The documents about CIA dealings with the film now titled "Zero Dark Thirty" were "inadvertently overlooked" in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit filed by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, Justice Department attorneys said in a motion filed in federal court in Washington Tuesday afternoon (posted here).
"The CIA discovered a 4 to 5 inch stack of records potentially responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request that had been inadvertently overlooked during the CIA’s search," Civil Division attorney Marcia Berman wrote. "The CIA is continuing to look into the circumstances of the discovery of the new documents to ensure the adequacy of its search."
A CIA spokesman said the agency does not comment on matters in litigation.
The discovery of the additional records, which are being processed but were not immediately released, could fuel Republicans' attacks on what they say is the Obama Administration's pattern of using national-security information to burnish President Barack Obama's reputation and his re-election standing. Likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney hit that theme hard on Tuesday in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field,” Romney said. “Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished. The time for stonewalling is over.”
Obama has forcefully denied that White House officials deliberately leaked classified national security information, though the administration did declassify some information related to ot obtained in the May 2011 raid.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said he was deeply suspicious about the revelation.
"These documents were supposed to be turned over to us two months ago under a federal court order," Fitton said. "This new 'discovery' and resulting delay stinks to high heaven – maybe an independent criminal leak investigation can look into this issue, too."
A political firestorm over leaks broke out in May of this year in part due to documents the CIA and Pentagon released about their contacts with "Zero Dark Thirty" filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal.
The records, obtained through the Judicial Watch suit, showed that even as top Pentagon officials were complaining that too much information was being disclosed about the raid that killed bin Laden, a senior DoD official promised the filmmakers a Navy SEAL team contact who could offers details about the raid.
Boal called the offer "dynamite," but the Pentagon said later that the promised liaison effort never took place.
CIA documents showed that Boal was given a tour of a mock-up used to plan the raid on the compound in Pakistan, but a CIA spokeswoman said in an internal e-mail that the agency's contacts with the filmmakers should be kept "a bit quiet" due to "sensitivities" about the selective nature of such access.
Bigelow and Boal are best known for "The Hurt Locker," a 2008 film about a US military team that defused bombs during the Iraq War.
The bin Laden raid movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," had originally been due out from Sony in October. However, after critics complained that it was a thinly-disguised effort to boost Obama's re-election chances, the studio moved the release date to December 19.
While Berman initially described the newly-discovered stack of documents as "potentially responsive," she later says CIA determined that the records "are responsive...but contain some duplicates of previously-processed records." About 30 new documents are in the stack, she said.
The government has asked U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras to give it until August 24 to turn over releasable documents to Judicial Watch. The CIA may well determine that some of the documents or portions thereof are exempt from disclosure under FOIA—a decision Contreras is likely to ultimately rule upon.