To create their Oscar-nominated film about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal and the director Kathryn Bigelow made friends in the CIA. During the process of interviewing clandestine agents about the decade-long hunt for the architect of 9/11, they reportedly paid for meals, jewelry, and expensive liquor. Boal attended a secret ceremony honoring the folks involved in the Bin Laden operation; Bigelow offered the agent who inspired the creation of Jessica Chastain’s character, someone with whom she’d had a few “social contacts,” a private screening at an exclusive club.
Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson at Vice News have revealed these and other details about the relationship between the ZD30 team and America’s spy agency based off documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Their article helps give shape to the widely known and already-controversial fact that the film, which helped popularize the Obama administration’s somewhat contested narrative about Bin Laden’s demise, was made with government input.
According to the story, Boal and Bigelow offered their subjects items ranging from hotel lunches to a ticket for a Prada runway show to a bottle of tequila priced online at $169.99. Some of these gifts were accepted by officers, some weren’t, and others were later paid for by their recipients. An inspector general probe determined that the filmmakers may have violated criminal law regarding bribing federal officials (neither the Justice Department nor the CIA chose to act on those findings), but it also found no evidence that the agents who’d been interviewed gave up classified information (though a speech Boal attended given by CIA chief Leon Panetta may have inadvertently done so).