Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, discusses the myriad official reasons why the Afghan War Diary is endangering soldiers and/or completely irrelevant, how WikiLeaks has changed the face of journalism and government transparency, the scapegoating of Pakistan for the failing Afghanistan War effort and why now is the time for other whistleblowers/leakers to come forward.
MP3 here. (18:05) Transcript below.
Daniel Ellsberg is the author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
In 1959 Daniel Ellsberg worked as 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.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Daniel Ellsberg, July 28, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton, and I’m joined on the line by Daniel Ellsberg, the heroic Daniel Ellsberg, author of the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, and the man who – let me see if I can figure out how to say this in English correctly – the persecution of this guy, anyway, is what I’m trying to say – is what really led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. So not only did he help end the Vietnam War, he also helped end the presidency of Richard Nixon, and that’s a hell of a great thing. Welcome back to the show Dan. How are you?
Daniel Ellsberg: Thanks, fine. And by the way, if I can comment on your English. On the one hand, it was the prosecution by Nixon – and he had in mind a lot of persecution – but you have to say attempted persecution. It rebounded on him. It didn’t hit me. And the upshot was that he was faced with prosecution himself, and impeachment and had to resign. So I’m not a martyr at the hands of Nixon. He had that in mind for me, but he didn’t succeed.
Horton: Right, you were within a hair’s breadth of being martyred by him, it seems to me. And by the way, the movie is out now, The Most Dangerous Man in America, which I highly urge everybody to watch. And, Dan, I’d love to do a whole Vietnam interview with you – it’s been a while since we’ve done that – but we’ve got more important and more timely news to talk about. Well not more important but more timely news to talk about right now. And that is, really, the advent of WikiLeaks and the effect that they’re having on journalism in America and maybe in the Afghan war. And that’s my first question: Do you think that this massive leak of 92,000 documents is going to, or has already, changed the conversation in any way as far as the future of this policy in Afghanistan?
Ellsberg: Well I think it has changed the conversation. I think it has gotten as much attention as could have been hoped for, really, from the media. Nixon gave the Pentagon Papers a lot of drama by his attempts to censure the press beforehand by his injunctions, which were unprecedented. And without that, I don’t know how many people would have paid that much attention to a tremendous amount of newsprint. But in this case, [it’s] hard to get people to dig through 92,000 reports. But the very volume has given that a drama and it has drawn attention. And with all the efforts of the administration to lowball this and imply, “Oh it’s all old stuff and nothing new,” the fact is that it has been, as I understand it, on a lot of front pages because of the very volume, which is possible because of the ingenuity of Julian Assange, I guess, in his software and his technology, and of course the whole digital era here. I couldn’t have Xeroxed 92,000 reports here; I couldn’t have done the 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers in several copies without Xerox. I couldn’t have done it 10 years earlier than I did. But even then I couldn’t have done what this is. So it does usher in a whole new process of transparency.
Horton: You know I’ve read one analysis of this, comparing and contrasting the largest intelligence leak ever with your leaking of the Pentagon Papers, and one of the things they said is that the narrative that, “Oh well there’s really nothing new here, etc.” is basically part of – well it’s sort of that there should be some cognitive dissonance here. On the one hand, “You’re jeopardizing the soldier in the field.” On the other hand, “It’s no big deal at all.” That’s what the critics said about the Pentagon Papers back then, and this analysis I was reading was saying that, “Well what was really important about the Pentagon Papers wasn’t stark revelations that the critics, you know, had no idea about or anything like that. But basically what it did was it told all the people who weren’t the critics that ‘Hey the critics have been right all along, that they’ve been lying to you, that this war is to prop up a government that has no legitimacy, that we’re not going to win and they’ve been going along the losing policy for years and years and they’ve known it and been lying to you, just like the critics have been saying all along.’ But that really made it official, that the critics were right.” And that at least could be, it seems like, without major strategy or policy changing revelations here, at the very least that’s what this document dump should do, right?
Ellsberg: That’s true; you’ve put it well. Actually I’ve had a laugh over some of the statements of the administration which take the form, “We’ve learned nothing new from these.” Well, duh. You know, surprise. These are their own reports. They’re not supposed to be seeing something new from their own reports that hopefully they’ve been reading over the years.
