Foreign and Defense Policy, Terrorism

Watching ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ with the CIA

Image Credit: The U.S. Army (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: The U.S. Army (CC BY 2.0)

When New Yorkers sat down with their popcorn at a Times Square movie theater the other day to watch the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” they didn’t realize that they were watching the film with the man who lived the story on the screen before them: Former CIA counter terrorism chief Jose Rodriguez.

In the Washington Post this Sunday, Rodriguez delivers his verdict on the film. Here is an advance link to his column:

It is an odd experience to enter a darkened room and, for more than 21 / 2 hours, watch someone tell a story that you experienced intimately in your own life. But that is what happened recently as I sat in a movie theater near Times Square and watched “Zero Dark Thirty,” the new Hollywood blockbuster about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

When I was head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002 to 2004 and then director of the National Clandestine Service until late 2007, the campaign against al-Qaeda was my life and obsession.

I must say, I agree with both the film critics who love “Zero Dark Thirty” as entertainment and the administration officials and prominent senators who hate the movie for the message it sends — although my reasons are entirely opposite theirs….

“Zero Dark Thirty,” which will open for Washington audiences Friday, inaccurately links torture with intelligence success and mischaracterizes how America’s enemies have been treated in the fight against terrorism. Many others object to the film, however, because they think that the depiction of torture by the CIA is accurate but that the movie is wrong to imply that our interrogation techniques worked.

They are wrong on both counts. I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture.

Rodriguez eloquently explains both why the techniques the CIA used do not even remotely resemble the scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” – and also how the interrogation program provided critical “first substantive information” on bin Laden’s courier that allowed the CIA to pursue him and eventually led us to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

He concludes “Despite its flaws, inaccuracies and shortcuts, I do believe this film is well worth seeing. Like the real hunt for bin Laden, it goes on way too long, but there is value in the end.”

You can read the full review here.

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