US lawmaker wants probe of bin Laden film project
Washington: A Republican lawmaker accused the Obama administration of jeopardising national security by cooperating with a Hollywood film project on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, demanded an inquiry after learning of the Pentagon's collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow.
"I write to express concern regarding ongoing leaks of classified information regarding sensitive military operations," King wrote in a letter to the inspectors general at the Pentagon and CIA.
Cooperating with a film "about the raid is bound to increase such leaks, and undermine these organisations' hard-won reputations as 'quiet professionals’," he wrote.
The Pentagon confirmed preliminary discussions with Bigelow and journalist-turned screenwriter Mark Boal about a film focusing on the hunt for bin Laden.
"It's customary to provide established filmmakers with technical information, script research type stuff," said Phil Strub, who as director of entertainment media oversees the Pentagon's cooperation with the film industry.
The White House dismissed the criticism as "ridiculous”, saying it was routine for officials to speak with filmmakers or authors to ensure accuracy but that no secret information was divulged.
"We do not discuss classified information. And I would hope that as we face the continued threat from terrorism, the House Committee on Homeland Security would have more important topics to discuss than a movie," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
The Defence Department regularly allows filmmakers, including the producers of the current "Transformers" movies, access to US military bases, ships or aircraft after reviewing a script and approving how troops and the armed forces are portrayed.
But King, a Republican lawmaker from New York, cited New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who suggested the White House was seeking to bolster Obama's image with the film project and to counter the President's "growing reputation as ineffectual”.
"The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history," Dowd wrote over the weekend.
She also said the film was due to open in October 2012, before Presidential Elections in November next year, "perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher”.
Bigelow's scriptwriter colleague, Boal, attended a recent CIA ceremony honouring the Navy SEAL team who went after bin Laden, according to Dowd.
The talks with Bigelow were at a preliminary stage and there had been no formal request to film Blackhawk helicopters or other military hardware, Strub said.
She had already been working on a project about the pursuit of bin Laden before Navy SEAL commandos gunned down the al Qaeda chief at his Pakistani hideout on May 02.
Bigelow, who became the first woman to win the best director Oscar last year for the 2008 Iraq bomb squad movie "The Hurt Locker”, had previously been focused on bin Laden eluding US and Afghan forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001.
Strub said the filmmaker met Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defence for intelligence, who gave her an overview of the bin Laden operation and the decision-making process surrounding the raid.
Vickers, a former CIA paramilitary officer and member of the Army Special Forces, was portrayed in the 2007 film adaptation of the book "Charlie Wilson's War" about US’ support for Afghans fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.
The Pentagon declined to cooperate with Bigelow's "Hurt Locker" amid disagreements about the script, which portrayed a US Army bomb disposal squad in Baghdad, officials said.
US film giant Columbia Pictures has won the American distribution rights for the bin Laden movie, which is due to begin filming later this year.