Daniel Ellsberg

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Daniel Ellsberg (born April 7, 1931) is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.

Early life and career

Ellsberg was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1931 to Jewish parents and grew up in Detroit, Michigan and attended Cranbrook School. His mother had wished him to be a concert pianist but he stopped playing in July 1946 when she was killed, together with his sister, after his father fell asleep at the wheel of the car the family was travelling in and crashed into a culvert wall.[1]

He attended Harvard University on a scholarship, graduating with B.S. in economics in 1952 (summa cum laude). He then studied at Cambridge University on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. A year later he returned to Harvard for graduate school. In 1954, he left Harvard for the U.S. Marine Corps.[2] He graduated first in a class of almost 1,100 lieutenants at the Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.[citation needed] He served two years as a platoon leader, and was discharged from the Corps as a first lieutenant in 1957.[2] He resumed graduate studies at Harvard, but after two years he interrupted his academic studies again, to work at RAND, where he concentrated on nuclear strategy.[2] He earned a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard in 1962.[2] His dissertation introduced a paradox in decision theory now known as the Ellsberg paradox.

Ellsberg served in the Pentagon from August 1964[3] under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (and, in fact, was on duty on the evening of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, reporting the incident to McNamara). He then served for two years in Vietnam working for General Edward Lansdale as a civilian in the State Department.

After his tour of duty in Vietnam, Ellsberg resumed working at RAND. In 1967, he contributed to a top-secret study of classified documents regarding the conduct of the Vietnam War that had been commissioned by Defense Secretary McNamara.[4] These documents, completed in 1968, later became known collectively as the Pentagon Papers. Because he held an extremely high-level security clearance, Ellsberg was one of very few individuals who had access to the complete set of documents.[5]

Disaffection with Vietnam War

By 1969 Ellsberg began attending anti-war events while still remaining in his position at RAND. He experienced an epiphany attending a War Resisters League conference at Haverford College in August 1969, listening to a speech given by a draft resister named Randy Kehler, who said he was "very excited" that he would soon be able to join his friends in prison.[6] Ellsberg described his reaction:

And he said this very calmly. I hadn't known that he was about to be sentenced for draft resistance. It hit me as a total surprise and shock, because I heard his words in the midst of actually feeling proud of my country listening to him. And then I heard he was going to prison. It wasn't what he said exactly that changed my worldview. It was the example he was setting with his life. How his words in general showed that he was a stellar American, and that he was going to jail as a very deliberate choice — because he thought it was the right thing to do. There was no question in my mind that my government was involved in an unjust war that was going to continue and get larger. Thousands of young men were dying each year. I left the auditorium and found a deserted men's room. I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing. The only time in my life I've reacted to something like that.[6]

Decades later, reflecting on Kehler's decision, Ellsberg said,

Randy Kehler never thought his going to prison would end the war. If I hadn't met Randy Kehler it wouldn't have occurred to me to copy [the Pentagon Papers]. His actions spoke to me as no mere words would have done. He put the right question in my mind at the right time.[6]

The Pentagon Papers

Main article: Pentagon Papers

In late 1969, with the assistance of his former RAND Corporation colleague, Anthony Russo, Ellsberg secretly made several sets of photocopies of the classified documents he had access to; these later became known as the Pentagon Papers. As an editor of the New York Times was to write much later, these documents "demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance".[7] They revealed that the government had 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 ever admitted publicly. Further, the papers showed a deep cynicism towards the public and a disregard for safety of soldiers and civilians.[8]

Shortly after Ellsberg copied the documents, he resolved to meet some of the people who had influenced both his change of heart on the war and his decision to act. One of them was Kehler. Another was the poet Gary Snyder, whom he'd met in Kyoto in 1960, and with whom he'd argued about U.S. foreign policy; Ellsberg was finally prepared to concede that Snyder had been right, both about the situation and the need for action against it.[9]

Throughout 1970, Ellsberg covertly attempted to persuade a few sympathetic U.S. Senators — among them J. William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and George McGovern, a leading opponent of the war — to release the papers on the Senate floor, because a Senator could not be prosecuted for anything he said on-the-record before the Senate. Ellsberg told U.S. Senators that they should be prepared to go to jail in order to end the Vietnam War.[10]

