A New Era of Government Whistleblowing: From Ellsberg to Manning, Different Leaks, Different Leakers
By Kevin Katz
Part 2: Ellsberg, The Whistleblower
Daniel Ellsberg was born in 1931 to an upper-middle-class family in Chicago. His parents were Russian immigrants and had been practicing Jews, but they had converted and raised Ellsberg as a Christian Scientist. His early childhood coincided with the Great Depression and consequently, his father, who was a trained engineer, spent years without work. Though he would come to respect his father later in life, his first childhood hero was his uncle Ned Ellsberg, a Navy admiral and writer who had made a name for himself as part of the Navy’s submarine salvage team, and was an inventor of an underwater cutting torch, and the writer of a dozen fiction and nonfiction books. Ellsberg read these novels religiously and developed a deep admiration for their author. (Wells, 38)
Ellsberg’s father eventually found work in Detroit and the family moved to the middle-class suburbs of Highland Park in 1937. The young Ellsberg was an extremely intelligent child and was awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious Cranbrook private school, a school with a long-established connection with the arts and an impressive list of notable alumni including Bob Bemer, Ward Just, Mitt Romney, and Bob Woodruff. As a young student at Cranbrook, his adolescent education coincided with the escalation of WWII and from an early age, he was introduced to the atrocities of warfare. (Ellsberg, 23) One day, one of his elementary school teachers brought in a model of a magnesium bomb to show the class. This kind of magnesium bomb was capable of penetrating buildings and remaining lit no matter how much water was poured on it. “A particle…we were told, would burn through flesh to the bone and wouldn’t stop burning even then. It was hard for me to understand people who were willing to burn children like that. It still is.” (Ellsberg, 23)
Although Ellsberg was the top student of all of his classes, his mother wanted her son to be a famous piano composer, so she committed nearly all of his time to the piano. Her expectation was that he would practice for at least six to seven hours a day. Ellsberg’s love of reading was considered a distractive vice and he remembers his mother hiding his books to keep him playing the piano. (Wells, 43)
Though Ellsberg followed his mother’s wishes and ambitions obediently, he refused to blindly accept the religion his parents forced on him. Throughout his time attending Sunday school, Ellsberg would bombard his teacher with difficult theological questions; he was always looking for answers. A few years later, when he was a teenager, he read and took to heart an expose that detailed the plagiarism found in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science’s founder, which ultimately diminished the faith his parents had attempted to instill in him. (Wells, 49)
In 1946, when Ellsberg was 15, on a seemingly normal summer day, a great deal of the control Ellsberg’s family had over his life promptly vanished. Ellsberg and his family were on a road trip to Denver when his father fell asleep at the wheel. The younger Ellsberg woke up from his nap just moments before the sedan crashed into the concrete support of an overpass, completely destroying the right side of the car. Ellsberg’s mother, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was killed instantly. Due to the gruesome nature of the accident, details were initially kept from him, but he would later learn that his mother was beheaded in the accident. His father sustained some facial injuries, but survived. Although Ellsberg woke up in the hospital thirty-six hours later, his sister never would. (Wells, 72)
Upon regaining consciousness, Ellsberg realized that his father had already gone back to Michigan, leaving him with his mother’s family in the Denver hospital. His father felt too guilty to confront him for months after the accident. Ellsberg was in a state of emotional shock and numbness after the accident and once said that his first thought after learning of his mother’s death was, “I guess I don’t have to play piano anymore.” (Wells, 73)
When Ellsberg recovered and finally returned to Michigan, he no longer had to devote most of his days to practicing piano. Instead he devoted most of his time to reading and absorbing as many books as he could get his hands on. In this time he really made academics his first priority and significantly sped up his progress in school. So much so, that two years later, he won a scholarship from Pepsi-Cola to attend Harvard University. One evening, early in his time at Harvard, he had an epiphany while reading a Hemingway novel. “It felt so strange, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I realized: I felt free, for the first time in my life.” (Wells, 81)
