The conservative group Judicial Watch today urged a judge in Washington to force the public disclosure of the names of five intelligence and military officials who participated in the planning of the raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. Justice Department has said the government didn't waive keeping the names of the officers confidential after the information was provided to director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for a film about the hunt for bin Laden.
Judicial Watch lawyers said in their court filing today that "the government cannot have it both ways in this case. If this information were very sensitive, it would not have been shared with the filmmakers."
"The public has a high interest in any information which could shed more light on the possibility of wrongdoing in the government’s decisions to disclose allegedly sensitive information about the raid that killed bin Laden," Judicial Watch's Chris Fedeli wrote in the papers filed this afternoon in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The government, Fedeli said, "chose to share these names with Hollywood filmmakers—individuals without security clearances—who were interested in producing a realistic yet fictionalized movie about recent events."
Any interest of the government in assisting "a private venture effort to make a more realistic film about the killing of bin Laden," Fedeli argued, didn't justify any risk to national security.
Fedeli said the government should not be allowed to keep information secret after having selectively shared it with "individual industry participants"—compared with a situation in which the government provided the same details to a wider audience.
"The case at bar would therefore be analogous to a hypothetical case where the government shared new engine technology with Ford but not Chrysler, and then tried to exempt that information from FOIA," he wrote.
Marcia Berman, senior trial counsel in the Civil Division's federal programs branch, said in a court filing in September that the government withheld the full names and pseudonyms of CIA and Defense Department personnel who met with the filmmakers.
DOJ lawyers said the government didn't share classified information with Bigelow or Boal.
"All of the names at issue in this case are of individual CIA or DoD personnel who played a role in the planning for the Osama bin Laden raid, and some are undercover," Berman wrote in court papers. "By virtue of their involvement in this highly sensitive mission, these individuals have a strong privacy interest in their names and identities, which would be threatened if their names (even the first names of undercover officers) were revealed."
The CIA and Defense Department provided the names to the filmmakers for the “limited purpose of facilitating the filmmakers’ meetings with the individuals,” Berman said. The government, Berman said, didn’t permit Bigelow or Boal to publicly disclose the names they were provided.
The limited release of the names, Berman wrote, "does not make the information 'truly public' under the public domain doctrine."
Judicial Watch attorneys said today that "the government demonstrated a lack of concern about the future dissemination of information that it now claims is highly sensitive."
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, who was confirmed to the federal bench in March, set a timeline for the case that takes it through at least the middle of December.