Ellsberg allowed some copies of the documents to circulate privately, including among scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Ellsberg also shared the documents with New York Times correspondent Neil Sheehan under a pledge of confidentiality. Sheehan broke his promise to Ellsberg, and built a scoop around what he'd received both directly from Ellsberg and from contacts at IPS.[11]

On Sunday, June 13, 1971, the Times published the first of nine excerpts and commentaries on the 7,000 page collection. For 15 days, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles by court order requested by the Nixon administration. Meanwhile, Ellsberg leaked the documents to The Washington Post and 17 other newspapers.[12][13] On June 30, the Supreme Court ordered publication of the Times to resume freely (New York Times Co. v. United States). Although the Times did not reveal Ellsberg as their source, he went into hiding for 13 days afterwards, suspecting that the evidence would point to him as the source of the theft.[14]

On June 29, 1971, U.S. Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska entered 4,100 pages of the Papers into the record of his Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, which he had received from Ellsberg via Ben Bagdikian— then an editor at the Washington Post. These portions of the Papers were subsequently published by Beacon Press.[15]


The release of these papers was politically embarrassing to those involved in the Johnson and Kennedy administrations but also to the incumbent Nixon administration. Nixon's Oval Office tape from June 14, 1972 shows H. R. Haldeman describing the situation to Nixon:

[then cabinet-member Donald] Rumsfeld was making this point this morning. To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing. ... It shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it's wrong, and the president can be wrong.[16]

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 the first successful attempt by the federal government to restrain the publication of a major newspaper since the presidency of Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to 17 other newspapers in rapid succession.[17] The right of the press to publish the papers was upheld in New York Times Co. v. United States.

As a response to the leaks, the Nixon administration began a campaign against further leaks and against Ellsberg personally.[18] Aides Egil Krogh and David Young under John Ehrlichman's supervision created the "White House Plumbers", which would later lead to the Watergate burglaries.

Fielding break-in

In August 1971, Krogh and Young met with G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt in a basement office in the Old Executive Office Building. Hunt and Liddy recommended a "covert operation" to get a "mother lode" of information about Ellsberg's mental state to discredit him. Krogh and Young sent a memo to Ehrlichman seeking his approval for a "covert operation [to] be undertaken to examine all of the medical files still held by Ellsberg’s psychiatrist." Ehrlichman approved under the condition that it be "done under your assurance that it is not traceable."[19]

On September 3, 1971, the burglary of Lewis Fielding's office, titled "Hunt/Liddy Special Project No.1" in Ehrlichman's notes, was carried out by Hunt, Liddy and CIA agents Eugenio Martinez, Felipe de Diego and Bernard Barker. The "Plumbers" failed to find Ellsberg's file. Hunt and Liddy subsequently planned to break into Fielding's home, but Ehrlichman did not approve the second burglary.

The break-in was not known to Ellsberg or to the public until it came to light during Ellsberg and Russo's trial in April 1973.

Trial and mistrial

On June 28, 1971, two days before a Supreme Court ruling saying that a federal judge had ruled incorrectly about the right of the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers,[4] Ellsberg publicly surrendered to the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts in Boston. In admitting to giving the documents to the press, Ellsberg said:

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision[4]

He and Russo faced charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and other charges including theft and conspiracy, carrying a total maximum sentence of 115 years. Their trial commenced in Los Angeles on January 3, 1973, presided over by U.S. District Judge William Matthew Byrne, Jr.

On April 26, the break-in of Fielding's office was revealed to the court in a memo to Judge Byrne, who then ordered it to be shared with the defense.[20][21]

On May 9, further evidence of illegal wiretapping against Ellsberg was revealed in court. The FBI had recorded numerous conversations between Morton Halperin and Ellsberg without a court order, and furthermore the prosecution had failed to share this evidence with the defense.[22][23]

During the trial, Byrne also revealed that he personally met twice with John Ehrlichman, who offered him directorship of the FBI. Byrne said he refused to consider the offer while the Ellsberg case was pending, though he was criticized for even agreeing to meet with Ehrlichman during the case.[21]

Due to the gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering, and the defense by Leonard Boudin and Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo on May 11, 1973 after the government claimed it had "lost" records of wiretapping against Ellsberg. Byrne ruled: "The totality of the circumstances of this case which I have only briefly sketched offend a sense of justice. The bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case."[21]