He would go on to marry his college girlfriend, Carol Cummings, graduate from Harvard with a bachelors degree in Economics in 1952, and win a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to spend a year studying at Cambridge University. When he returned one year later, he went back to Harvard for graduate school, but then left again to join the Marine Corps in 1954. After enlisting and completing his initial training, he spent two years attending officer’s training in Quantico, Virginia. Graduating, once again, at the top of his class as a first lieutenant in 1957, Ellsberg again returned to Harvard as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. In 1959 he was offered a position at the RAND Corporation as a strategic analyst, so he put graduate school on hold again to work at RAND, concentrating on nuclear strategy. Just months into his military career, he was given his first top-secret security clearances. (Wells, 28)
Many years later, Ellsberg would meet with Henry Kissinger (Ellsberg, 237) (who was about to receive his own top-secret clearance) and wanted to prepare him for the mental effects of having such clearance, the way that having such power and knowledge blinded an individual. As he contemplated the high-level clearance he had attained over his decade or so working for the military, Ellsberg at first felt excitement over the huge amount of information that he had gained access to. However, this initial feeling eventually waned and he began to feel foolish for taking part in government operations for so long without those secrets, ignorant of the truth behind much of the government’s actions and processes. Soon afterwards he began to view everyone else as fools, existing and functioning, clueless of their ignorance. (Ellsberg, 237–238) Up until this point, Ellsberg’s personality and career give every indication of a successful, notable, and straight-laced professional who would have gone on to become one of the government’s leading officials. However, as the rest of this biography indicates, this moment of awareness and realization seems to have been the beginning of his transformation into a political activist, outspoken critic of the government, and leaker of the Pentagon Papers.
Writing about his message to Kissinger, Ellsberg states “I ended by saying that I’d long thought of this kind of secret information as something like the potion Circe gave to the wanderers and shipwrecked men who happened on her island, which turned them into swine. They became incapable of human speech and couldn’t help one another to find their way home.” (Ellsberg, 239) In other words, when people were given the privilege of accessing confidential information, not only did that privilege inflate their egos, but it also desensitized them. In this sense, having access to the confidential information detailing secret government/military operations made actions, which would normally be considered immoral, seem acceptable.
Ellsberg would go on to complete his doctorate in economics from Harvard in 1962 with a dissertation in the field of decision theory. His thesis was based around a series of experiments, which showed that decisions made under uncertain or ambiguous conditions, generally, were not consistent with clear subjective probabilities. Put more simply, given the choice between two opaque jars with ten stones in each, one with five black and five white stones and the other with an unknown number of black and white stones, a person trying to pick a white stone will tend to choose from the jar with a known, equal number of black and white stones. Even if they are told to pick a black stone right afterwards, they will still pick from the jar with a known number of black and white stones. This phenomenon would later come to be known as the Ellsberg Paradox. (Ellsberg)
Starting in August 1964, Ellsberg began working for the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as an assistant to John McNaughton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and Robert McNamara’s closest advisor. (Wells, 199)One of his tasks as an assistant was to report the Gulf of Tonkin incident to his superiors as it was happening. (Wells, 199) Shortly thereafter, in 1965, he went to Vietnam to work for the State Department under General Edward Lansdale. “On the ground” as a State Department analyst, Ellsberg wanted to see the war for himself and was given clearance to go anywhere and see whatever he wanted. (Ellsberg, 11)
While in the field, accompanying soldiers on various operations, Ellsberg found that they considered him a liability without a rifle or if he hesitated to use it in potentially dangerous combat situations. Although he was a “Civilian Observer” according to his State Department status, he began carrying around a submachine gun while he took notes and photographs as an analyst, alongside the soldiers he was accompanying. (Ellsberg, 152) The necessity for armed civilian observers was a clear indication of the hostility and violence in Vietnam, a fact made clear almost immediately upon arriving there.
