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Ellsberg: Still Ahead of the Curve
Published on Thursday, June 10, 2004 by the Santa Monica Mirror (California)
Ellsberg: Still Ahead of the Curve
by Kathleen Herd Masser

Last week, Daniel Ellsberg returned to the scene of what the U.S. government once called a crime, to deliver an address at Santa Monica College, just a mile from his former employer, the RAND Corporation.

David Burak, the history instructor who brought Ellsberg to the campus, introduced the lecturer, writer and activist as “a shape shifter. He went from a man once highly commended by [Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger to being called the most dangerous man in America.”

Ellsberg started with RAND in 1959 as a strategic analyst and consultant to the Department of Defense and the White House. His specialty was nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. From 1964-67, he worked for the departments of defense and state.

“August 1, 1964 was my first day as a full-time employee at the Pentagon,” he recalls. “A courier ran in with a cable from the commander of a flotilla in the South China Sea, saying they were under torpedo attack.”

Throughout the morning, cables came in “every 10 minutes,” claiming as many as 21 torpedoes had been fired. President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara “were picking retaliation targets.”

“At 1:30, a cable arrived saying ‘stop. All torpedo accounts except the first are suspect.’ The sonar man was ‘mistaken.’ There weren’t 21 torpedoes. Actually, there were none.”

But McNamara kept preparing to retaliate anyway. He knew what the rest of the world didn’t: just the night before, the U.S. had covertly attacked North Vietnam.

On August 9th, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, authorizing the president to “take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force” to counter “a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression.”

Ellsberg is still tormented by what he feels was his own failure to act. “What should I have done with the information I had on August 4th or 5th? Should I have gone to the press? That’s what I should have done, what I wished I’d done. Instead, I went on learning my job. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

(During a pause in his speech, Ellsberg’s microphone spewed feedback, prompting him to remark, “Silence has consequences.”)

Returning to RAND in 1967, Ellsberg worked on a top-secret study called “U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68.” In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000-page document and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Two years passed, and in 1971, Ellsberg turned over to the press what would become known as the Pentagon Papers.

“I did it,” he explains, “because I met young people who were doing what they could. I asked myself, what can I do to end the war if I’m willing to give up my career and go to jail?”

The government charged Ellsberg with 12 felony counts that could have meant 115 years in prison. “I was the only person since Nathan Hale to be prosecuted for leaking information to the press.”

“Daniel Ellsberg put his life on the line just as much as we did,” says Daniel Cano, SMC English professor and a former paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. “He revealed the truth about the Vietnam War that the Nixon administration didn’t want the public to know.”

Ellsberg pointed out similarities in the Vietnam and Iraq wars, calling the Tonkin Gulf Resolution “the model for the Iraq Resolution.”

“The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was based on lies. ‘It was an unprovoked attack. We have unequivocal evidence. These are not beliefs, they are facts.’ [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld said ‘we know they have missiles and we know where they are.’ He’s either psychotic or he’s lying.”

And for CIA chief George Tenet “to [present] a national intelligence estimate that he knew was distorted was an inexcusable crime and dereliction of duty. He used his ability and institution to lie the public into a war.” (Tenet announced his resignation just hours before Ellsberg’s appearance.)

“War is very complicated,” observed Cano. “I’m glad we have men like Daniel Ellsberg to sort it out for us.”

“This war is going to be very hard to end,” Ellsberg cautions. “A colleague who is still at RAND thinks it will go on for 20 years. We got out of Vietnam in 10 years. There wasn’t any oil in Vietnam.”

Ellsberg On The Issues

Terrorism: “The U.S. took Special Forces out of Afghanistan where they were pursuing Al Qaeda. Iraq has no connection to terrorism, but the invasion is sure to create recruits for Bin Laden.”

Ahmed Chalabi: “He may have been the greatest secret agent in Iran’s history of spying.”

Richard Clarke: “Clark recognized [the Bush administration’s] determination to acquire Iraq as a territory for oil, although it would certainly increase terrorism. I’m glad he didn’t wait until after [President Bush and Vice President Cheney] were re-elected to tell us.”

Prisoner photos: “The photos created no sensation in Iraq. The people there already knew what was going on.” If not for Joseph Darby, the young soldier who exposed the abuse at Abu Ghraib, “The investigation would still be classified top secret.”

Prisoner abuse: “If you think that your brothers, sisters, your fathers and sons could have not have ‘softened up’ prisoners at Abu Ghraib, you are mistaken. The order to set aside the Geneva Convention came from the top and was approved by the president. It’s a long-standing policy that was used in Nicaragua and elsewhere, by our proxies.”

Congress: “People put too much pressure on the president and not enough on congress. Almost nobody brought to the press’s attention how badly they were doing. Thousands have died because of patriarchal, militaristic attitudes that we are trained to think is part of being a man,” including Democrats who “are afraid of being called cowards, unmanly, or weak on terror.”

The “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame: “Plame was tracking the proliferation of nuclear materials around the world. [Vice President Dick] Cheney was probably involved in the leak. We could lose a president over this.” (This last comment was met with a spirited round of applause.)

New Patriot Act: “It will make Patriot Act I look like the Bill of Rights.” Ellsberg also predicts a more authoritarian Secrets Act will crop up “after the next terror attack, to go after reporter sources.”

Military draft: “We have involuntary service now, through the extended tours, and troops are understandably enraged. We shouldn’t be putting more troops into Iraq. It gives the Defense Department too many men and women to play with.”

Draft backlash: “A draft will create an anti-war movement. We’ll have to do better than we did last time.”

The Bush administration: “Bush and his entire cabinet are indictable at The Hague. I’d like to see Congress say ‘these crimes must be investigated.’ They deserve impeachment. I’d do anything nonviolent and truthful to get this gang out of power. It will take a lot of people taking risks and showing courage.”

Copyright © 2004 by Santa Monica Mirror


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