Commentary Magazine


Topic: Seal Team Six

The CIA’s Big Year on the Big Screen

This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012′s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

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This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012′s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

What controversy the movies have aroused has been mainly about the torture scenes depicted at the beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty,” because the movie is hardly out to make even the brutal CIA interrogators out to be bad guys; it is noncommittal in its depiction of them and might even be said to skew the audience’s perspective in their favor by beginning the movie with the sounds of 9/11 to remind viewers of why they are willing to manhandle detainees.

But both films, while focusing on successful operations, also highlight some of the agency’s problems.

Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain play dedicated, highly effective, if relatively junior, CIA personnel based on real-life models–he a clandestine service operative who specializes in exfiltrations, she an analyst working the Osama bin Laden file. Both are convinced, rightly, that they have figured out the solution to a difficult problem: how to get the diplomats out and how to track down bin Laden, respectively. And both consistently find that they are stymied by their own managers who are risk averse to a fault. Affleck nearly has his plan scuttled while carrying it out; Chastain has to constantly badger and harass her superiors to get them to devote the necessary resources to the manhunt amid many other distractions.

Thus both movies highlight the real problem with the CIA. It is not an agency made up of ruthless killers with goon squads standing by to dispose of troublesome agents, as shown in the “Bourne” movies. It is actually a hyper-cautious bureaucracy that too often fails to take chances because superiors are more motivated by covering their collective derrieres than by getting the job done. Thank goodness there are passionate risk-takers like the ones depicted by Affleck and Chastain who really do work for the Agency. Problem is, top Agency executives need to prune back the bureaucracy to let their stars shine.

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Not Propaganda? Obama’s the Star of New Cable Film on Bin Laden

The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

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The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

While the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, the idea that he would be transformed into the star of a film about a hunt that began before his presidency is a politically-motivated insult to the intelligence professionals and Navy SEALs who pulled off the operation. The head of National Geographic Channel has tried to alibi his way out of responsibility for this travesty, but in doing so he only proved that his insistence that the film wasn’t “propaganda” was untrue:

Howard T. Owens, the chief executive of the National Geographic Channel, who joined the call, said his company had insisted on removing a scene that showed Mitt Romney appearing to oppose the raid.

That National Geographic would have to do that shows just how skewed the film must be. Just like putting the president at the center of the film, mentioning Romney at all illustrates the film’s political intent. Owens’ claim in the film’s promotional material that the president made a “terrible political decision” in ordering the action is as absurd as Obama’s own statement in the last presidential debate that seemed to indicate that he thought doing so might have been unpopular. In fact, nothing could have been more popular or more likely to have the support of the entire American people. The idea that the president showed “courage” in going ahead and doing something for which he receive unanimous applause is nothing more than politically inspired hogwash.

Ironically, the White House has been on the hot seat for aiding a different bin Laden film. The movie on the subject being produced by the same people who came up with “The Hurt Locker” — Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal — was allegedly given access to classified information by the administration in what was another attempt to bolster the president’s reputation. But the Weinstein film, though a cable TV release rather than one that will be shown in theaters, will have the advantage of being the first one to gain a national audience.

Nothing that airs on National Geographic will change the outcome of the election. Yet the willingness of the entertainment industry to bolster the Obama campaign in this manner does make their bias crystal clear. The notion that the president did something heroic in authorizing the mission is nothing more than a political myth that no amount of Hollywood puffery will make true. But it is unfortunate that the desire to make Obama the star will inevitably mean less credit is given to the SEALs who put their lives on the line.

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Bin Laden Film By Obama Bundler to Air Days Before Election

This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

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This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

An attempt to sway the election by reminding the public of Obama’s gutsy call? Doubtful. It’s premiering on National Geographic on a Sunday, so the extent of its influence is probably pretty low. As The Atlantic notes, the National Geographic Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which isn’t a company you’d expect to be behind a stealthy Hollywood scheme to boost Obama’s reelection chances. It actually wouldn’t be surprising if the channel floated this “controversy” itself to get more attention for the film, which few people probably heard of before today.

The trailer for the movie is here. While there are a few lines that may make your eyes roll (i.e., “The President of the United States is going to be staking his presidency on this call!”), for the most part it seems to be focused on the SEALs who carried out the raid, which is a good thing.

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