Ellsberg was soon teamed up with John Vann, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who had also come to Vietnam as a civilian observer. Vann assumed the role of Ellsberg’s guide, driver and mentor. Most officers (who flew between bases by helicopter) considered driving too risky. Regardless of this fact, they drove through the swamps and jungles, and at one point, Ellsberg and Vann’s vehicle briefly broke down in a hostile location. This was the same location where, three months later, Vann’s assistant would be taken hostage by the Vietcong and kept as a POW in a bamboo cage for seven years. (Ellsberg, 113)
However, Vann was convinced that driving was the only means of showing an officer the real, gruesome truths of the war in Vietnam. In addition, he had learned that the jeep they drove, which was so easy to maneuver, was the best vehicle to avoid Vietcong mines. Although official reports may have indicated that the Vietcong did not control certain areas, Vann taught Ellsberg to look for certain roadside clues indicating that those areas were firmly controlled by the Vietcong, contrary to those reports. Ellsberg also learned to notice freshly cut barbed wire fences and blocked roads within a few feet of U.S.-friendly Vietnamese outposts. (Ellsberg, 120)
Vann’s military experience was indispensible in Vietnam and many officers and civilians respected him for his strategic viewpoints on combat there. However, as an adviser to the Saigon regime during the war, he became an outspoken critic about how the war was fought. He criticized the Saigon regime for its incompetence and corruption and as time went on, he increasingly criticized the U.S. military for their tactics. By supporting a corrupt regime and failing to adapt to strategies more effective for guerilla warfare, he believed that the U.S. military was further alienating the Vietnamese people and hurting the military’s objectives. (Sheehan, 106)Although he was very outspoken about his opinions, he was generally unable to sway military command, so he publicized his views through the Saigon press corps (which included Neil Sheehan, who would later also release the Pentagon Papers story). (Sheehan, 270) In examining Daniel Ellsberg’s personal development and transformation into an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, it is interesting to note the possibility that his interactions with Vann may have influenced, at least in part, his intense criticism of the war.
Continuing his interviews, Ellsberg found that the more advisers he spoke to, the more wishful thinking he found on the part of the U.S. forces. American politicians and bureaucrats were being told that pro-U.S. militias patrolled the controlled territory during the night, when in reality, the Vietcong controlled much of Southern Vietnam after sundown. On one of his interview trips to an Army base in the town of Long An on Christmas Eve in 1966, a drunken South Vietnamese commander started shouting about America’s arrogance and stupidity. Later, the same commander took out his pistol and shot several times at Ellsberg and his associates. Luckily, he missed them in the dark and other soldiers quickly restrained the furious commander. (Ellsberg, 148)
Wondering what could have motivated such an angry encounter, Ellsberg asked a Vietnamese lieutenant about the incident. The younger officer, slightly reluctantly, admitted that the resentment against American intervention in Vietnam was not unique and that in fact, most of the other officers felt similarly. (Ellsberg, 148)
Although Ellsberg had been feeling less than optimistic about America’s efforts in Vietnam up until this point, it wasn’t until New Year’s Day 1967 that he became sure that Vietnam was an unwinnable war for the United States. On that New Year’s Day, Ellsberg came face-to-face with the Vietcong for the first time. Ellsberg and three soldiers were walking in front of a platoon of troops when they suddenly heard shots being fired behind them. They turned around to find three Vietnamese boys in black shorts, who had been hiding in the brush a few feet from where they had just passed, had jumped up and fired their AK-47’s at the troops behind Ellsberg’s group. Instead of firing at their own troops, Ellsberg’s group had to jump for cover, avoiding the shower of bullets fired back from the American platoon. (Ellsberg, 155)
The three boys vanished into the jungle, only to reappear behind the platoon in front of Ellsberg’s group and do the same thing before disappearing into the jungle for good. These three half-naked children had exhibited a form of cunning, bravery, and mastery of the terrain that an entire American platoon could not counter. Later that same day, another Vietcong group carried out an even more clever attack on Ellsberg’s group. They alternated firing on the Americans and then fading into the jungle, first from the left and then from the right. The Vietcong repeated this method, each burst of firing drawing the platoon towards their attackers for a counterattack, only to find themselves moving back and forth in a zigzag pattern. The American platoon’s training was rendered futile against such an efficient and spectral enemy. In his memoir Ellsberg wrote, “I was very, very impressed. The morning’s work had sown in my guts a thought that had been only in my head before: These opponents were going to be very hard to beat. Or to put it another way, we were not going to defeat them.” (Ellsberg, 156)
The next couple of months were filled with impossible missions, disenchanting interviews, and many instances of corruption in the U.S.-supported military regime on the ground in Vietnam. These only served to reinforce Ellsberg’s feelings about the war. By the time he returned to RAND in 1967, he had decided to work from within the system to end the war in Vietnam.