But when President Obama says, “Well, this has all been a matter of public discussion before” – yes, as you say, it’s been charged by Afghans that civilians were being killed; it’s been charged by President Karzai that civilians were being killed and that it was being covered-up. But that’s been accompanied by official denials that we were hitting civilians, or statements, “We are investigating,” which itself is almost surely untrue. There’s no evidence of real investigations in these many thousands of pages of documents. But what is true is that a lot of the reporting was perfectly knowledgeable that civilians were being killed and that official denials were false.
Horton: Right and that really is a big part of the story here, just how many. Assange said there were a hundred and forty-four incidents here of civilians killed, many of which were stories that were never reported at all and others were stories where now if journalists go back and look and we see vastly different versions of what was claimed to have happened then and what we see now.
Ellsberg: There is another thing that I find very familiar – let me tell you this – they’re saying now another way of putting down the significance of this is to say that it’s all “old stuff,” that it was all six months old and it’s all changed now with Obama’s new strategy. Although of course this account of six years of war shows factors for our failure there and our continued stalemates, factors that have remained the same – as you say, an illegitimate, corrupt government; a fact that the Taliban, which is intrinsically unpopular among most of the Afghans after its brief time in power, has as its main recruiting basis the fact that it is in a struggle against foreign invasion, and it is our very presence there that strengthens the Taliban.
Well they’re saying, “Ok, that’s all different now, and that was all seven months ago.” It reminds me that when I left Vietnam in June of 1967, the last thing I did on the way to the airport – with an official car taking me to the airport – I had it stop by the embassy so I could pick up copies of the latest province reports, the kind of thing that I’d been reading for two years in the country and a lot of reports of the kind that I’d been writing during that period, all of which showed a thoroughly stalemated war. And I wanted to get the very last edition that had come out the day I left so I could go to Washington to refute the people who said, “Oh yeah, Dan, what you were telling us over the last two years about a total stalemate and the lack of any progress there was true then, but it’s all changed now, since you left.” You know, or: “In the last month or two we’ve turned the corner.” I know that Walt Rostow, the assistant for national security to President Johnson, would certainly take that line, so I wanted to have the very latest reports and stave off, by at least one month, the claim that things had changed.
And indeed when I got into the White House and talked to Rostow, he said, “Dan, I want you to see the charts here, how things have all turned around and victory is within sight.” And I remember saying to him, “Walt, I don’t want to see your charts. I don’t need your charts. I’ve just come back from Vietnam. Victory is not within sight. It is not near. It is nowhere in sight at all.”
And that’s – I’m sure the latest reports, which we await from some new leaker, I hope, would show that there has been, not only no essential change, but let me make this strong guess – that if someone were to leak, and I hope it happens, to Congress and to us, the inside estimate of the strength of the Taliban in December, when President Obama made his decision to escalate the war – what was their estimate then, of the strength of the Taliban in its various forms altogether, and what is their current estimate? I would like to see that one leaked, if not announced officially.
And I don’t think they will announce officially those two figures because I’m sure they would show that the Taliban is stronger now, and the basis for that prediction is that that’s been true for years – that, as we put troops in, and money, and we fire from the air on people on the ground, as in that Apache helicopter video that WikiLeaks released, we’re strengthening the Taliban. And that the money that Congress voted yesterday to pay for that escalation went into strengthening the Taliban by our very presence and by the essence. And that’s what happens and it is past time for us to be asking ourselves, “How much can we afford to strengthen the Taliban? How much more money is it worth doing that?”
Horton: Well it’s not even just indirectly, there’s been all kinds of reports – Jean MackKenzie at the Global Post did, I think, the best work on the fact that the army and the CIA are outright paying the Taliban to, “Please let us drive our trucks through here so we can fight you later.” They’re just directly paying the enemy. Never mind all the indirect ways which –
We are very limited on time. Again I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with Daniel Ellsberg here, the heroic whistleblower, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers. And I want to give you a chance to call out government employees and ask them to go ahead and liberate some documents and serve their higher oath to the American people.
