I know it’s fashionable in some political circles to slam Hollywood at every opportunity. But al-Qaida expert Lawrence Wright says America owes a debt of gratitude to screenwriters who helped the CIA imagine Osama Bin Laden scenarios after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s right — screenwriters. Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross interviewed Wright because of his 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11, his one-man play turned 2010 HBO film My Trip To Al-Qaida. But Wright also wrote the 1998 movie The Siege, directed by Ed Zwick, about a secret U.S. abduction of a suspected terrorist and how it leads to a wave of terrorist attacks in New York. Though a box office failure, Wright has claimed it was “the most-rented movie in America after 9/11.” It also drew the attention of the CIA, relevant this week because of the pundit debate over whether the U.S. should have taken Bin Laden dead or alive:
GROSS: How did the reality of [Bin Laden’s] demise compare with some of the scenarios you’d imagined?
WRIGHT: Actually, Terry, I think it was in 2006, the CIA came to me to write a scenario, in their words, about what would we do if we got Bin Laden because this has been a subject of concern within the intelligence community. What if we did get him? How would we treat him? Where would we take him? Would it be better to take him alive or dead? And because I had written this movie, The Siege, and Hollywood had done a somewhat better job of connecting the dots about terrorism and the threat to America than the intelligence community. The CIA was reaching out to screenwriters, such as I had done, and I said: ‘Well, you know, I’m a reporter. I can’t go writing screenplays for the CIA. But I’ll tell you in the form of an op-ed for The New York Times what I think if we were able to catch bin Laden.’
Wright’s remarks also recall that October 2001 meeting between a group of two dozen Hollywood writers and directors asked to brainstorm with Pentagon advisers and officials over a three-day period about what could happen next following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Clearly that dialogue between the U.S. government and Hollywood continued long after …