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CIA operative faces obstacles in wake of Bin Laden Killing

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The operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion that 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.

She has sparred with CIA colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn't deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said.

The woman has also come under scrutiny for her contacts with filmmakers and others about the bin Laden mission, part of a broader internal inquiry into the agency's cooperation on the new movie and other projects, former officials said.

Her defenders say the operative has been treated unfairly, and even her critics acknowledge that her contributions to the bin Laden hunt were crucial. But the developments have cast a cloud over a career that is about to be bathed in the sort of cinematic glow ordinarily reserved for fictional Hollywood spies.

The female officer, who is in her 30s, is the model for the main character in "Zero Dark Thirty,"a film that chronicles the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda chief and that critics are describing as an Academy Award front-runner even before its Dec. 19 release.

The character Maya, which is not the CIA operative's real name, is portrayed as a gifted operative who spent years pursuing her conviction that al-Qaeda's courier network would lead to bin Laden, a conviction that proved correct.

At one point in the film, after a female colleague is killed in an attack on a CIA compound in Afghanistan, Maya describes her purpose in near-messianic terms: "I believe I was spared so I could finish the job."

Colleagues said the on-screen depiction captures the woman's dedication and combative temperament.

"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.

"The agency is a funny place, very insular," the former official said. "It's like middle-schoolers with clearances."

The woman is not allowed to talk to journalists, and the CIA declined to answer questions about her, except to stress that the bin Laden mission involved an extensive team. "Over the course of a decade, hundreds of analysts, operators and many others played key roles in the hunt," said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood.

Friction over mission, movie

The internal frictions are an unseemly aspect of the ongoing fallout from a mission that is otherwise regarded as one of the signal successes in CIA history.

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