The Most Important Whistleblower in American History.
When I first wrote DEEP COVER, I was called by government insiders “DEA’s Daniel Ellsberg.”
At the time I was upset and confused, mainly due to the negative image in which mainstream media had cast this heroic man.
I now wear that title as a badge of honor, in spite of knowing that whatever it is that I did pales next to the risks this man ran to adhere to his oath to protect the people of this nation and their constitution. The number of young American and Vietnamese lives he saved by hastening the end of that “war” is incalculable.
So, it was with great pleasure and gratitude that I was afforded the experience of recording a heart-to-heart conversation with this man, and presenting it to our listening audience – at a time in our history that his words are needed more than ever.
About the guest:
Daniel Ellsberg is a former American military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation who precipitated a national uproar in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. military’s account of activities during the Vietnam War, to The New York Times.
Ellsberg, the son of Jewish parents with a passion for Christian Science, grew up in Detroit and attended Cranbrook Kingswood School, then attended Harvard University, graduating with a Ph.D. in Economics in 1959 in which he described a paradox in decision theory now known as the Ellsberg paradox. He served as a company commander in the Marine Corps for two years, and then became an analyst at the RAND Corporation. A committed Cold Warrior, he served in the Pentagon in 1964 under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He then served for two years in Vietnam as a civilian in the State Department, and became convinced that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. He further believed that nearly everyone in the Defense and State Departments felt, as he did, that the United States had no realistic chance of achieving victory in Vietnam, but that political considerations prevented them from saying so publicly. McNamara and others continued to state in press interviews that victory was “just around the corner.” As the war continued to escalate, Ellsberg became deeply disillusioned.
As a Vietnam expert, Ellsberg was invited to contribute to the assemblage of classified papers regarding the execution of the Vietnam War. These documents later became collectively known as the Pentagon Papers. They revealed the knowledge, early on, that the war would not likely be won and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was admitted publicly. Further, the papers showed a deep cynicism towards the public and a disregard for the loss of life and injury suffered by soldiers and civilians.
Ellsberg knew that releasing these papers would most likely result in a conviction and sentence of many years in prison. Throughout 1970, Ellsberg covertly attempted to convince a few sympathetic Senators (among them J. William Fulbright) to release the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor, because a Senator cannot be prosecuted for anything he says on record before the Senate.
When these efforts failed, Ellsberg, with the assistance of Anthony Russo, copied them and finally leaked the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan at The New York Times. On June 12, 1971, the Times began publishing the first installment of the 7,000 page document. For 15 days, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles on the orders of the Nixon administration. However, the Supreme Court soon ordered publication to resume freely. Although the Times did not reveal Ellsberg as their source, he knew that the FBI would soon determine that he was the source of the leak. Ellsberg went underground, living secretly among like-minded people. He was not caught by the FBI, even though they were under enormous pressure from the Nixon Administration to find him.
The Nixon administration also began a campaign to discredit Ellsberg. Nixon’s plumbers broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in an attempt to find damaging information. When they failed to find Ellsberg’s file, they made plans to break into the psychiatrist’s home.
The release of these papers was politically embarrassing, not only to the incumbent Nixon Administration, but also to the previous Johnson and Kennedy Administrations. John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General, almost immediately issued a telegram to the Times ordering that it halt publication. The Times refused, and the government brought suit against it.
Although the Times eventually won the trial before the Supreme Court, an appellate court ordered that the Times temporarily halt further publication. This was not the first successful attempt by the federal government to restrain the publication of a newspaper as Lincoln illustrated during the Civil War. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to other newspapers in rapid succession, making it clear to the government that they would have to obtain injunctions against every newspaper in the country to stop the story. The right of the press to publish the papers was upheld in New York Times Co. v. U.S..
On June 28, Ellsberg publicly surrendered to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts. He was taken into custody believing he would spend the rest of his life in prison; he was charged with theft, conspiracy, and espionage.
In one of Nixon’s actions against Ellsberg, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, members of the White House Special Investigation Unit (also called the “White House Plumbers”) broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in September 1971, hoping to find information they could use to discredit him. The revelation of the break-in became part of the Watergate scandal. Due to the gross governmental misconduct, all charges against Ellsberg were eventually dropped. White House counsel Charles Colson was later prosecuted and pled no contest for obstruction of justice in the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.
Daniel Ellsberg has continued as a political activist, giving lecture tours and speaking out about current events. Recently he garnered criticism from the George W. Bush administration for praising Katharine Gun and calling on others to leak any papers that reveal deception regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Daniel Ellsberg also testified in 2004 at the conscientious objector hearing of Camilo Mejia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Pentagon Papers is a 2003 movie documenting Ellsberg’s life starting with his work for Rand Corp and ending with the day on which the judge declared his espionage trial a mistrial.
In 2004, Ellsberg signed the 9/11 Truth Statement along with 99 other prominent Americans and 40 family members of victims killed in the attacks of September 11th. Oddly enough, both Dan Ellsberg AND Michael Levine are signatories to that statement. The statement is a public appeal for a new inquiry into the attacks of September 11th, with an explicit call to examine evidence that suggests high-level government officials purposely allowed the attacks to occur.
Ellsberg was arrested, in November 2005, for violating a county ordinance for trespassing while protesting against George W. Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War.
In September 2006, Ellsberg wrote in Harper’s Magazine that he hoped someone would leak information about a U.S. invasion of Iran before the invasion happened, to stop the war. He reiterated this in a September 21, 2006 interview on The Colbert Report.
Ellsberg is the recipient of the Inaugural Ron Ridenhour Courage Award; a prize established by The Nation Institute and The Fertel Foundation. On September 28, 2006 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award.