The CIA put pressure on Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden manhunt film Zero Dark Thirty to block torture scenes that made the agency "look bad", according to a declassified memo obtained by Gawker under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The memo contains five conference calls between screenwriter Mark Boal and the CIA's Office of Public Affairs in late 2011, whose purpose was "to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the bin Laden operation".
The CIA demanded the removal of two scenes that contained controversial Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) from the film. The original opening scene featured agent Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, participating in the torture of a detainee. It was changed so that in the movie Maya just watches a video of the waterboarding of the prisoner who is subsequently incarcerated in a tiny box.
The memo reads: "For this scene we emphasised that substantive debriefers [ie, Maya] did not administer [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] because in this scene he had a non-interrogator, substantive debriefer assisting in a dosing technique."
Boal also agreed to remove a scene featuring a dog assaulting a detainee. The CIA argued that it did not use "such tactics" in the War on Terror, although it had been documented in Guantanamo Bay and at Abu Ghraib.
The third request was to take out a scene involving officers at a party in Islamabad firing a "celebratory burst of AK-47 gunfire into the air".
"We insisted [that] mixing drinking and firearms is a major violation and actions like this do not happen in real life," reads the memo.
Boal decided to keep a scene where Maya analyses video of detainee interviews in order to hunt down bin Laden's courier, despite CIA protests. The screenwriter argued: "Visually, this is the only way to show research in an interesting cinematic way".
Boal told Gawker that the Zero Dark Thirty's team "honoured certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers".
After the release of the film, former FBI agent Ali Soufan exclusively told IBTimes UK that the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in the decade-long hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was a mere Hollywood fiction.
Known as the man who nearly foiled the 9/11 plot, Soufan maintains that the controversial movie is an "entertaining good movie" that does not offer a documentary-like portrayal of what really happened in the intelligence chase for the al-Qaida leader.