Back in the United States, and back within RAND, Ellsberg became an unrelenting critic against the war effort. However, the only thing that his arguments accomplished was to convince most of his colleagues that his experiences in Vietnam had made him lose his objectivity. Although he now held a position under Special Assistant for National Security Henry Kissinger, a few positions removed from the president himself, he found that his unfavorable arguments regarding Vietnam were being dismissed. (Ellsberg, 183)
Although his arguments fell on deaf ears, the time he spent in Vietnam was more than just an education in the atrocities of war. It also gave him the opportunity to be one of the few RAND analysts who were chosen to work on a critical study focusing on the evolution of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The study would be a top-secret history that traced the narrative of Vietnam’s many wars all the way back to the French occupation and the preceding Japanese invasion. Though at the time, the study was known as the McNamara study after Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who commissioned the report before retiring, today, it is known by its more popular name, the Pentagon Papers.
Ellsberg agreed to write a part of the report because he knew that such an assignment would give him full access to read the entire study, a multivolume, detailed effort with the full analytical force of RAND behind it. What he found when he began reading the historical documents and the first few volumes a few months later, made him view his opinions of the war in a new light: America’s mess in Vietnam was not the result of any mistakes or miscalculations. It was the result of a policy that went back decades, only a small part of a conflict that was even older and more potent than the Cold War itself.
To condense the seven-thousand-page report in a few sentences, the U.S. had led and instigated the war in Vietnam (it was a single war, not multiple against different regimes) for almost twenty-five years. The U.S. had never been motivated by the democratic well being of the Vietnamese people, only a concern for expanding its own geopolitical empire. (Ellsberg, 256)
The story starts in the mid-forties, when the U.S. supported France (both financially and militarily) in their control of Vietnam as a colony, and then supported its violent re-conquest of Vietnam after Japanese invaders temporarily detained and expelled the French forces. No matter how many pleas the U.S. received from Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh, begging for recognition of Vietnamese independence, America’s only concern was supporting its Western ally as a colonial power.
The question of Communism versus democracy in Vietnam only arose after the rise of McCarthyism and the Maoist takeover of China. By then, it was too difficult, politically, for any president to withdraw from the country and allow the Communist part of the world to grow any bigger. Every president, starting with Truman and on through Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon sank further into the growing war, even though they had known the conflict was intrinsically imperial from the start. They had even seen State Department reports that showed Ho Chi Minh’s overwhelming support from the general population.
Vietnam was never a true civil war; it was a war of conquest that was started and continued for more than twenty years by the United States, fueled by the executive branch’s secrecy and lies. (Ellsberg, 257) It wasn’t an accident; it was, as Ellsberg writes, just “a crime. An evil.” (Ellsberg, 257)
After his time spent in Vietnam, Ellsberg didn’t need much more evidence of the war’s recklessness, but the Pentagon Papers were historical proof that only solidified his determination to end it. In 1969, Ellsberg attended a peace conference at Haverford College, what would become the final exercise in his education as a leaker. (Ellsberg, 269)
This was a big step for Ellsberg; he had never been to a meeting full of “peaceniks” before. His first day at the small Quaker school was mostly comprised of handing out anti-war pamphlets in Philadelphia. At first the strategy felt ludicrous and awkward for a high-level government employee who had vowed to fight the war from within Washington’s bureaucracy. However, on the second day, a man named Randy Kehler spoke to the crowd congregating on Haverford’s campus. He had attended Harvard, just like Ellsberg, and eventually graduated from Stanford University. His pragmatic intellect and composure impressed Ellsberg, who thought, “[He’s] the best that we’ve got.” (Ellsberg, 270) Ellsberg believed that Kehler was America’s last hope for ending the war.
In his speech, Kehler explained how he had become the last remaining male member of the War Resisters League, which was based in San Francisco. Every other male member had been imprisoned for violating the draft. In a sentimental tone, Kehler then told the audience how happy and proud he was to soon be joining his friends in prison. At first the crowd seemed shocked that this smart, poised man could be treated as a criminal, but then a roaring applause broke out in the audience.
