WASHINGTON — When screenwriter Mark Boal went seeking Pentagon and CIA help on last year's hit movie "Zero Dark Thirty," he wooed glamour-starved official Washington with the classic Hollywood pitch: Let's do lunch.
Boal promised "a real L.A. lunch" to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson in a June 2011 email thanking Wilson for setting up a one-on-one meeting with a top Pentagon official who was involved in the CIA-led operation that killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan the previous month.
"I will be out there soon enough," Wilson replied. "You can run but you can't hide on this offer."
The email exchange is one of many by the filmmakers and senior government officials disclosed in a draft Defense Department report on the assistance the Obama administration provided to the film's producers. The report was made public Wednesday by the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.
Some Republicans lawmakers criticized the White House last year for seeking political advantage of the Bin Laden raid before the presidential election, and charged that administration officials gave the producers unusual access to senior officials who helped plan the operation by U.S. Navy SEALs.
The emails suggest that the Hollywood producers were able to open doors in Washington by buttering up government officials eager to see their roles immortalized on the big screen. The report also suggests that the access given to Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow came after White House officials signed off on the project.
Boal declined to comment. Wilson confirmed in an interview that he had set up meetings for Boal and Bigelow with senior Pentagon officials after getting the approval of officials at the White House and the CIA.
"I did that after I checked with both the White House and with the intelligence people to find out if that was OK," he said, adding that he also arranged for Boal to meet with officials at the White House to describe the project.
On two occasions, the report says, Boal and Bigelow were told the names of two special operations troops involved in the May 2, 2011, operation that killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Neither of the special operators were under "cover" at the time, meaning public disclosure of their names was not a violation of rules prohibiting the release of classified information, the report said.
Admiral William McRaven, who was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time, had promised families of the SEALs who conducted the raid that their identities would be protected. He had resisted pressure from civilians at the Pentagon to help Boal and Bigelow, but eventually agreed to make available a special operations planner, who had been involved in the operation.
"McRaven informed us he was concerned about the possible release of the special operators' identities," says the draft Pentagon report, which was produced by the department's inspector general at the request of Republican members of Congress.
Moreover, the planner's name was supposed to be treated as "For Official Use Only, not for public release" in connection with the Bin Laden raid, the report said.
On July 15, 2011, less than two months after the raid, Boal and Bigelow met with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, who gave them the name of the planner, the report said,
"He basically can probably give you everything you would want or would get from" McRaven and more senior military commanders, Vickers told the filmmakers, according to notes taken at the meeting and described in the report.
The special operations soldier never met with the filmmakers, however, because he wanted "to let the dust settle a little," after the raid the report said.
Boal also managed to get invited to a secret ceremony on the grounds of CIA headquarters in suburban Virginia a few weeks later where the Bin Laden team was honored, the report said. With Boal in the audience, Leon E. Panetta, who was still CIA director at the time, named the ground commander of the operation and disclosed other details about the raid that the report says were classified as "Top Secret" or even more sensitive.