The Slatest

One of the Women Used to Create Zero Dark Thirty Character Was Key Architect of Torture Program

Actress Jessica Chastain played Maya, a character based on several CIA employees, one of whom was a key architect of the torture program.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Senate report on torture released last week does not identify her, but there was one top al-Qaida expert who comes up time and again as a “key architect” of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” and as someone who repeatedly misrepresented the effectiveness of torture in gathering important information, according to NBC News’ Matthew Cole. The woman, whom the CIA requested not be named, was one of several female employees at the agency used to create Maya, the lead character in Zero Dark Thirty. And, according to the report, wrote the “template on which future justifications for the CIA program and the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were based.”

Even though the 49-year-old senior CIA officer repeatedly made mistakes and lied, she was constantly promoted rather than sanctioned. She is now the head of the Global Jihad unit. She also participated in the torture of self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, going to such lengths that he ended up confirming things that were false and sent agents on a wild goose chase in Montana. She was also responsible for ordering the detention of someone who ended up being unrelated to al-Qaida.

Her failures apparently begin even before the Sept. 11 attacks, when a subordinate refused to share the names of two of the hijackers with the FBI before the attacks. “She should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done,” an unnamed former officer tells Cole.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer picks up on the story, noting that the expert’s role appears to at least partly explain why the CIA was so adamant that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence not use pseudonyms in its report, as is common practice. If it had done so, her role in the failures would have been evident from the beginning, and “it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable.” Mayer explains:

Readers can speculate on how the pieces fit together, and who the personalities behind this program are. But without even pseudonyms, it is exceedingly hard to connect the dots. It seems entirely possible—though, again, one can only speculate—that the CIA overcompensated for its pre-9/11 intelligence failures by employing overly harsh measures later. Once they’d made a choice that America had never officially made before—of sanctioning torture—it seems possible that they felt they had to defend its efficacy, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. If so, this would be worth learning. But without names, or even pseudonyms, it is almost impossible to piece together the puzzle, or hold anyone in the American government accountable. Evidently, that is exactly what the CIA was fighting for during its eight-month-long redaction process, behind all those closed doors.