‘Cinematic Glow’ Dim For ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Real-Life CIA Star

Washington Post: The operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion that many in the CIA thought would be impossible to withhold from someone who played such a key role in one of the most successful operations in agency history.

She has sparred with CIA colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn’t deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said.

The woman has also come under scrutiny for her contacts with filmmakers and others about the bin Laden mission, part of a broader internal inquiry into the agency’s cooperation on the new movie and other projects, former officials said.

Her defenders say the operative has been treated unfairly, and even her critics acknowledge that her contributions to the bin Laden hunt were crucial. But the developments have cast a cloud over a career that is about to be bathed in the sort of cinematic glow ordinarily reserved for fictional Hollywood spies.

The female officer, who is in her 30s, is the model for the main character in “Zero Dark Thirty,”a film that chronicles the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda chief and that critics are describing as an Academy Award front-runner even before its Dec. 19 release.

The character Maya, which is not the CIA operative’s real name, is portrayed as a gifted operative who spent years pursuing her conviction that al-Qaeda’s courier network would lead to bin Laden, a conviction that proved correct.

At one point in the film, after a female colleague is killed in an attack on a CIA compound in Afghanistan, Maya describes her purpose in near-messianic terms: “I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.”

Colleagues said the on-screen depiction captures the woman’s dedication and combative temperament.

“She’s not Miss Congeniality, but that’s not going to find Osama bin Laden,” said a former CIA associate, who added that the attention from filmmakers sent waves of envy through the agency’s ranks.

“The agency is a funny place, very insular,” the former official said. “It’s like middle-schoolers with clearances.”

The woman is not allowed to talk to journalists, and the CIA declined to answer questions about her, except to stress that the bin Laden mission involved an extensive team. “Over the course of a decade, hundreds of analysts, operators and many others played key roles in the hunt,” said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood.

The internal frictions are an unseemly aspect of the ongoing fallout from a mission that is otherwise regarded as one of the signal successes in CIA history.

The movie has been a source of controversy since it was revealed that the filmmakers — including director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal — were given extensive access to officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA.

Over the past year, she was denied a promotion that would have raised her civil service rank from GS-13 to GS-14, bringing an additional $16,000 in annual pay.

Officials said the woman was given a cash bonus for her work on the bin Laden mission and has since moved on to a new counterterrorism assignment. They declined to say why the promotion was blocked.

The move stunned the woman’s former associates, despite her reputation for clashing with colleagues.

“Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?” the former official said. “If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone.”

The targeter’s contacts with the “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers have also been examined as part of an inquiry, apparently by the CIA inspector general, into the information that agency officials shared with outsiders about the bin Laden raid.

Internal e-mails released this year under Freedom of Information Act requests showed how the agency set up repeated visits for Boal, allowing him to tour the “vault” where the raid was planned and even see a mock-up of the Abbottabad compound.

Former CIA officials said agency enthusiasm for the film has been tempered as details about it have surfaced, including the fact that the movie opens with a harrowing waterboarding scene in a secret CIA prison.

If  she’s outed — either by her own hand or by someone else — the “operative” could make the big bucks going Hollywood like Valerie Plame who did it in reverse.  Outed in 2003 then Hollywood.  Now writing spy novels:  “The idea for the books was born out of my frustration and continuing disappointment in how female C.I.A. officers are portrayed in popular culture.”  Politico.

CIA ex-spy Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson Vanity Fair 2004.

As for the controversial  “Zero Dark Thirty” opening waterboarding spectacle:

“The waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding.” The Daily Beast ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Doesn’t Promote Torture.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 @ 8:46 AM

  • Jimbotalk

    “Middle Schoolers with clearances”.
    And much bigger toys.
    Well, that’s a comforting thought.

    • http://chickaboomer.com/ Marty Davis

      I almost used that line in the headline.  What’s the Washington Post up reporting gossip above-the-fold?  Almost as bad as the NYT treatment of John and Cindy McCain, and lobbyist Vicki Iseman during 2008.

    • Rogue Male

       It’s the stone cold truth; have seen it in other, similar, organizational contexts.

    • http://chickaboomer.com/ Marty Davis

       RM:  that’s scary.

    • Rogue Male

      It manifests itself in many petty ways, but overall makes for a toxic, dysfunctional culture that can’t help but waste resources and negatively impact a nation’s national security. The allied IC agencies are all simply bureaucrats on steroids, filled with people who are not much different from run-of-the-mill civil service lifers. I blame the post-secondary educational system; it’s where all the bureaucrats, media, establishment, whatever all come from.

  • 4lsanday

    Having middle school grandkids I laughed out loud. Unfortunately it shows that even when a government operation is successful it’s still screwed up.

  • http://chickaboomer.com/ Marty Davis

    Turns out the CIA “heroine” may be a he.