Upcoming film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ claims that Bin Laden might not have been found if not for a young female CIA analyst
She devoted the best part of a decade to finding the terrorist
According to colleagues, she was one of the first to advance the theory that the key to finding Bin Laden was in Al Qaeda’s courier network
CIA agents were envious of the glamorous treatment given to the real-lief tenacious operative who tracked Osama bin Laden for the better part of a decade, it was revealed today.
Hollywood starlet Jessica Chastain plays the undercover analyst known as Maya, the woman who eventually finds the location of the then al-Qaeda leader. She is portrayed in a glamorous light – with wardrobes full of designer clothes and an enviable figure.
But the real-life ‘Maya’ didn’t have it as easy as the strawberry-blonde Chastain; despite being one of the key people responsible for bin Laden’s demise, Maya was passed over for a promotion.
Jealousy? Robert Baer, left, said that the CIA was and continues to be a boy’s club, left, Valerie Plame, a former CIA officer herself said that she’d love to get a drink with the real-life ‘Maya’
Former CIA operative Bob Baer told the ‘TODAY’ show that it was unsurprising that the female CIA operative was looked over for a promotion that would have given her an additional $16,000 per annum. ‘It’s an old-boy network,’ he explained.
‘You don’t know why people are promoted, why people are held back, and often people think the worst.’
Valerie Plame, a CIA officer whose identity was leaked, told the show that she admired the operative’s moxy. ‘I’d love to have a drink with her one day,’ she said.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius told the ‘TODAY’ show that the response from the CIA was not unusual, saying that operatives are often ‘quite contrary,’
The reality of America’s battle against terrorism couldn’t have been more different to the glamorized, politically-correct fiction of Homeland, the hit TV show in which Claire Danes plays a beautiful CIA agent who spots the Al Qaeda plot which her misguided male colleagues have missed.
CIA supersleuth: A attractive young female CIA agent, played by Jessica Chastain in the film Zero Dark Thirty, spent the best part of a decade to finding Bin Laden and became the SEALs’ go-to expert on intelligence matters about their target
The world’s most dangerous terror group foiled by a killer blonde in Calvin Klein who wars with her superiors? Only in Hollywood’s dreams, surely.
But, astonishingly, it has now emerged that truth may indeed be as strange as fiction. According to Zero Dark Thirty, a forthcoming film about the hunt for Bin Laden — whose makers were given top-level access to those involved — he might never have been found if it hadn’t been for an attractive young female CIA agent every bit as troublesome as Homeland’s Carrie Mathison.
CIA insiders have confirmed claims by the film’s director Kathryn Bigelow that she is entirely justified in focusing on the role played by a junior female CIA analyst, named Maya in the film and played by Jessica Chastain. And just as in Homeland, the real agent has been snubbed by superiors and fallen out with colleagues since the Bin Laden raid in May last year.
But who is this CIA supersleuth? Although the woman is still undercover and has never been identified, Zero Dark Thirty’s emphasis on Maya’s importance tallies with the account of a U.S. Navy SEAL involved in the raid who later wrote about it in a book.
Bin Laden hunt: A very different side of the agent was seen days after Bin Laden’s body was brought back. She even started crying
Matt Bissonnette writes in No Easy Day of flying out to Afghanistan before the raid with a CIA analyst he called ‘Jen’ who was ‘wicked smart, kind of feisty’ and liked to wear expensive high heels.
She had devoted the best part of a decade to finding Bin Laden and had become the SEALs’ go-to expert on intelligence matters about their target, he said.
And while her colleagues were only 60 per cent sure their quarry was in the compound in Abbottabad, she told the SEAL she was 100 per cent certain.
‘I can’t give her enough credit, I mean, she, in my opinion, she kind of teed up this whole thing,’ Bissonnette said later.
The commando saw a very different side of her days later when they brought Bin Laden’s body back to their Afghan hangar. Having previously told Bissonnette she didn’t want to see the body, ‘Jen’ stayed at the back of the crowd as they unzipped the terrorist’s body bag.
