Seriously? US Embassy Offering Free Tickets to Movie Exposing US Covert Ops

By Patrick Goodenough | October 29, 2013 | 7:50 PM EDT

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(Update: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that as part of “public diplomacy and outreach” the embassy in Canberra was offering tickets for “more than a half-dozen movies” showing at the festival. “We believe in freedom of speech. We’re not judging or advocating or endorsing any of the movies, but we are just simply encouraging people to participate in the film festival.” Meanwhile the embassy tweeted that its aim was “to promote diversity of U.S. film culture – from Hollywood pics to indies.”)

( – The U.S. Embassy in Canberra is offering free tickets to a screening of a new documentary about covert U.S. counter-terrorism operations, including targeted killings carried out under the Obama administration.

The Canberra International Film Festival (CIFF) has scheduled a screening on Sunday of “Dirty Wars,” an award-winning expose by The Nation national security correspondent Jeremy Scahill of clandestine U.S. intelligence and Joint Special Operations Command activity abroad.

On its Twitter account, the U.S. Embassy in the Australian capital posted a message late Tuesday saying, “Would you like FREE tickets to Blackfish or Dirty Wars at the @CIFF_Canberra this weekend? Get in touch!”

(“Blackfish” is an unrelated documentary showing at the festival, about an Orca whale. In separate messages the embassy also offered tickets to screenings of several other films, including one about former President Richard Nixon, which the embassy is sponsoring.)

“Dirty Wars” is described in the festival publicity material as an investigation which “uncovers an officially sanctioned, black-ops, assassination squad.”

“The Joint Special Operations Command is one of the most shadowy elite forces on the planet. As the team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden, they’ve already achieved notoriety but Scahill opens up the full scale of their covert operations,” it says. “He reveals that they report only to the White House, which empowers them to ‘find, fix and finish’ their targets (often without due process), and that their kill list includes U.S. citizens.”

The embassy’s offer of free tickets to the screening prompted some head-scratching – and humor – from Twitter users.

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Scahill himself tweeted, “Ha. The US embassy in Canberra, Australia is promoting @DirtyWars.”

“Wait, what? Seriously? What would be the reason, other than good PR, for the state dept. to do this?” asked one tweeter. “Priceless,” commented another.

Someone wondered whether the embassy had “gone rogue” while another tweeter predicted that “someone’s gonna get to meet the boss soon!” Yet another wondered whether someone at the embassy was “suddenly REALLY pissed at Obama & Co.”

One quipped that perhaps anyone who takes up the ticket offer will be placed on a “black list.”

The embassy has not yet responded to queries about the thinking behind the decision to promote the film by offering free tickets, or on the response it has received. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing she was not aware of the ticket offer but would look into it.

Scahill recently announced that he and Glenn Greenwald – the American former Guardian reporter who has reported widely on U.S. surveillance programs based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – were teaming up to report on the NSA’s role in “the U.S. assassination program.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow