Watching ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ with the CIA: Separating fact from fiction

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Since its release, Kathryn Bigelow's film "Zero Dark Thirty" has received not only praise and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but also quite a bit of controversy. On Tuesday morning at AEI, three Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) veterans who were involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden convened to discuss the movie and rehash the pursuit of the world's most wanted terrorist.

Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA, suggested that enhanced interrogation techniques were never used to elicit information in the moment, but to move detainees out of the “zone of defiance” and toward cooperation. Hayden argued that it is incredibly unlikely that the raid in Abbottabad would have been successful without the help of intelligence gained from CIA detainees.

John A. Rizzo, former chief legal officer at the CIA, stressed that while the public can disagree on how big a role enhanced interrogation techniques played in the hunt for bin Laden, the intelligence collection component was paramount for the first years of the search. Jose Rodriguez, former director of the National Clandestine Service, concluded by saying that the Obama administration's narrative conveyed that enhanced interrogations were torture and useless, but reality belies this view. The intelligence obtained at black sites was key.

Event Description

Kathryn Bigelow’s recent film “Zero Dark Thirty” has sparked controversy for its portrayal of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) enhanced interrogation program and the role intelligence from CIA detainees played in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Just how accurate is Bigelow’s depiction of enhanced interrogation techniques? Did intelligence from detainees really play a critical role in leading investigators to bin Laden’s doorstep in Abbotabad? Has President Obama's decision to curtail the interrogation program placed America’s national security at risk?

To separate fact from fiction, AEI’s Marc Thiessen (author of “Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack”) will host a panel discussion with three CIA veterans who were involved in the hunt for bin Laden.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.

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Marc A.
Thiessen

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