While everyone in the crowd rose in applause, Ellsberg couldn’t stand. Kehler’s speech had had a profound effect on him, leaving him almost devastated. The RAND analyst stumbled away, into an empty bathroom, where he fell to the floor and sobbed for almost an hour. “It was as though an ax had split my head, and my heart broke open. But what had really happened was that my life had split in two.” (Ellsberg, 272) When Ellsberg collected himself, he vowed that he would do whatever he could to end the war, even if it meant going to prison. (Ellsberg, 272)
It is made clear by this biography that Daniel Ellsberg had a very notable career, which culminated in him gaining the top-secret security clearance that, ultimately, made it possible for him to even gain access to the documents he leaked. However, there is another aspect to this analysis of the Pentagon Papers phenomenon: the sheer vastness of undertaking a project that required copying and distributing a seven-thousand page report in 1969. In order to accomplish what Ellsberg set out to accomplish, he not only required a notable career and complex moral character, but he also needed to use the technology available to him to accomplish it. This made the process much more complex than executing a governmental privacy breach in the present day.
Upon making the decision to breach thirteen years of security clearances, launching the most extensive public exposure of top-secret information in the twentieth century, and probably spending the rest of his life in prison, Daniel Ellsberg faced a major logistical problem: how to copy seven-thousand pages of top-secret information, multiple times over, using the technology available in 1969.
RAND, the California-based military think tank where Ellsberg worked, did not have a Xerox machine even though the technology was twenty years old by 1969. Though the technology had existed for two decades, it still was not that widely used, and for an agency that dealt with ultraclassified documents, it obviously presented some security concerns. Needing help, Ellsberg contacted one of his fellow RAND co-workers, Tony Russo, who became the only other analyst at RAND who learned of and sympathized with Ellsberg’s leaking plans. (Ellsberg, 295)
Russo was able to find a Xerox machine thanks to one of his friends who empathized with their antiwar sentiment and worked in a local advertising agency. (Ellsberg, 301) Over the course of the next year, Ellsberg spent many nights carrying top-secret RAND documents out of the building in an ordinary briefcase and copying them, in the dark, in the office that contained the Xerox machine at the advertising agency. Slowly but surely, Ellsberg was duplicating a secret history of America’s involvement in Vietnam: the Pentagon Papers.
However, the work was very tedious. At first, Ellsberg attempted to copy two pages at a time from each of the forty-seven bound volumes of the report, but realized that the words near the spine were coming out faded and distorted. His only option, then, was to disassemble each binder and photocopy the pages one by one. To expedite the process, he “tried to program his motions.” (Ellsberg, 302) In his memoir, Ellsberg sates:
One hand picked up a page, the other fit it on the glass, top down, push the button, wait…lift, move the original to the right while picking another page from the pile…This is all very familiar now, but it was a new technology then. It took a little extra time to put the top down and up, and I didn’t know why it had to be done. Did it have to do with the copying quality, or was the light bad for the eyes? Was it dangerously bright? How did it work, anyway? Was that peculiar green color some kind of radiation? (Ellsberg, 302)
By “programming his motions,” Ellsberg was able to make a routine out of the repetitive task. However, as he states, though the process became very familiar, he still wasn’t fully comfortable with the technology because it was still relatively new to him; he didn’t understand the fundamental mechanics behind how the technology worked.
Adding to the tedium, other unexpected complications arose in the process. Ellsberg had intended to give segments of the report to multiple senators, as well as the news media if necessary. This meant that he needed to make multiple copies, which required him to hand the papers over to a professional copy shop where countless people would see them. This was especially problematic because the pages were marked with blatant “Top Secret” stamps across their tops and bottoms as well as other classified signifiers scattered throughout the margins.
Initially, Ellsberg attempted to remedy this issue by cutting the tops and bottoms of the pages off with scissors, and later a paper cutter. Though shortly thereafter, his coworker Tony Russo suggested that he tape cardboard over the top and bottom of the Xerox machine’s glass, further expediting the process. (Ellsberg, 308) Ellsberg would come to refer to these as “declassifiers.” (Ellsberg, 308)However, even after taping cardboard to the photocopier, some words were cut off by the declassifiers and small, random “Top Secret” markings remained on the edges of the pages, so Ellsberg had to sift through each and every page by hand and extract them. (Ellsberg, 370)
At a certain point months into undertaking the project, when he thought the first briefcase-sized portion of the stack was ready to be taken to a copy shop, he decided to sift through the pages one last time just to be safe. While examining the pages, he was surprised to see one with an obvious “Top Secret” marking that he had forgotten to remove. Upon discovering this, Ellsberg immediately left the copy shop and went to a café where he stealthily removed any remaining classified markings while trying to inconspicuously drink his coffee for several hours. (Ellsberg, 332)
Further complicating matters, Ellsberg’s now routine process was interrupted by periodic visits from the local police. During the yearlong undertaking, his furtive trips to the Xerox machine set off an average of three silent alarms per week, summoning the police to the office in the middle of night. The police would arrive at the office and see a distinguished-looking man who always seemed to be making photocopies late at night. However, Ellsberg would casually lean over and cover the classified documents on the desk next to the Xerox machine, politely greet the officers, and carry on with his work once they left. (Ellsberg, 301) Fortunately for Ellsberg, his “important” appearance and demeanor was enough to assure the officers that what he was doing was legitimate.
