Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, dies at 92 - The Japan  Times
Daniel Ellsberg [Source: japantimes.co.jp]

Daniel Ellsberg, the former RAND Corporation and Pentagon employee who, in June 1971, leaked the Pentagon Papers exposing U.S. government duplicity in the Vietnam War, was honored at a whistleblowers summit on July 30 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Ellsberg died in June at the age of 92. After leaking the Pentagon Papers, he was charged with espionage and faced 115 years in prison, though the charges were dismissed—due to government misconduct—and Ellsberg spent the next fifty-two years working for peace.

Daniel Ellsberg speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Los Angeles where he was on trial in 1973 for leaking classified documents and faced a potential 115-year sentence.
Daniel Ellsberg (with co-defendant Tony Russo standing behind him) speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Los Angeles where he was on trial in 1973 for leaking classified documents and faced a potential 115-year sentence. [Source: theguardian.com]

The tribute at the National Press Club began with the reading of a poem by writer Caitlin Johnstone, “For Dan Ellsberg” which thanked him for his service to humanity as a man who had “shone the light of truth on the blood-splattered face of the empire to the benefit of everyone.”

Johnstone wrote that Dan “swam against the current” when it would have been so much easier to “drift along with the madness.” He inspired generations of whistleblowers and activists who followed in his footsteps by fighting for a “healthier” and “more harmonious world.”

Caitlin Johnstone at The Freedom Cycle
Caitlin Johnstone [Source: thefreedomcycle.com]

Johnstone’s poem was followed by a video tribute from Dan’s widow, Patricia, who said that it was difficult for Dan to be repudiated by the community of defense intellectuals with whom he had worked, but that what he did was right. She also said that the need for whistleblowers is “as big today as when Dan released the Pentagon Papers.”

Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg - heroines
Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg [Source: richmeyer.org]

Princeton University Professor Richard Falk spoke next via video about meeting Dan at Harvard in 1958 and said that Ellsberg exhibited great courage and was willing to take risks that others were not.

An old person sitting in a chair drinking a drink

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Richard Falk [Source: davidswanson.org]

Christian Appy, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is writing a book on Ellsberg, said that no other former government official ever broke so radically with policies they once supported and took such risks in transforming from a war planner to a peace activist.

Appy spoke about Ellsberg having been influenced by figures in history like Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi and American peace activists like Randy Kehler, whom Dan heard speak at a war resisters conference in 1969.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, a leader in the world disarmament movement, emphasized that Dan was a highly intelligent man who lived a noble life that, hopefully, others working in the death industry would follow. Caldicott said that Ellsberg recognized how precious our planet is and was willing to go to prison for the rest of his life to try to protect it.

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Dr. Helen Caldicott [Source: wagingpeace.org]

Trying to Make Sure They’re Not Asleep at the Wheel

Following the video tributes, Diane Perlman, a clinical and political psychologist who met Dan at a 1995 psycho-historical association conference, introduced a live panel by recalling that Ellsberg had been shaped by a tragedy that occurred when he was 15 years old, when his father fell asleep at the wheel en route to Denver in 1946 and caused a car accident that resulted in the deaths of his mother and sister. During his time serving in Vietnam, Dan came to believe that the government had been asleep at the wheel and that he had to do something in response.

Diane Perlman speaking at National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at Daniel Ellsberg tribute. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]

Perlman said that Ellsberg was also inspired by his 9th grade social studies teacher, Bradley Patterson, who had read a wartime article about German scientists having discovered that uranium atoms could be split by nuclear fission in a way that would release immense amounts of energy, posited to the class in 1944 about the potential advance in technology to conceive of a bomb made of U-235, and had students in the class write an essay about whether such a bomb, which might have explosive power 1,000 times greater than the largest bombs then being used, would be good or bad for humanity.

A book cover with a red ball on a bridge

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[Source: rebeccamevans.files.wordpress.com]

All the students, including Dan, agreed that the bomb would be bad because humankind could not handle such a destructive force, so when the atomic bomb was dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshoma and Nagasaki nine months later, Dan was upset that people were rejoicing. He always remembered this as he fought as an adult against the nuclear arms race.

Dan also always remembered that his father, a structural engineer, decided in 1949 to quit his job at a defense plant in Hanford, Washington—and was the only one to do so after he realized he would be designing a building where the hydrogen bomb would later be developed. Years later, Dan said that his father told him that he made his decision to quit after seeing his son, then 15, crying when he read John Hersey’s book Hiroshima (which told the story of Hiroshima survivors) and then reading the book too.

John B. Henry, a businessman and founder of the Committee for the Republic, spoke after Perlman about a dinner he had with Ellsberg at journalist Frances FitzGerald’s house where he told everyone about his plans to release the Pentagon Papers in an attempt to spark public outrage and help to end the Vietnam War.

A person sitting in a chair holding a microphone

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John B. Henry [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]

Henry further recalled that on the day New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan published excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, a group took New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger to play golf so he could not change his mind and pull back the piece.

Neil Sheehan at his desk at The Times. Mr. Ellsberg turned to Mr. Sheehan and, later, other journalists to release the Pentagon Papers.
Neil Sheehan at work. [Source: nytimes.com]
A newspaper article with text

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[Source: nytimes.com]
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The New York Times, answered questions about the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
Then New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger answering questions about the Pentagon Papers in June 1971. [Source: nytimes.com]

Henry emphasized that Ellsberg’s whistleblowing was vital because empires lie and republics don’t. Today, Congress is not doing its job, which is to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Instead, we have a group of actors bigger than Hollywood, he said.

Peter Kuznick, a history professor at American University and co-author with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States, followed Henry by recalling how Ellsberg inspired students in his classes when he was invited to speak and once gave a speech at an anti-Iraq War teach-in at American University after he had spent the night in jail for protesting the war.

Panelists at Ellsberg tribute from left to right: John Henry, Peter Kuznick, Colonel Ann Wright and Media Benjamin. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]

In 2006, Ellsberg traveled with Kuznick’s honors class to Vietnam where he was treated like a hero in what was his first visit back to the country since the Vietnam War.

A highlight of the trip was a dinner at the home of Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, a national hero for leading the fight against the French and Americans, who treated Dan with great respect. Dan also loved going into the Cu Chi Tunnels despite his being over 70 years old.

An old person in military uniform

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General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2008. [Source: wikipedia.org]
Inside the Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels [Source: thefullpassport.com]

Colonel Ann Wright followed Kuznick by relaying her memories of visiting Chelsea Manning while she was imprisoned in Quantico, Virginia, with Ellsberg, who wrote an introduction to Col. Wright’s book, Dissent: Voices of Conscience. Ellsberg was a great supporter of the next generation of whistleblowers like Manning, for whom he had great admiration.

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Colonel Ann Wright [Source; Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
A person and person standing together

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Dan Ellsberg and Chelsea Manning. [Source: aaronswartzday.com]

Medea Benjamin recounted her personal experiences with Dan, speaking out together at rallies against wars like Iraq and the Bush torture program, and how Dan supported her campaign for the U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Benjamin said that, while many people have lost their way on Ukraine, Ellsberg understood instinctively how this was another immoral war driven by the neo-conservative cabal in Washington whose aim was to weaken Russia. Ellsberg further understood how insane the war was and how it was leading us potentially into a nuclear conflict.

Medea Benjamin [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]

Finally, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou spoke about how meaningful it was when Ellsberg supported him while he was imprisoned on espionage charges for exposing the CIA’s torture program in the Global War on Terror.

Kiriakou said that Ellsberg had been his hero after the leaking of the Pentagon Papers and he had even voted for him for president in a 2nd grade mock election in 1972.

Kiriakou also said that Dan’s humanity came across in every letter that Dan wrote to him and that the prison guards, who were reading his mail, even attended one of Ellsberg’s talks near the jail because they were so enthralled by what he had written in his letters.

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CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou at the National Press Club on July 30. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]

Overcoming the Name-Calling

The tribute to Ellsberg ended with a screening of the documentary film The Most Dangerous Man in America, which covered the saga of Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers and how it helped lead to Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s impeachment after he was caught spying on Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

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[Source: moviepostershop.com]

A Zoom talk about whistleblowers that Ellsberg gave in 2020 was also featured in which Ellsberg emphasized how difficult it was for whistleblowers to come out because they were called “rats” and “snitches” and branded as “unpatriotic,” which was hard for people to endure and often struck at the core of their past identities.

Ellsberg said that many died in senseless wars and as a result of other calamitous policies because people did not want to be called those names. As difficult as it is to endure, whistleblowers were needed to expose abuses of power and corruption in Washington and to stop wrong-headed policies.

Ellsberg admitted that, if he had more fortitude when he was younger, he would have come out as a whistleblower earlier—after the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which he knew at the time to be a fraud that resulted in the sending of thousands of combat troops to Vietnam.

The Johnson administration claimed that U.S. ships in the South China Sea were subjected to an unprovoked attack by the North Vietnamese when, in reality, the U.S. had provoked those attacks—if they, in fact, occurred at all.

Lane Tonkin Gulf
If only whistleblowers had come out then to expose the fraud, we might have had no Vietnam War and millions of lives would have been spared, according to Dan Ellsberg. [Source: slideshare.net]

More whistleblowers should have also come out to expose an act of treason committed by Richard M. Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign, when Nixon sabotaged peace talks with the North Vietnamese and prolonged the Vietnam War needlessly in order to make his Democratic Party opponent, Hubert Humphrey, look bad and win the election.

Nixon had struck a deal with South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Van Thieu that he would keep Thieu in power indefinitely so long as he refused to participate in the talks. And, lo and behold, Thieu remained in power in South Vietnam even longer than Nixon who was forced to resign from office in August 1974.

A person in suit standing next to another person in suit

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Richard M. Nixon and Nguyen Van Thieu in June 1969. Nixon kept him in power as a pquid pro quo for keeping silent about an act of treason committed by Nixon in which he used Thieu to sabotage peace talks in 1968 so he could defeat hubert Humphrey in the 1968 U.S. presidential election. [Source: fold3.com]

Ellsberg ended his talk by noting that U.S. imperialism is rooted in violence and the exploitation of Global South countries and causes American leaders to routinely lie, which in turn creates a need for whistleblowers to set the record straight.

These whistleblowers, he said, are the true patriots and heroes and ought to be regarded as such; people like Daniel Hale, a drone pilot who was sentenced to forty-five months in prison for helping to expose the murderous drone-warfare program launched by Barack Obama.

A person in military uniform holding a sign

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Daniel Hale at a peace protest outside the White House. [Source: consortiumnews.com]

The problem is that many people in government believe that they should be loyal to the president, when Hale and the few others like him came to recognize that their real loyalty is to the human species, which needs them now more than ever.

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About the Author


  1. Daniel came to Denmark where I was living to help yet another whistleblower, the Danish Major Frank Grevil. When the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen got the parliament to declare war against Iraq to please his superiors in Washington, Daniel came to support him. This was the first time since 1864 that Denmark declared war, and no other state supporting US’s non-war war declares war.
    Daniel and I connected on that issu and recalled being acquainted in Los Angeles where I was an anti-war activist when he joined in actions against US wars.
    He was such a warm person, modest, and so dedicated. I feel privileged to have known him, sharing in peace actions, and a webinar interview with him demanding freedom for Julian Assange, who is also charged with violating the Espionage Act.
    May all of Daniel Ellsbergs friends, supporters and admirers come out on the streets to Free Julian Assange: Free The Press

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