When a new acquaintance learns I once worked at the CIA, I am frequently asked to comment on whether shows like Homeland, tell the “reality” of the CIA. The short answer, “no.” As I have written previously, the image the general public holds of the CIA as the lair of James Bond is laughable. The better icon of popular culture that captures the essence of the CIA is DILBERT.
I am not impugning my former colleagues. They are many patriots who make many personal sacrifices in order to help protect this nation. But the CIA also is a large bureaucracy and, as is the tendency of large bureaucracies, tends to reward incompetence and punish those who take initiative. The debacle in Bengahzi last September 11 is but one recent example. We can go back and recount the double agent who blew himself up in Afghanistan because the woman who was the Chief of Base was not qualified by training or experience to handle that post.
So, here comes the Killing Bin Laden movie from Kathryn Bigelow. It has big buzz and critics are already in the ecstasy of mental ejaculation over the wonder of the piece.
Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Taut, gripping and brilliantly executed, it makes Homeland – and most other depictions of the CIA – look like daytime soap operas. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, the team that made the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, it centres on the lone, female CIA analyst who first identified the courier who would lead the agency to bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The importance of the woman’s role in locating the leader of al-Qaeda is revealed for the first time in the film, which weaves investigative material unearthed by Mr Boal – a journalist, as well as a screenwriter – with heart-pounding re-creations of terrorist attacks.
There were suspicions before last month’s presidential election that the White House had been complicit in the release of classified material to Mr Boal, and that the film would play up President Barack Obama’s role in the mission. Judicial Watch, a group that says it is a “conservative non-partisan educational foundation” obtained emails between CIA officials and the film-makers, claiming the Obama administration played “fast and loose with national security information” to help Mr Boal and Ms Bigelow. The original October release date stoked suspicions that it would further the president’s re-election chances.
As it turns out, this theory was wrong, and not just because the US release was pushed back to December 19. The president merits barely a mention in the film, which makes the CIA agents and their pursuit of bin Laden its unrelenting focus. More credit is implicitly given to waterboarding, the so-called “enhanced interrogation” technique that many human-rights activists say should be classified as torture.
Only one little problem. It is not true. It is a great cover story and, I suppose, we may be better off believing a lie rather than exposing the truth. But, a big part of the lie is that water boarding worked and provided the key break thru. That is total bullshit, but the film makers shrewdly seized on this meme and guaranteed they will insulate themselves from any criticism from Republican true believers who support drowning folks in a means-justifies-the-end philosophy that passes for moral leadership these days.
What is sad is that the real story of how we learned about Bin Laden’s whereabouts will not be told. Part of that reason is to protect the identity of the person who walked into the the US Embassy in Pakistan and gave up the family jewels. Nah, we like the better story of the heroic woman. I won’t be seeing this piece of fantasy.