But first, Dan, I’d like to get your comment on the New York Times and the rest of the American media spin that we’re indirectly supporting our enemy, but really it’s all the Pakistani’s fault. Well, and the Iranian’s, too. But the Pakistanis, they’re stabbing us in the back. Apparently the New York Times, which has been reporting about Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban for years now, just found this out all over again and now everything would be fine there, as Chris Floyd is complaining on his blog, “The narrative is now, ‘Everything would be fine, but now we see why it’s not working out – because our so-called friends the Pakistanis are letting us down. ‘”
Ellsberg: Well there are so many reasons it’s not working. I’m really looking for humor in this situation to counteract all the bad. I was just re-reading Michael Steele’s comment – a brilliant chairman of the Republican National Committee who actually said something very sensible. [Laughs] For which of course he was denounced by, not only his own party, but by the Democrats. And he said – let me quote it; I actually wrote it down; this is so great – talking of Obama, he said, “If he’s such of student of history, has he” – this is Steele – “has he not understood that the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Everyone who has tried, over 1,000 years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that.” Very well said by Michael Steele.
Horton: Right, well even when going back to the memos when Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski were trying to provoke the Russians into invading Afghanistan, one of the Brzezinski memos – or at least he claims this now – one of his memos, or his first memo to Carter when the Russian army crossed the border to support their commie puppet there, was, “Now we will give them their own Vietnam.” Vietnam shorthand for “When you stupidly engage in a land war in Asia, and it tears your own society apart back home.” And that’s what they were trying to do by getting the Russians to invade there, and here we are, playing the wrong end of our own dumb script, giving ourselves our own “another Vietnam” again –
Ellsberg: Well it’s not just us who have been given another Vietnam, and it was not just the Russians. I’m afraid the real back-story to that particular boast of Brzezinski’s that we’d given the Soviets – and he had helped given then Soviets – their Vietnam was that we all gave the Afghans their Vietnam, the Afghan people. And they lost a million people in the course of that ten-year war, which we had deliberately provoked and encouraged, and which we fueled through Pakistan, supplying money to people like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord who actually throws acid in women’s faces who aren’t wearing the burqa. We built-up that force, and we’re now fighting him, now that he has new foreigners to oppose, namely ourselves.
In other words, we have been making life hell – literally hell – for Afghanistan, not just for two years here, not for ten years, but for thirty years. The quotes you’re talking about from Brezinski go back to 1979 and 1980, and for all that period we have been fueling conflict in Afghanistan of a kind that did not exist before the Soviets were provoked to come in. It’s a terrible, terrible thing we’ve been doing, and it’s really time to stop.
There’s a spill of blood, like the spill of oil in the gulf, that’s been beneath the surface, like the oil, for so long and one thing these reports do – which the administration, of course, has not – is to bring that flood of blood near the surface, where we can see it a little. It’s really brought it into public consciousness where I hope it really will make a difference.
Horton: Alright now, Dan, I’m sorry, I know you’re really short on time, and I am, too. I got to get Julian Assange on the phone here, but please tell the government employees who may ever hear this that it is time for them to risk prison in order to get the truth to the people – no more games.
Ellsberg: Well I think, I really admired the statement that Bradley Manning’s informer reported his as having said to him. Which was that Bradley Manning said he was willing to go to prison for the rest of his life, he said, or even be executed, he said, in order to get out truth that had sickened him to read and that he thought might shorten this war. And that was a very appropriate, courageous thing to do. Bradley Manning, I think, is a very great patriot, and I admire him a lot. And I think he will, as a military person facing the universal court of military justice – not civilian law – he probably, if the government can prove its charges against him beyond a reasonable doubt, that he will spend a lot of time in jail.
And my prediction from the experience of other whistleblowers, including Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 11 and 1/2 years in solitary confinement for revealing the Israeli nuclear arsenal – he’s, Vanunu’s said he had never regretted for a minute telling that truth, and he paid virtually an ultimate price for it. I’m sure Manning will not regret – if he was the one who was the source here, and we don’t know that – but if he was the source, I think he won’t regret it, and he will deserve our gratitude and our admiration –
Horton: That is Daniel Ellsberg – Dan, we gotta go right there.
Ellsberg: – deserve support for his defense. There is I think groups doing a Bradley Manning support group – maybe Assange can tell you more about that – that deserves our full support.
Horton: Well we actually interviewed Mike Gogulski from BradleyManning.org, and they do have an official and verifiable – with lawyers and paperwork and legitimacy – “Save Bradley Manning Fund” going on right now at BradleyManning.org. And I’m sorry that we have to leave it there, but I thank you so much for your time, Daniel.
Ellsberg: Okay, sure. Bye, Scott.
Horton: Everybody, that is Dan Ellsberg, his website is Ellsberg.net. The book is Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. And we will be right back with Julian Assange, the public face of WikiLeaks, right after this.