How did Bigelow access America's secrets about torture and Bin Laden's assassination for Zero Dark Thirty?

Oscar contender is triggering growing criticism from US senators that the movie supports 'waterboarding'

It has received five Oscar nominations and created a buzz among movie fans around the world.

But Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which recounts the operation that traced and killed Osama bin Laden, is at the centre of growing controversy over the unprecedented access to classified information granted to the director and her screenwriter colleague, while most of these details remain unavailable to the general pubic.

Documents collected, collated and published this week by the National Security Archive of George Washington University in Washington show that only a portion of information about Operation Neptune Spear, the codename for the CIA-led, decade-long hunt for Bin Laden, has so far been declassified.

In contrast, Ms Bigelow and her colleague Mark Boal received briefings from high-ranking CIA and military intelligence officers, Navy SEALs who took part in the operation and other officials. A CIA spokeswoman said at the time, the agency had decided to support the director because “it makes sense to get behind a winning horse. Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest”.

The attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington traumatised the US and led to various policy decisions whose ramifications are still being felt. The vow of then US President George Bush to capture the al-Qa’ida leader “dead or alive” led to the US and UK invasion of Afghanistan and a hunt for Bin Laden that concluded in May 2011 when US Special Forces raided a walled compound in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad where he had been hiding.

In the hours and days after the raid, White House and Pentagon officials briefed the media about aspects of the raid. Yet there were a number of contradictions contained within those briefings, and more than 18 months later many details remain unknown. Photographs of Bin Laden, for instance, supposedly taken after he was shot dead and when his body was buried at sea from aboard the USS Carl Vinson have not been made public, and the Obama administration has refused media requests under the Freedom of Information Act to release them.

Indeed, the National Security Archive said much of the operation was still “shrouded in secrecy”. It added: “The government’s recalcitrance over releasing information directly to the public about the 21 century’s most important intelligence search and military raid, and its decision instead to grant the film’s producers exclusive and unprecedented access to classified information about the operation, means that for the time being – for bad or good – Hollywood has become the public’s account of record for Operation Neptune Spear.”

Even before its release, Ms Bigelow’s film had already created controversy because of a scenes showing torture that the film suggests were essential to obtaining information that led the CIA to the garrison town of Abbottabad.

Such has been the furore that senior US senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain publicly complained the film was supporting the use of techniques such as “waterboarding”. Ms Bigelow has defended her film, recently telling the BBC: “It’s part of the story. To omit it would have been whitewashing history.”

Yet others say, the issue of the access given to the 61-year-old director is equally controversial. Chris Farrell, of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based non-profit organisation, said it had been involved in extensive litigation with the authorities to obtain withheld documents. He claimed the government was trying to have it both ways. “Either you admit you gave special access to your pet film director, or else you make the information available to everyone,” he said.

What has added to the perception that Ms Bigelow received special treatment are various moves by the authorities to halt other people releasing information about Operation Neptune Spear. The NSA said last November, seven US special forces soldiers involved in the Abbottabad operation were reprimanded for providing classified material to a video game manufacturer. 

Previously, the Pentagon had written to another Navy SEAL, identified as Mark Owen, warning him over his plan to publish his account of the raid, No Easy Day. An investigation is now underway into whether or not Mike Vickers, the US Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence, broke the rules by briefing Ms Bigelow. The CIA yesterday did not immediately respond to questions.

Pakistani official found dead

A Pakistani official investigating corruption allegations against the country's Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has been found dead in his quarters.

Police said it appeared he had committed suicide, although a post-mortem examination is yet to be held. The body of Kamran Faisal was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his room at a government lodging block in Islamabad.

Several weeks ago, he and another officer were removed from the case, after bosses indicated they were unhappy with their performance. Reports in the Pakistani media suggested that Mr Faisal had been under pressure for some time as a result of the investigation.

The government agreed a deal with the cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri today for elections to be held within months, after his tens of thousands of supporters had brought Islamabad to a standstill for days.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit