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Administration officials offered access to bin Laden filmmakers, documents show

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Thu May 24, 2012
Actress Jennifer Ehle is seen on the Chandigarh, India, set of Kathryn Bigelow's forthcoming film on Osama bin Laden.
Actress Jennifer Ehle is seen on the Chandigarh, India, set of Kathryn Bigelow's forthcoming film on Osama bin Laden.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Filmmakers are making a movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden
  • Newly released documents recount access granted to the filmmakers
  • A congressman says the offer of access raises "very serious questions"
  • Rep. Peter King questions whether operational secrets are being adequately protected

(CNN) -- Newly released documents have reignited the debate in Washington over whether Obama administration officials granted too much access to filmmakers making a movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- and whether national security was compromised in the process.

The documents show, for example, that a defense official offered the filmmakers access to a planner from SEAL Team Six, the super-secret special ops division that successfully executed the high-stakes raid in Pakistan last year.

It is not clear if any such access eventually took place. But according to a transcript from the meeting, in July of last year, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow that the defense department would offer up a plum interview.

"They'll make a guy available who was involved from the beginning as a planner; a SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander," Vickers said, according to the transcript.

The name of that man is blacked out in the transcript that was released, and Vickers tells the filmmakers not to reveal the man's identity.

"He shouldn't be talking out of school," Vickers says, but "he knows what he can and can't say."

"That's dynamite," says Boal, according to the transcript.

"That's incredible," says Bigelow.

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"You're going to get a little bit of operational stuff," Vickers says, "but more really policy -- like how did we make the decision, the risks, that kind of stuff."

It was not clear whether the SEAL team commander ever met with the filmmakers. A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department gave them no access to classified information about the raid.

But Rep. Peter King, R-New York, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, says the offer of access looks like a "potentially dangerous collaboration" and raises "very serious questions" about whether the administration is sufficiently protecting operational secrets.

"If this is too sensitive for the average person to know about," King said, "did Kathryn Bigelow have security clearance? Is she cleared to go in there?"

Fran Townsend, former White House homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush and a CNN contributor, called the revelations "troubling." She said revealing too much information about how the bin Laden raid was planned and executed could help other terrorists escape attempts to capture them.

"The understanding of how that happens is really very important to our enemies because then they know which information to withhold from us," she said. "We don't want to make that mission -- attacking or targeting future al Qeada leaders -- any more difficult than it already is."

"There's a real downside to giving too much access to Hollywood," she said.

The records were released to the Washington watchdog organization Judicial Watch, after it filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

According to e-mails among the documents, the filmmakers also met with acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan. The records also suggest that they were given a walk-though of the "vault" room used by the CIA when planning the raid.

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A CIA spokesperson confirmed that CIA officers sometimes to meet with writers and filmmakers to help make the portrayal of the CIA more accurate, but called those meetings unclassified. The spokesperson added that "the 'vault' in question, that had been used for planning the raid, was empty at the time of the filmmakers' visit."

Likewise, White House officials have said they did not give the filmmakers anything that was not also provided to journalists.

"The same information was given to the White House press corps," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "We do not discuss classified information."

Administration officials have also rejected suggestions that they were hoping that a movie recounting the daring and successful raid ordered by President Barack Obama would burnish his image just when the presidential campaign reached its height.

The released documents show that the political strategy firm Glover Park Group, which has ties to Democrats, helped the filmmakers arrange meetings in Washington.

"To have Democratic consultants, lobbyists, having access with Hollywood producers to inner workings of the CIA, of the military, raises very serious questions," said Republican Rep. King.

But the filmmakers, whose representatives declined to comment Wednesday, have said in the past that the film would be about a nonpartisan American triumph without regard for political affiliation.

And while the release of the film had once been anticipated for October, just weeks before Election Day, its release is not expected until December.

CNN's Suzanne Kelly, Brianna Keilar, and Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.

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