CIA helped produce an episode of “Top Chef”—as well as “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” documentaries for BBC and History Channel (and more)

The CIA Helped Produce an Episode of ‘Top Chef’

By Jason Leopold

What do the movies Argo and Zero Dark Thirty have in common with the novel The Devil’s Light by Richard North Patterson; Bravo’s Top Chef Covert Cuisine; the USA Network cable series Covert Affairs; the History Channel documentary Air America: The CIA’s Secret Airline;and the BBC documentary The Secret War on Terror?

They all received “support” from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA), the division that interacts with journalists and acts as the liaison with the entertainment industry.

But the exact nature and extent of what the OPA did while working on Patterson’s book and the two documentaries is unknown because the CIA does not have a record of its meetings with Patterson and the documentarians. Furthermore, the CIA has only limited records about its work on the five other projects, according to a declassified December 31, 2012 CIA inspector general’s audit of the agency’s dealings with the entertainment industry obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

The audit said “OPA and other CIA employees did not always comply with Agency regulations intended to prevent the release of classified information during their interactions with entertainment industry representatives.”

A version of the 20-page audit was released last September to the conservative group Judicial Watch and later to the National Security Archive in response to their open records requests. But the eight entertainment projects the CIA worked on were redacted, as were footnotes that stated the specific regulations for dealing with the media that CIA officials violated when working on at least one of the projects. That portion of the audit, however, was unredacted in the version turned over to VICE News this week.

Other than Zero Dark Thirty, the entertainment projects with which the CIA was involved over the past decade had not been previously revealed, although it was assumed that the Oscar-winning movie Argo received production assistance from the agency since it’s based on a covert CIA operation. The audit reviewed a sample of eight projects out of 22 the CIA had supported between 2006 and 2011. One of the eight, a book, was redacted on national security grounds. The CIA won’t reveal the other 14 projects it has supported. (The agency receives multiple requests to support entertainment projects every week.)

On the CIA’s website, the agency says its entertainment industry liaison helps producers, screenwriters, directors, and authors “gain a better understanding of [CIA’s] intelligence mission.”

“Our goal is an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, and the skill, innovation, daring, and commitment to public service that defines them. If you are part of the entertainment industry, and are working on a project that deals with the CIA, the Agency may be able to help you. We are in a position to give greater authenticity to scripts, stories, and other products in development.”

The entertainment industry liaison also offers up recommendations to inspire authors and filmmakers. The CIA’s current recommendation is “The Vilification and Vindication of Colonel Kuklinski,” a Polish colonel who spied for NATO.

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