He was a 33-year-old on his first day at the Pentagon as special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton. It also was the day the North Vietnamese navy allegedly fired 21 torpedoes at U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Ellsberg was one of 100 people who saw top secret transmissions later in the day saying the attack never happened, yet President Lyndon Johnson used the alleged incident to drive the U.S. into full-scale war in Vietnam.
"I knew Congress was being deceived into a declaration of war and that the public was being totally deceived into a landslide victory for a man who was about to plunge them into a big war," Ellsberg told a crowd of more than 200 people Thursday evening at the inaugural Ware Seminar on Global Citizenship at Elizabethtown College's Center for Global Citizenship.
The 76-year-old activist gained notoriety during the Vietnam War when he released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers, detailing internal U.S. policy decisions regarding the war and its escalation.
Ellsberg said in the last few weeks he has begun to think a coup has occurred in the presidency of George Bush, which he characterized as a "rogue administration."
He said that if a new 9/11 terrorist attack happens in the United States, the president would not hesitate to suspend and dismantle the Constitution and that hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners and dissidents could end up in detention camps. "I think we're in danger - we're in a crisis," he said.
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Ellsberg pointed to actions taken by Bush that he said violate the law, including endorsing warrantless surveillance and lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At the same time, he was quick to chastise the Democrats in Congress, saying that by going along with Bush's war they've failed their duty to uphold the Constitution.
He said the Senate resolution passed Wednesday declaring Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization is an invitation for Bush to declare war on Iran.
Ellsberg compared Wednesday's resolution to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, passed Aug. 7, 1964, that gave Johnson a virtually blank check for combat in North Vietnam. He laid out a scenario of $200 a barrel for oil, the possibility of retaliatory attacks against the U.S. and the president keeping open the "nuclear option" to attack Iran. He said he is asking people in government who have information that could stop such a war before it happens to not do what he did by releasing the Pentagon Papers after the war started. He said they should do what he didn't do - release the information before a disaster happens. "Don't wait till the war has started," Ellsberg told the audience. "Don't wait till the bombs are falling or thousands more have died."
Ellsberg said he has been called a traitor numerous times for breaking a "vow of secrecy" when he released the Pentagon Papers. But Ellsberg said he took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution - the same oath all military and public servants are required to take.
"It is not an oath to the president," Ellsberg said. "And it's not an oath to keep secrets. And it's not an oath to the commander in chief, or the Fuhrer or Caesar or to the flag. "It is an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God, against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
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