Realizing that his work was going to take quite a long time, Ellsberg recruited the help of his co-worker Tony Russo, Russo’s friend at the advertising agency, his ex-wife Patricia, and even his two children (ten and thirteen years old). In his memoirs, Ellsberg states that his reason for involving his children was to ensure that they understood exactly what he had done and why. (Ellsberg, 305) After all, he expected to spend the majority of the rest of his life seeing and speaking to them from within a federal prison.
However, even with all of this help from family and friends, it took Ellsberg over a year of on and off work to create a full set of the Pentagon Papers and have them duplicated at commercial copy shops. When he was all said and done, he had created an eight-foot-tall stack of breached top-secret documents. The entire process had been strenuous work, both mentally and physically, but it also cost a fair amount of money to accomplish. Paying ten cents a page in professional copy shops, it cost Ellsberg thousands of dollars by the time he had finished. Adjusted for inflation, the process would have cost him over twenty thousand dollars today. Once, when he sent a copy to Senator William Fulbright, an aide politely offered to reimburse him for the report, but when Ellsberg told him how much it had cost ($345 including postage) the aide quickly took back the offer. (Ellsberg, 333)
Following a year of tedious photocopying and smuggling top-secret documents out of RAND, Ellsberg had finally prepared the Pentagon Papers for release. At this stage, he just needed the right person to give them to, a person who could publicize his report. In addition to the numerous precautions he took to protect his friends and family from the legal repercussions he could face, Ellsberg also devised two strategies for making his Pentagon Papers public. His first strategy was to give the report to a US senator or representative and have the report either recorded into the Congressional Record or use it as evidence in a Congressional hearing. (Ellsberg, 356) He attempted to have Senator William Fulbright carry out the next stage of his plan and bring the Pentagon Papers to Congress. Senator Fulbright was enthusiastic at first, but upon reading part of the report and realizing the adverse political reaction and chaos that would follow with its revelation, Fulbright backed down. (Ellsberg, 357) With few other options, Ellsberg approached the Democratic presidential candidate and senator, George McGovern, believing that he was the only other elected official who would be willing to expose the government’s follies in such a controversial issue. (Ellsberg, 358)
At first, Senator McGovern appeared to be even more enthusiastic than Senator Fulbright about bringing the Pentagon Papers to Congress. Ellsberg proposed that McGovern read the report and filibuster, a tactic that would easily and legitimately expose it to the media. Upon their first meeting, he told Ellsberg “I want to do it. I will do it.” However, shortly afterwards, Ellsberg received a call from McGovern in which he simply stated: “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” (Ellsberg, 362–363) Regardless of how much he’d hoped for McGovern bringing the Pentagon Papers to Congress, Ellsberg understood that the issue was a volatile one and that it could put his presidential campaign in jeopardy. With no other options in Congress, Ellsberg had to resort to his backup plan.
