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U.S. Senate panel to examine CIA contacts with ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmakers

A scene from “Zero Dark Thirty”

Courtesy Columbia Pictures/AP

After the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply "enhanced interrogations" of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty and CIA officials.

In the latest controversy surrounding the film, Reuters has learned that the committee will examine records charting contacts between intelligence officials and the film's director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal.

Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers "inappropriate" access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said.

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The intelligence committee's Democrats contend that is factually incorrect.

Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatized account of the hunt for al Qaeda leader bin Laden and the May 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid in which he was killed. Government e-mails and memoranda released to the conservative group Judicial Watch show that both the CIA and Pentagon gave the filmmakers extensive access.

But the film has also produced a series of awkward political headaches for President Barack Obama. Early on, Obama's Republican critics suggested it was a gimmick to boost his re-election campaign. But now, some of Obama's liberal supporters are attacking the film and officials who co-operated with its creators for allegedly promoting the effectiveness of torture.

The CIA had no comment on the latest congressional inquiry regarding the film.

One of the intelligence officials whom the documents show as having met with the filmmakers is Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director at the time and now the agency's acting chief.

Current and former national security officials have said Morell, a highly regarded agency veteran, is a favorite to succeed retired Gen. David Petraeus as the agency's director.

But some of the same officials now say the controversy over the film's content has cast a cloud over Morell's prospects.

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Last month, Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and former Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in sharply condemning what they described as "particularly graphic scenes of CIA officers torturing detainees" in Zero Dark Thirty.

The film has been screened in New York and Los Angeles but does not premiere nationwide until Jan. 11.

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