Daniel Ellsberg’s Fifty-plus Year Battle Against the Security State

In an interview given to Politico and published less than two weeks before his death on June 16, Daniel Ellsberg demonstrated that neither the cancer which took his life, nor his over five-decades battle against a corrupted military-intelligence establishment, could dim his commitment to peace and justice, nor his passion for truth.

In the interview, Ellsberg accused the U.S. government today of running a “covert empire” around the world, embodied in the U.S. domination of NATO. He also blamed Washington for deliberately provoking Vladimir Putin into invading Ukraine, by moving NATO eastward. He cited George Kennan, the author of the containment policy of the Cold War, who in 1998 called NATO expansion a “tragic mistake”, saying it would cause the Russians to “react quite adversely”.

Ellsberg burst onto the public scene on June 13, 1971, when the Pentagon Papers first began appearing in the New York Times. EllsbergThese were some 7,000 pages of reports on the Vietnam war, which included both historical analysis and government documents, compiled by a Task Force set up in 1967 by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. What jumped off the pages was the discrepancy between the optimistic reports made public by the proponents of the war and the truthful admissions in private documents that the war could not be won. It also included details about the loss of lives and the destruction the war had unleashed, exposing secret operations which had been classified.

Ellsberg, a military veteran who was then employed by the RAND Corporation, had copied those documents, and after failing to convince several Congressmen to release the report, he went to the press. The Nixon administration immediately got a court to order the New York Times to cease publication, while launching a massive campaign against Ellsberg — Kissinger accused him of being a “Kremlin agent” — and a break-in to his psychiatrist’s office was run out of the White House, seeking incriminating information. Despite frantic efforts to suppress the Pentagon Papers, they were published.

On June 23, 1971, Ellsberg told Walter Cronkite of CBS-News that the documents showed, Ellsberg replied “that our officials never did concern themselves with the effect of our actions on the Vietnamese”. (The same can be said of U.S./NATO war hawks today, who are refusing to negotiate an end to the Ukraine war, while pouring weapons and money into the battle against Russia, leading to growing casualties on both sides, despite admitting privately the war cannot be won.)

Ellsberg was only spared imprisonment when a mistrial was declared on grounds of “prosecutorial misconduct”. He continued to speak out against the national security policies of all presidents, and was especially tough on George Bush, Jr. for the lies leading to the Iraq war, and Barack Obama for his attacks on whistleblowers. He praised Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers, and was an initiator in setting up the Freedom of the Press Foundation, to counter security state efforts to lie and censor.

He wrote a book warning of the danger of nuclear war, published in 2017 under the title The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. In the last days of his life, he spoke out about his concerns that the NATO war in Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war, which would wipe out the human race.

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