Skip Links

CIA whacks at Hollywood spy agency myths

CIA says it may have cool spy tools that even James Bond would be proud to use but real CIA is quite different

By Layer 8 on Wed, 01/02/13 - 12:08pm.

The CIA had a few problems with the agency's portrayal in the recently released "Zero Dark Thirty" movie about the successful hunt for Usama Bin Ladin, so much so the acting director issued a statement about the film and the organization wrote up an interesting top "Hollywood Myths vs. the Real CIA" list.  

First on the movie, acting CIA director Michael Morell in part, wrote: " I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film, but I think it important to put "Zero Dark Thirty," which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context.  What I want you to know is that "Zero Dark Thirty" is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts.  CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product."

RELATED: From Doomsday to James Bond to NASA's last mainframe: The year in hot Layer 8 blog posts

He highlighted a number of issues including:  

  • The hunt for Usama Bin Ladin was a decade-long effort that depended on the selfless commitment of hundreds of officers. The filmmakers attributed the actions of our entire Agency-and the broader Intelligence Community-to just a few individuals. This may make for more compelling entertainment, but it does not reflect the facts. The success of the May 1st 2011 operation was a team effort-and a very large team at that.
  • Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.

So beyond Morell's comments, the agency  set about to dispel what it called Hollywood Myths vs. the Real CIA. "While the CIA may have cool spy tools that even James Bond would be proud to use, such as a robot fish that samples water and insect-sized listening devices, the CIA is a lot different than Hollywood portrays it to be."

NEWS: The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2012

Indeed.  The list reads as follows:

Myth: Everyone at the CIA is a spy.

Reality: The case officers commonly depicted in Hollywood are just one specialized occupation in the CIA. These officers recruit people in foreign countries who have access to valuable information (spies), but the officers themselves are not spies. To carry out its mission of collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence, the Agency has a diverse workforce that includes analysts, case officers, support staff and technology experts. This breadth of expertise is one of many things that make the CIA unique.