On Friday, March 29, a unique opportunity came to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott Campus. Two faculty members of the Global Security and Intelligence Studies program, Dr. Phil Jones and Professor Deanna Austin, gave a short presentation, followed by a question and answer session regarding how realistic they thought that the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” was by comparison to what they believe happened.

Dr. Jones began by emphasizing that the torture shown was over-dramatized, and that the information concerning the location of the courier did not result from waterboarding. He also stressed that the FBI originally handled interviews (and he stressed that they were interviews) and that the CIA really was not in the interrogation/interview business until much later in the process. Once the CIA began waterboarding, purportedly the FBI pulled out, not willing to be implicated in the activity. Dr. Jones closed by praising the helicopter pilots, due to the hazards involved not only in the mission, but simply reaching the objective.

Professor Austin opened by defining interviewing as opposed to interrogation, again stressing that interviewing could, at some point in time, become interrogation. She devoted the rest of her time to debunking some of the myths of the movie, such as the Navy SEALS behavior, CIA Black Sites, and the vaccinations given to the people of Abbottabad. In terms of the SEALS, they were very “Hollywoodized”, specifically in the movie referring to the fact that the soldiers were yelling orders and whispering things like “Osama, Osama!” In reality, the SEALS are silent in combat, relying on hand signals and mic keys to denote things. Professor Austin summarized a report from the CIA Inspector General, which discussed that the CIA black sites for enhanced interrogation, and the techniques used were, “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented.” However, it is still thought there were around 50 black sites in 28 countries.  Also, the movie talks about giving polio vaccinations to acquire a DNA sample from the suspects, but in reality it was Hepatitis B vaccines. No one is sure is why it was changed.

Finally, both Professors discussed the hunt for Bin Laden, specifically how it started in the early 1990s, tracking a man that was founding a group called Al Qaeda, as opposed to 2001 as the movie portrays it. They also discussed that Maya, the main character of the film, could not exist, and that she is likely an aggregate of 100 or more people, based on the amount of work that she did. Finally, they debunked the idea that the courier angle was the only avenue that was being pursued to find Bin Laden, identifying three other means that were engaged, namely his family members, communications channels, and a media outreach.

The professors were incredibly informative and very happy to share and answer questions, highlighting little known facts that varied from the movie rendition. Overall, it was quite enlightening, especially since the presentation was followed by the film, allowing the students to form their own opinions about it.


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