The controversy over the Pentagon papers was one of the earliest national political scandals of which I have any fairly sharp memories—I was only eleven at the time but my grandfather did a great deal of business with the U.S. Army “Post Exchanges” all over the world and with the U.S. Armed forces generally, so we had a fairly steady stream of military-officers as house guests and travel companions when I was little, living in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas. I remember the debates being fairly narrowly focused on whether Ellsberg deserved to be shot as a traitor or just do a very long stint (more or less the rest of his life) in jail…. It is now very painful to remember how narrow-minded was the version of Patriotism with which I grew up: “God Bless America: My Country, Right or Wrong” with the sole arguable exception of the period 1860-1877 when the “right” favored the losing side in the Second (Southern) Constitutional Revolutionary period…..
I will quote only an excerpt of the entire CNN Article, which is well worth a complete read:
These days, when you find yourself thinking about Richard Nixon, what comes to mind?
Richard Nixon, if he were alive today, might take bittersweet satisfaction to know that he was not the last smart president to prolong unjustifiably a senseless, unwinnable war, at great cost in human life. (And his aide Henry Kissinger was not the last American official to win an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize.)
He would probably also feel vindicated (and envious) that ALL the crimes he committed against me–which forced his resignation facing impeachment–are now legal.
That includes burglarizing my former psychoanalyst’s office (for material to blackmail me into silence), warrantless wiretapping, using the CIA against an American citizen in the US, and authorizing a White House hit squad to “incapacitate me totally” (on the steps of the Capitol on May 3, 1971). All the above were to prevent me from exposing guilty secrets of his own administration that went beyond the Pentagon Papers. But under George W. Bush and Barack Obama,with the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendment Act, and (for the hit squad) President Obama’s executive orders. they have all become legal.
There is no further need for present or future presidents to commit obstructions of justice (like Nixon’s bribes to potential witnesses) to conceal such acts. Under the new laws, Nixon would have stayed in office, and the Vietnam War would have continued at least several more years.
Likewise, where Nixon was the first president in history to use the 54-year-old Espionage Act to indict an American (me) for unauthorized disclosures to the American people (it had previously been used, as intended, exclusively against spies), he would be impressed to see that President Obama has now brought five such indictments against leaks, almost twice as many as all previous presidents put together (three).
He could only admire Obama’s boldness in using the same Espionage Act provisions used against me–almost surely unconstitutional used against disclosures to the American press and public in my day, less surely under the current Supreme Court–to indict Thomas Drake, a classic whistleblower who exposed illegality and waste in the NSA.
Drake’s trial begins on June 13, the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. If Nixon were alive, he might well choose to attend.
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*MORE BIO: After graduating from Harvard in 1952 with a B.A. summa cum laude in Economics, he studied for a year at King’s College, Cambridge University, on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Between 1954 and 1957, Ellsberg spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as rifle platoon leader, operations officer, and rifle company commander.
From 1957-59 he was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics at Harvard in 1962 with his thesis, Risk, Ambiguity and Decision. His research leading up to this dissertation—in particular his work on what has become known as the “Ellsberg Paradox,” first published in an article entitled “Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms”—is widely considered a landmark in decision theory and behavioral economics.
In 1959, Ellsberg became a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, and consultant to the Defense Department and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. He was a member of two of the three working groups reporting to the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Ellsberg joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification in the field.
On his return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on twelve felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.
Ellsberg is the author of three books: Papers on the War (1971), Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002), and Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001). In December 2006 he was awarded the 2006 Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” in Stockholm, Sweden, “. . for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.”
Since the end of the Vietnam War, Ellsberg has been a lecturer, writer and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, wrongful U.S. interventions and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing.
He is a Senior Fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.