Scott Horton Interviews Daniel Ellsberg

Scott Horton, February 13, 2007

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The man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg calls on national government employees to take secret documents pertaining to the upcoming war with Iran and give them to the Congress and the press as a last ditch effort to stop this war.

MP3 here. (50: 27)

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Detroit in 1931. 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, a landmark in decision theory which was recently published. In 1959, he 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. He joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs), John McNaughton, working on Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification on the front lines.

On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, he 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.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, Daniel has continued to be a leading voice of moral conscience, serving as a lecturer, writer and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, government wrongdoing and the urgent need for patriotic whisteblowing.

To encourage national security whistleblowing, Daniel launched the Truth-Telling Project in 2004 with “A Call to Patriotic Whistleblowing.” The Project aims to reach current government insiders, journalists, lawyers, lawmakers, and the American public with an urgent appeal for revealing the truth about government cover-up and lies before the next war. Collaborating with the ACLU, National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), the Project on Government Oversight, and other organizations, the Truth-Telling Project provides a personal and legal support network for government insiders considering becoming truth-tellers.

Daniel’s book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers reached bestseller lists across the nation. It won the PEN Center USA Award for Creative Nonfiction, the American Book Award, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Prize for Non-Fiction, and was a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In 2005 the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation awarded Daniel their first Fellowship for his lifetime commitment and continued efforts toward the advancement of peace, nuclear disarmament, and truth-telling.

In August 2005 the Ellsberg Fund for Truth Telling was established to enable Daniel to continue the work he is uniquely qualified to do as a prominent whisteblower—speaking, writing and activism to encourage more national security whistleblowing and to alert the nation to the dangers of government abuses of power.

In December 2006 Daniel was awarded the 2006 Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” in Stockholm, Sweden. He was acknowledged “for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to a movement to free the world from the risk of nuclear war.” (Read his acceptance speech here.)

Daniel continues to serve as a public speaker, giving lectures at conferences and universities, and countless press, radio and Internet interviews. His recent essay, “The Next War”, featured in the October 2006 issue of Harpers magazine, urges government officials to reveal truths about government secrecy and nuclear planning—with documents—to avert a possible attack on Iran.

Daniel Ellsberg lives in Northern California with his wife, Patricia Marx Ellsberg. Their son, Michael Ellsberg, is a freelance developmental editor and lives in Buenas Aires. His oldest son, Robert Ellsberg, is publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books. His daugher, Mary Carroll Ellsberg, is senior program officer of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). He has 5 grandchildren.

Daniel is currently working on a nuclear memoir on the dangers of the nuclear policies of the U.S. and other nuclear states and a call for worldwide nuclear glasnost.

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