The Pentagon Papers are 50 years old: press freedom and whistleblowers are still under threat
Legendary whistleblower Dan Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers fifty years ago, a brave act of truth for which he was later sentenced to life in prison. He hasn’t stopped since. Last May, just weeks after turning 90, Ellsberg made another disclosure of classified national security information. He was speaking during a panel at the University of Massachusetts’ “Truth, Dissent, & the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg” conference with whistleblower Edward Snowden, which of us [Amy] moderate.
“Let me speak a truth that I have had for 50 years,” Ellsberg said, before reading a secret 1958 report outlining the willingness of US officials to start nuclear war. “I copied this study. It was in my top-secret safe in 1969. And I’ve had it ever since,” he continued.
Ellsberg worked at RAND Corporation and as a consultant to the Kennedy administration. He was also an officer in the United States Navy and participated in combat missions in Vietnam.
In 1969, inspired by the growing anti-war and conscription resistance movements, Ellsberg photocopied the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page secret history of American decision-making during the Vietnam War. Unable to find a US senator willing to take the documents, he leaked them to The New York Times.
The Times published its first story in the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971. Two days later, a federal court granted President Richard Nixon’s request for an injunction blocking further publication. After Ellsberg’s identity as lessor became public knowledge, he and his wife Patricia went into hiding, as he continued to distribute copies of the documents to other newspapers.
Nixon’s national security adviser Henry Kissinger called Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America”. Nixon, in a taped Oval Office conversation with his attorney general, said, “We have to keep our eye on the main ball. The main ball is Ellsberg. We have to catch this son of a bitch.
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of The New York Times, banning government censorship of the press and allowing continued publication of the Pentagon Papers.
Nixon stepped up his campaign targeting the whistleblower, fearing what he might release next. As Ellsberg recounted in Democracy Now!, “He robbed my former psychoanalyst’s office, sent 12 active Bay of Pigs Cubans to totally incapacitate me on the steps of the Capitol. On May 3, he overheard me talking about illegal, warrantless wiretapping. When the Nixon administration’s misconduct came to light, the judge dismissed the espionage case against him.
Dan Ellsberg’s example encouraged other whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, who, while a contractor to the National Security Agency (NSA), was involved in the development of the government’s secretive, global, and behind-the-scenes surveillance agenda. He leaked a huge amount of documents in 2013 and has been living in exile in Russia ever since.
Speaking at the May 1 conference, Snowden said of the whistleblowers who inspired him: “They had stood up at the risk of their lives to tell the public an essential truth that was intentionally withheld from them for policies. Eventually, you think that’s what feels fairer than going back to the office and quietly perpetuating a system of injustice, day after day.
Snowden continued: “Reality Winner and Daniel Hale and Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, Terry Albury and others who have come forward over the past decades have vindicated Daniel Ellsberg’s approach…because abuse of power does not is not something that will go away.”
Reality Winner was a NSA entrepreneur when she leaked information to the press outlining alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Imprisoned for more than four years, she was released on June 2 to a halfway house for the remaining months of her sentence. . His family asks for forgiveness.
Daniel Hale pleaded guilty to leaking documents about the US targeted assassination drone program in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, in which he participated while in the Air Force. He will be sentenced in mid-July.
Ellsberg’s May Day disclosure concerned a 1958 conflict over several small islands, between mainland China and Taiwan. The United States, Ellsberg revealed, had plans to launch nuclear weapons against China in support of Taiwan. The report predicted that a US first strike on China would provoke a nuclear counterattack from the Soviet Union, killing millions.
At 90, Ellsberg still advocates tirelessly for the rights of whistleblowers and a free press, calling on the Biden administration to drop its charges against Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who published leaked information documenting war crimes , and his lawsuit against Daniel Hale.
He concluded his recent interview on Democracy Now!, “I was certainly brought up, more than almost anyone, to appreciate the need for our First Amendment, the protection of freedom of the press, freedom of thought. You can’t have democracy without it.