Shockingly the CIA agent critical to finding bin Laden was not Miss Congeniality

Sandra Bullock in Miss CongenialityThe CIA operative featured in Zero Dark Thirty, which has already claimed numerous critics awards ahead of its opening on Dec. 19, was apparently not that popular in the CIA.

Portrayed by Jessica Chastian in the film, the operative, still undercover on another counterterrorism mission, is widely recognized as the key strategist in locating Osama bin Laden. She was awarded the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal for her work, the highest honor given in the CIA outside of those who have come under direct fire in the line of duty. But she was denied a promotion and a raise that, according to the Washington Post, “many in the CIA thought would be impossible to withhold from someone who played such a key role in one of the most successful operations in agency history.”

But apparently the CIA is composed of “middle-schoolers with clearances,” so what’s more important than her badassery in bringing down a terrorist that eluded the U.S. government for a decade? Her unlikeability.

“She’s not Miss Congeniality, but that’s not going to find Osama bin Laden,” said a former CIA associate, who added that the attention from filmmakers sent waves of envy through the agency’s ranks.

Yes, a CIA colleague is comparing an actual lauded undercover CIA operative with a fictional FBI agent Sandra Bullock character who learns to be a beauty queen and crushes on Benjamin Bratt. (For the record, I am not technically opposed to anything involving Benjamin Bratt.) 

Which gets us back to our own Jessica Valenti’s treatise on likeability. Is it true, then, that she who has the most likes wins? There’s no doubt that the operative sounds like an egomaniac, clashing with peers and superiors and claiming that nobody else but her deserved recognition for the bin Laden capture. But since when is being an egomaniac a disqualifier for career advancement? Particularly in the CIA?

“Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?” [a] former [CIA] official said. “If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone.”

But they probably weren’t expected to wear high heels and be taught to walk by Michael Caine, either.

Join the Conversation