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View from US: Zero dark thirty

October 26, 2012

Soon after we learnt that Hollywood had dived into the ‘lights, camera, action’ mode, a month after the Abbotabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, I tried giving a heads-up to our government, warning the movie will likely show us as idiots who failed to notice OBL’s presence in Pakistan. Instead, how about beating Columbia Pictures to it and presenting an action thriller of our own. Obviously, my crying ‘wolf’ fell on deaf ears.

December 19 sees the release of Zero Dark Thirty in theatres across America. The movie is being billed as the ‘the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man.’ How will Pakistan react? More importantly, how will our military and the ISI react? Not well, I guess. The movie, 19 months after the Abbotabad raid will be an awkward reminder to GHQ and Aabpara of their colossal intelligence failure to smoke out Bin Laden.

When we watch the two-hour action chiller, Obama may or may not be the next president of the US. Titled after the US military code-name for 12.30 (midnight, the time of the raid), the movie will however be an ever-lasting testament to Obama administration’s greatest hour.

If you remember, the Abbotabad ‘Zero-Hour’ raiders’ biggest scoop was a cell phone that they picked up after shooting dead OBL and his courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti .The cell phone, after arriving in America was handed over to the CIA. Once the conversations were deciphered, the news was leaked to the New York Times. It carried a full-page story about the clandestine meetings/tele-chats between members of a banned jihadi group and Bin Laden. The NYT story also alleged Pakistani intelligence agencies overheard conversing with the jihadi gang.

Hillary Clinton reacted sharply by warning Pakistan that US aid henceforth would come with strings attached, meaning the secretary of state will husband our accounts. To put it simply, Clinton’s threat meant that in future there will be no free lunches for the military, nor will the civilian government be allowed to fritter away American money on non-essential items like eight-course dinner parties, designer suits and junkets abroad with the extended family and toadies.

If only the ISPR, the information wing of the army in Pindi, had passed on the seized secret data of the Black Hawk down to a Pakistani scriptwriter and whizzed in a filming crew to roll it before handing the tail of the helicopter back to Pentagon, we could have beaten the CIA.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Instead, we allowed every ‘Tom, Dick or Jane’ foreign correspondent to rummage through OBL’s home, click photos as many times they wished, talk to locals and then write copious reports for their organisations back home. In America, post OBL, we were bombed by trivia including an allegation that porn tapes had been recovered from his home.

Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst was one of the lucky many that got access to ‘previously unreleased letters written by bin Laden to his deputies and allies.’ If only ISPR had handed this sensitive material to one of their own – a Pakistani.

So now we are duly informed courtesy UK’s Daily Mail that Mark Boal, the screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty was the favoured one. Boal is said to have allegedly been given “unprecedented access by the Obama administration to intelligence figures to help ensure the accuracy of the film,” allowing him to “make ‘deep dives’ into sensitive information to shape the script as intelligence officials developed a back-slapping and chummy relationship with him.”

Remember, the Americans were worried crazy that the Pakistan army may hand over the remains of the downed Black Hawk along with its intact secret stealth technology to the Chinese. The makers of Zero Dark Thirty were provided live footage of this helicopter that the Navy SEALS put on fire thinking they had destroyed it completely. The trailer of the movie shows the helicopter burning, further testifying to the fact that the CIA was happy to hand over sensitive stuff to the movie makers in the hope of showing the world America won and Pakistan lost.

“Indeed, it has been claimed that the Obama administration gave its full backing to the official film version of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden in apparent attempt to give the President a pre-election boost,” says the Daily Mail. Email exchanges between the film’s director Kathryn Bigelow “show that as far back as June last year the CIA thought Zero Dark Thirty would be a ‘winning horse’ and gave classified briefings to director.”

We are told that the central role in staking out OBL was played by Leon Panetta, the current Secretary of Defence, who was head of the CIA when bin Laden was found and killed. The day the deed was done, that evening we watched President Obama whisper inaudibly to Panetta while leaving the White House Correspondents dinner. Only Panetta knew what the president meant, the rest of us just wondered what the secret exchange was.

The new trailer for the film carries a teaser pointing to a ‘wicked smart’ woman who is the real heroine, not the SEAL Team Six. The unnamed woman is a CIA agent who “helped coordinate the mission that brought bin Laden down.” Jessica Chastain plays the part in the movie. The CIA female agent spent 10 years tracking down OBL and finally succeeded.

I wonder if the movie will feature Dr. Afridi? How much credit will Shakeel Afridi get for actually leading CIA to OBL’s house is the big question. America calls him a hero; Pakistan calls him a traitor. How close was Afridi to his female colleague, the unnamed American CIA agent who the movie supposedly crowns as the lynchpin of the operation?

Apparently, the jailed Dr Afridi has merrily been giving interviews to foreign media outlets via a phone he had in his Peshawar Central Jail cell. He spoke with Fox News last month, saying, he helped the CIA track bin Laden because he loves America.

Afridi further told Fox News that he tried convincing his ISI captors that America was Pakistan’s friend. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter — billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies.’”

Who plays the part of Dr Afridi in the movie? Have the filmmakers made some eliminations in the script?