His second strategy for publicizing the report would likely result in his lifelong imprisonment. Without a legislative option for publicizing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg decided that he would have to turn to the media in order to reveal this information to the public. In preparation for his media leak, he resigned from RAND and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he met with a political reporter he knew from The New York Times, Neil Sheehan. After showing Sheehan a copy of the Pentagon Papers, the reporter took some of the material back with him to show his editors. Not long after, Sheehan returned to Ellsberg’s apartment with a key that he had loaned him and secretly took the entire report, copied it, and returned it to the apartment. (Ellsberg, 375) Having acquired a complete copy of the Pentagon Papers, The New York Times began quietly compiling a story on the study and ultimately released the story on June 13, 1971: “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.” (Sheehan)
As soon as the story was published and distributed, it quickly sparked a free-speech debate that would ultimately reshape the first amendment. President Nixon and his administration claimed that The New York Times had violated the Espionage Act and persuaded a federal court, for the first time in American history, to file an injunction against the newspaper to keep it from publishing any more stories on the report. However, Ellsberg continued to distribute it. First to the Washington Post (which eventually had an injunction filed against it also) and then to the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, the Christian Science Monitor and others. (Ellsberg, 396) By distributing the Pentagon papers to so many newspapers, Ellsberg ensured that government censors would not be able to keep up with the story’s widespread distribution and eventually, forced the White House to give up on suppressing the report’s publication. However, Ellsberg’s commitment to guaranteeing the papers’ widespread publication meant sacrificing himself in the process.(Ellsberg, 272)
Although Ellsberg took many precautions to remain anonymous, and once discovered, avoid arrest long enough to ensure the report’s publication (staying with friends and avoiding wiretapped phones), he had already been suspected of leaking the information even before The New York Times ran the first story. When The Times contacted RAND executive Leslie Gelb, giving him a chance to comment on the story, he immediately focused on Ellsberg as the potential leaker. (Wells, 407) Not many analysts at RAND had both the top-secret clearance to see the Pentagon Papers in addition to an intense opposition to the Vietnam War. Within a few days of The New York Times’ publication of the story, even President Nixon had settled on Ellsberg being the person who leaked the information. (Ellsberg, 426)
As more and more newspapers published the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg’s chances of maintaining anonymity vanished. One of Senator McGovern’s legislative aides told Newsweek that Ellsberg had given them the top-secret document, proposing that the senator take it to Congress. In addition, with an offer of immunity, the FBI acquired an affidavit detailing Ellsberg’s actions from his ex-wife, as well as a testimony from Ellsberg’s friend who had let him use the photocopier. (Ellsberg, 404) Recognizing that he couldn’t prolong his freedom any longer, Ellsberg turned himself in to authorities in Boston just as Time magazine printed his face on the cover of an issue titled “The War Exposed.” (‘The War Exposed’) Because of the technological limitations of the time, Ellsberg had exposed himself despite his efforts to remain anonymous.
President Nixon and his administration viewed the leak as a catastrophe because it undermined the Executive branch’s power. In response, they planned and carried out a series of blunderous schemes in an attempt to ruin Ellsberg’s reputation prior to his trial. The first scheme involved a group of White House agents tailing and later breaking into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s therapist. Their goal was to look through Ellsberg’s personal files and find some information they could use to tarnish his reputation: controversy in his personal life, affiliations with foreign governments or connections to dangerous organizations. Despite the effort of putting on disguises and breaking-and-entering, the agents were unable to find anything. (‘Democracynow.org’)
Subsequently, the Nixon administration attempted and failed to drug Ellsberg with LSD before a speech he was giving in Washington D.C. and have him “totally incapacitated” by a group of Cuban men at a peace rally. (Liddy, 170) Ellsberg’s defense also found that federal investigators had illegally wiretapped both Ellsberg and one of his peers at RAND as well as withheld that information from the defense during the trial. Not only that, but Judge William Byrne, who was overseeing the case, stated that one of President Nixon’s aides had come to him with an offer to promote him to Director of the FBI in exchange for influence over the case. The result of all of these miscalculations and such blatant disregard for the law was a mistrial. As Byrne stated in his decision, “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.” (Wells, 556) Although he wasn’t acquitted of violating the espionage act, Ellsberg was freed because of the mistrial.
The purpose of giving this biographical account of both Daniel Ellsberg’s life story as well as the logistics of accomplishing a successful leak is to provide a basis for properly analyzing the differences between executing a governmental privacy breach forty years ago and doing the same today. As it will become clear later, accomplishing a leak of this scale or even larger has become exponentially easier today. But what does this point to? Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg are in fact different people, and yes, the technology available to them differed enormously. However, why were their experiences so different (both logistically and in terms of how they were received)? Before answering these questions, it is necessary to examine the Bradley Manning phenomenon in the same way. Once both phenomena have been scrutinized similarly, it will be possible to analyze and explain the differences between successfully executing a governmental privacy breach forty years ago and today.