Here’s what I know about the film’s controversial aspects: The scenes of CIA interrogation are overwrought and inaccurate; more than detainee-derived data was key in getting to Abbottabad; and the film’s star, “Maya”, was not alone in urging the agency to move.
But as often happens in art, each of these story lines has a thread of truth. CIA interrogations of more than 30 detainees were tough; the agency did derive significant intelligence from them; and “Maya” was a real heroine.
At the end of the day, though, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie. Made by Hollywood. To be dramatic. That this is being debated and that intelligence leaders are being drawn into that debate is as revealing as it should be troubling.
When I was at CIA I asked my civilian advisory board to tackle some tough questions. Among the toughest: In a political culture that every day demands more transparency and more public accountability from every aspect of national life, could American intelligence continue to survive and succeed?
That jury is still out.