How the FBI Spied on and Rewrote the Torture Thriller Unthinkable

Unthinkable
Published April 24th 2019 | Tags: , , , , , ,

The 2010 thriller Unthinkable courted controversy by depicting the torture of a suspected terrorist who claims to have planted nuclear bombs in three US cities.  Despite a strong cast including Samuel L Jackson, Carrie-Ann Moss and Stephen Root it was released direct-to-video and lost money.  Recently released documents show that the FBI were made aware of the production by an informer within the entertainment industry, and that they rewrote parts of the script in exchange for minimal production assistance.

The producers of Unthinkable first approached the FBI in early 2007, asking for a tour of the Baltimore field office for research purposes.  But the FBI were already aware of the film – their database of requests from the entertainment industry includes an entry from late 2006 when someone – apparently an informer – told them of the politically controversial nature of the script.

Unthinkable movie script, as described by ███ ██████ over the telephone to EJP appeared to show FBI agents taking part in an illegal torture to elicit a confession, and other questionable activities.

The FBI reviewed the script and had numerous conversations with the writers to provide feedback and request changes.  Internal documents I obtained under FOIA include an email that explicitly describes what was changed at the Bureau’s request:

We’ve met with them twice, and the writer is hard at work making changes to reflect our commitment and integrity with respect to the oath we took to uphold and defend the Constitution and civil rights, and the compromising position their female character is placed. They are also re-working a scene on the front end where their principle male character/interrogator, kills two agents who attempt to execute a warrant at his residence, and we are asked to turn a blind eye and sweep it under the carpet because he is a highly sensitive government asset. They’ve been impressed that this would not happen and the killing of two agents would not be “swept under the carpet”.

As the exact same time as the FBI were reviewing the script – early 2007 – they were also helping to whitewash the CIA’s torture program.  The FBI interrogated victims of torture at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, and while their agents did not participate in the torture they did interrogate people who had been repeatedly tortured for long periods of time.

FBI memos that emerged during pre-trial hearings in the prosecution of five Guantanamo detainees for their alleged role in the 9/11 attacks explicitly state that:

In light of the widely publicized abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq, this [memo] reiterates and memorializes existing FBI policy with regard to the interrogation of prisoners, detainees, or persons under United States control (collectively “detainees”). These guidelines serve as a reminder of existing FBI policy that has consistently provided that FBI personnel may not obtain statements during interrogations by the use of force, threats, physical abuse, threats of such abuse or severe physical conditions…

…FBI personnel shall not participate in any treatment or use any interrogation technique that is in violation of these guidelines.

As observed by The Nation:

The FBI was the government’s solution to the conundrum of how to elicit incriminating statements from people who had been disappeared and tortured for years. The January 2007 memo lays out the procedures for clean teams to interview people recently transferred from black sites. The memo instructs the agents: “No statement made by a detainee while that detainee was in the custody of an intelligence agency, or any evidence obtained as a result of such statement will be used in an interview unless approved in advance by the assigned prosecutor and the appropriate intelligence agencies”…

…The implications of this rhetoric depend on two presumptions: that the FBI was institutionally separate from the CIA and had not dirtied its hands by colluding in torture, and that time itself could be separated between torture time and post-torture time. Thus, the FBI was tasked not just with producing clean evidence but also with assisting in the whitewashing of the present as post-torture time.

Was the FBI’s rewrite of Unthinkable part of this whitewashing?  The timing strongly suggests that it was.

Documents

FBI – Database of requests from entertainment industry c. 2005 to 2014

FBI – Documents on support to Unthinkable

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