Besides Torture, What Else Did ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Get Wrong?

(NYTimes) In the controversy over “Zero Dark Thirty’s” stance on torture, earlier questions have been pushed aside. But in Pacific Standard magazine, Nada Bakos, a former C.I.A. operative, investigates the accuracy of the Kathryn Bigelow film on other counts.

First, Ms. Bakos, a former targeting officer, just like Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, in “Zero Dark Thirty,” notes that were it not for the assignment to write about it, she might not have seen the film. “People who work in intelligence don’t generally see movies about it,” she writes. “You can enjoy them only once you’ve been out of the game for a while, and then only if you don’t take it too seriously. I watch ‘Homeland.’ It’s fun, because it’s a fantasy.”

“Zero Dark Thirty,” on the other hand, is not fantasy, but, Ms. Bakos says, “it’s not accurate enough to resonate with my experiences.” She knew women like Maya, but objected to her portrayal as a lone gun, a Clint Eastwood-like cowboy.

“More often than not, effective intelligence — including the effort to find Osama bin Laden — is the result of sustained, collective efforts that spark moments of intuition among a pool of experts and processes, not individual hunches that compel monumental effort,” she writes. Yes, of course, it’s just a movie, but Ms. Bakos worries that the film gives the wrong perception of her field and her colleagues, including that they were unemotional or callous.

“Instead of treating the movie as a depiction of reality, I hope we treat it as a point of departure,” she writes. “We should be asking questions like, ‘What should our expectation be of our national security apparatus, especially in terms of how it conducts itself in a time of war?’ Or, ‘How might we re-imagine or rebuild our counterterrorism strategy so that it better balances individual rights and reasonable precautions moving forward?’”

“The reality of the profession,” she adds, “is long hours of menial work that don’t often fit into standard narratives. You make the best choices you can, about very serious matters, with imperfect information. You live with those choices for the rest of your life.”