Boal agreed to alter or remove several scenes at the CIA’s request.
In an early draft, for example, Maya – the CIA agent portrayed by Jessica Chastain – took part in the waterboarding of a detainee. After the CIA objected to the scene’s accuracy, it was altered to depict her as a mere observer to the torture.
The screenwriter removed one scene showing dogs being used to intimidate detainees during interrogation, and another in which a CIA officer fired an AK-47 into the air at a raucous rooftop party. The CIA claimed both scenes were inaccurate.
Following publication of the memo, Boal said in a statement: “We honored certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers.”