She ‘looked pale and stressed’ and started crying. ‘A couple of the SEALs put their arms around her and walked her over to the edge of the group to look at the body,’ wrote Bissonnette. ‘She didn’t say anything . . . with tears rolling down her cheeks, I could tell it was taking a while for Jen to process.
She’d spent half a decade tracking this man. And now there he was at her feet.’
Jen’s role in the operation passed largely unremarked when Bissonnette’s book came out but now the new film — which is released in the UK in January — has confirmed his estimation of her importance.
Although she remains active as a CIA analyst, it is believed Mark Boal, Bigelow’s screenwriter, was allowed to interview her at length. It has emerged that she is in her 30s and joined the CIA after leaving college and before the 9/11 attacks turned American security upside down.
On target: The agent was one of the first to advance the theory that the key to finding Bin Laden lay in Al Qaeda’s courier network which led to his compound (pictured is the attack scene in the movie)
According to the Washington Post, she worked in the CIA’s station in Islamabad, Pakistan, as a ‘targeter’, a role which involves finding people to recruit as spies or to obliterate in drone attacks.
But CIA insiders say she worked almost solely on finding Bin Laden for a decade. She was still in Pakistan when the hunt heated up after Barack Obama became President in 2008 and ordered a renewed effort to find him.
According to colleagues, the female agent was one of the first to advance the theory — apparently against the views of other CIA staff — that the key to finding Bin Laden lay in Al Qaeda’s courier network.
The agency was convinced Bin Laden, who never used the phone, managed to communicate with his disparate organisation without revealing his whereabouts by passing hand-delivered messages to trusted couriers.
The agent spent years pursuing the courier angle, and it was a hunch that proved spectacularly correct when the U.S. uncovered a courier known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and tracked him back to a compound in the sleepy Pakistan town of Abbottabad.
Fiesty: Jessica Chastain as agent Maya in Zero Dark Thirty about the hunt for Bin Laden
It was a stunning success for the dedicated agent, though she hardly endeared herself to her colleagues in the process.
As one might expect of a woman working in the largely male world of intelligence, colleagues stress she is no shrinking violet but a prickly workaholic with a reputation for clashing with anyone — even senior intelligence chiefs — who disagreed with her.
‘She’s not Miss Congeniality, but that’s not going to find Osama Bin Laden,’ a former colleague told the Washington Post.
Another added: ‘Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks? If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone.’
In the film, Maya is portrayed as a loner who has a ‘her-against-the-world’ attitude and pummels superiors into submission by sheer force of will. CIA colleagues say the film’s depiction of her is spot-on.
If this is the case, then she shows little of the feminine tenderness that serves Carrie Mathison so well in Homeland and which Hollywood usually uses to soften female protagonists like Maya.
Instead, the film shows her happily colluding in the torture by waterboarding of an Al Qaeda suspect.
And Navy SEAL Bissonnette reported how she had told him she wasn’t in favour of storming the Bin Laden compound but preferred to ‘just push the easy button and bomb it’. Given that the bombing option would almost certainly have killed the women and children the CIA knew were inside, her comment suggests a cold indifference to ‘civilian’ casualties.
But then the real female agent is hardly your archetypal film heroine. She has reportedly been passed over for promotion since the Bin Laden raid, perhaps adding to her sense of grievance.
Although she was among a handful of CIA staff rewarded over the operation with the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the agency’s highest honour, dozens of other colleagues were given lesser gongs.
Fellow staff say this prompted her anger to boil over: she hit ‘reply all’ to an email announcing the awards and added her own message which — according to one — effectively said: ‘You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.’
Although colleagues say the intense attention she received from the film-makers has made many of them jealous, they are shocked she was passed over for promotion and merely given a cash bonus for her Bin Laden triumph.
Glamorised fiction: The reality of America’s battle against terrorism couldn’t have been more different to the politically-correct hit TV show Homeland, in which Claire Danes plays a beautiful CIA agent who spots the Al Qaeda plot which her misguided colleagues missed
She has also been moved within the CIA, reassigned to a new counter-terrorism role.
By Tom Leonard
PUBLISHED: 23:54 GMT, 13 December 2012 | UPDATED: 23:54 GMT, 13 December 2012
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