Jeffrey H. Smith

By Lake, Eli | Newsweek, January 25, 2013 | Go to article overview

Jeffrey H. Smith


Lake, Eli, Newsweek


Byline: Eli Lake

Legal counsel to Zero Dark Thirty.

In recent months, Mark Boal, author of the screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty, has had a very Washington kind of problem: the script he wrote keeps drawing seemingly hostile scrutiny from Capitol Hill. First, it was Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who last summer wanted to know why Boal had received such extraordinary access to the CIA and the Pentagon as he was researching the script--and whether the spies, special operators, and government officials who granted that access had disclosed any state secrets. Then, last month, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain wrote a letter to Sony Pictures, urging the studio to correct the misimpression "that the CIA's use of coercive interrogation techniques led to the operation against Usama bin Laden."

Faced with this very Washington kind of problem, Boal opted for a very Washington kind of solution: he retained the services of Jeffrey H. Smith. A lawyer in private practice, Smith is not a household name. But having made a career of tackling some of the most sensitive tasks inside the national-security apparatus, he is an extraordinarily well-connected Washington insider--and someone who, time and again over the course of several decades, has been entrusted with the city's darkest secrets.

Raised in a small town in Iowa, Smith attended West Point and went on to join the State Department as a junior lawyer in the 1970s. There, he worked with the Church Committee, which investigated the CIA's Cold War exploits, and later became involved in arranging spy swaps. In the mid-1980s, he negotiated for the release of Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Soviet dissident. (Smith recalls meeting Wolfgang Vogel, an East German lawyer, in the bar of the Hyatt Hotel on Capitol Hill in order to talk about releasing Sharansky. The name of the bar was the Spy's Eye. "Vogel was staying there," Smith remembers. "He said he would meet me in the bar, and neither of us appreciated the irony of the meeting place until we got there. We had a chuckle, a good Scotch, and got down to business.")

Smith moved in and out of government over the years--in 1992 he led President-elect Clinton's Defense Department transition team, and in 1995 and 1996 he served as CIA general counsel--but all the while, he burnished his reputation as someone who could be confided in.

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