As a result of the revelation of the Fielding break-in during the trial, Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, Richard Kleindienst and John Dean were forced out of office on April 30, and all would later be convicted of crimes related to the Watergate scandal. Egil Krogh later pled guilty to conspiracy, and White House counsel Charles Colson pled no contest for obstruction of justice in the burglary. "The court concluded that Nixon, Mitchell, and Haldeman had violated the Halperins' Fourth Amendment rights, but not the terms of Title III. The Halperins were awarded $1 in nominal damages in August 1977."[24][25]

Ellsberg later claimed that after his trial ended, Watergate prosecutor William H. Merrill informed him of an aborted plot by Liddy and the "plumbers" to have 12 Cuban-Americans who had previously worked for the CIA to "totally incapacitate" Ellsberg as he appeared at a public rally, though it is unclear whether that meant to assassinate Ellsberg or merely to hospitalize him.[26][27] In his autobiography, G. Gordon Liddy describes an "Ellsberg neutralization proposal" originating from Howard Hunt, which involved drugging Ellsberg with LSD, by dissolving it in his soup, at a fund-raising dinner in Washington in order to "have Ellsberg incoherent by the time he was to speak" and thus "make him appear a near burnt-out drug case" and "discredit him". The plot involved waiters from the Miami Cuban community. According to Liddy, when the plan was finally approved, "there was no longer enough lead time to get the Cuban waiters up from their Miami hotels and into place in the Washington Hotel where the dinner was to take place" and the plan was "put into abeyance pending another opportunity".[28]

See also


  1. Wells, Tom (2001). Wild man: the life and times of Daniel Ellsberg. Palgrave Macmillan, 70–95. ISBN 0312177194. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Daniel Ellsberg Biography Encyclopedia of World Biography, via BookRags.com [1]
  3. BBC Four Storyville - 2009-2010 - 14. The Most Dangerous Man in America
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Pentagon Papers. 1971 Year in Review. UPI (1971). Retrieved on 2010-07-02.
  5. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2010):
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Thomas, Marlo; et al. (2002). The Right Words at the Right Time. New York: Atria books. ISBN 0786288892. :pp.100-3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "thomas2002" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "thomas2002" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Apple, R.W. (1996-06-23). "Pentagon Papers". New York Times (New York). http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/pentagon_papers/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=pentagon%20papers&st=cse. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  8. Apple, R.W. (1996-06-23). "Pentagon Papers". New York Times (New York). http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/pentagon_papers/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=pentagon%20papers&st=cse. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  9. Halper, Jon (1991). Gary Snyder: dimensions of a life. Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0871566362. 
  10. Sanford J. Ungar, The Papers & The Papers, An Account of the Legal and Political Battle Over the Pentagon Papers, 1972, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., NY. p. 127
  11. Young, Michael (June 2002). "The devil and Daniel Ellsberg: From archetype to anachronism (review of Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg". Reason (magazine): p. 2. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. http://archive.is/9OhU. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  12. H. Bruce Franklin (July 9, 2001). "Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers". The Nation.
  13. NNDB: Daniel Ellsberg. Retrieved on 2008-07-15.
  14. Ellsberg, Daniel (2002). Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-03030-9. 
  15. The Pentagon Papers, Senator Mike Gravel, Beacon Press. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  16. Ellsberg, Daniel (2004-09-28). "There are times to spill the secrets". New York Times (New York). http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/28/opinion/28iht-edellsberg.html. 
  17. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
  18. Portrait: Daniel Ellsberg
  19. Krogh, Egil (June 30, 2007). "The Break-In That History Forgot". New York Times.
  20. (May 7, 1973) "Practicing on Ellsberg". TIME.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 (January 15, 2006) "Judge William Byrne; Ended Trial Over Pentagon Papers". Washington Post: C09.
  22. "The Pentagon Papers" by John T. Correll, Air Force Magazine, February 2007
  23. Washington Post (2006) Ibid.
  24. Halperin v. Kissinger 1977
  25. Halperin v. Kissinger 1977
  26. (April 27, 2006) "Nixon White House Counsel John Dean and Pentagon Papers Leaker Daniel Ellsberg on Watergate and the Abuse of Presidential Power from Nixon to Bush". Democracy Now!.
  27. (January 10, 1999) "COLD WAR Chat: Daniel Ellsberg, Anti-war activist" ([dead link]). Cold War.
  28. Liddy, G. Gordon (1980). Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 170-171. 
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