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Event Summary

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.


9:45 AM

10:00 AM
General Michael Hayden (ret.), Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
John A. Rizzo, Former Chief Legal Officer at the Central Intelligence Agency
Jose Rodriguez, Former Director of the National Clandestine Service

Marc A. Thiessen, AEI

11:30 AM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Alex Della Rocchetta at [email protected], 202.862.7152

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

General Michael Hayden (ret) served as the 20th director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006–09. Previously, he served as the nation’s first principal deputy director of national intelligence from 2005–06. Before his tenure at the Office of National Intelligence, Hayden was director of the National Security Agency from 1999–2005.  Hayden is also a retired four-star US Air Force general, having retired from the Air Force in 2008 after a distinguished 39 years of military service. Currently, Hayden is a principal at the Chertoff Group—a strategic consultancy focusing on the defense and security industries. Hayden is also a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, and serves on the board of directors at a number of major corporations, including Motorola Solutions Inc. and Alion Science and Technology.

John A. Rizzo served in the Office of General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 34 years. From 2001–02 and from 2004–09, he served as chief legal officer at the CIA, responsible for all the agency’s legal matters in the post–9/11 era. Previously, Rizzo served as the deputy director for the Office of Congressional Affairs and as the liaison between the CIA and the congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra Affair. In recognition of his service, Rizzo received the Thomas C. Clark Award from the Federal Bar Association as well as the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal—the highest recognition awarded to a career CIA officer. Currently, Rizzo is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and serves as senior counsel at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he provides legal advice and policy counsel to clients on matters related to national security.

Jose Rodriguez served at the CIA for 31 years. In 2004, Rodriquez was appointed deputy director for operations at the agency, and shortly thereafter became the director of the National Clandestine Service, a position he held until 2008. As director, Rodriguez was responsible for all human clandestine operations for the agency. Rodriguez served as the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002–04, and earlier, as chief of the Latin American Division. Rodriquez is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Award, the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism, the Defense Intelligence Director’s Award, and three Director of Central Intelligence Awards. Rodriquez is also the co-author of “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives” (Threshold Editions, 2012).

Marc A. Thiessen is a current AEI scholar and former member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush. As an official in the Bush administration, Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the CIA’s interrogation program, titled “Courting Disaster” (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about US foreign and defense policy issues for and the AEI Ideas blog.

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