The Guardian • Issue #2059

Daniel Ellsberg

“The most dangerous man in America”

Daniel Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg. Photo: Christopher Michel – (CC BY 2.0).

Daniel Ellsberg, once known as “the most dangerous man in America,” died on 16th June 2023 at the age of 92. In 1969 he was working as a Pentagon consultant at the prestigious Rand Corporation think tank, where he gained access to classified documents on the Vietnam War, which already had killed 45,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. In 1971 he exposed the history of US involvement in US Decision-Making in Vietnam, 1945–68, better known as the Pentagon Papers. The 7000 pages disclosed massive deception by US Presidents from Harry Truman to Lyndon B Johnson.

The Nixon administration tried and failed to block the Pentagon Papers publication.  It went to the Supreme Court, which considered the implications of the wiretapping of one of the defendants and his lawyer by the government, in what became known as Watergate. The trial court judge, Matthew Byrne, declared a mistrial and the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to allow the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

Ellsberg’s disclosure of US activities is credited as a major factor in ending the war in Vietnam. The former chief editor of The Guardian (UK) newspaper, Alan Rusbridger, called Ellsberg, “the grandfather of whistleblowers.”

The publication of the Pentagon Papers was followed by Philip Agee’s Inside the Company: CIA Diary (1975), which exposed CIA activities in Latin America. More recent whistleblowers include Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. In 2010 Julian Assange published in his Wikileaks, more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables, provided by a US Army intelligence analyst. He is presently in prison in the UK, with the possibility that he will be extradited to the USA to face espionage charges.

With the US presently provoking war with China, it is worth remembering the real aim of the Vietnam War. President Johnson stated that the Vietnam War was to secure an “independent, non-Communist South Vietnam,” but a January 1965 memorandum by Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton stated that it was actually “to contain China.”

According to the Pentagon Papers, the US government played a key role in the 1963 South Vietnamese coup and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, thereby escalating the US presence in Saigon. On 3rd November 1965, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, sent a memorandum to President Johnson about the bombings: “The February decision to bomb North Vietnam and the July approval of Phase 1 deployments make sense only if they are in support of a long-run United States policy to contain China.”

In 2021, concerned about the US stoking tensions with China, Ellsberg released a classified government report showing the US had planned to attack China with nuclear weapons, during the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis. A nuclear first strike by the US was an “insane” policy that would have ended “most life on Earth.”

In April 2023 Jack Teixeira, a member of the Air National Guard, was arrested for leaking classified documents on the Ukraine Conflict, prepared by the Joint Chief of Staff intelligence directorate and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The “Top Secret” documents revealed that since February 2022, 43,000 Russian soldiers had been killed and 180,000 wounded. Ukraine also had suffered massive losses with 131,000 killed and wounded.

In a recent interview, Ellsberg found the conflicts in Ukraine and Taiwan constituted an “insanity that has taken over the public,” as there was a “real possibility of a nuclear war.” That Boris Johnson and other Western leaders dissuaded Volodymyr Zelenskyy from signing a peace treaty in April 2022 was a “crime against humanity.” They told Zelenskyy: “We are not ready for that. We want the war to continue. We will not accept a negotiation.” Ellsberg believed that “there were a lot of Americans who wanted this war.”   

Filmmaker Michael Moore said that Ellsberg “risked being jailed for life for his role in helping to end America’s mass slaughter in Vietnam.”

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More