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Daniel Ellsberg

Born: 7-Apr-1931
Birthplace: Chicago, IL

Gender: Male
Religion: Buddhist [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Government

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Pentagon Papers source

Military service: USMC (1954-57, Lt.)

Daniel Ellsberg was a Marine officer with battle experience in Vietnam and a PhD in economics from Harvard. He worked as an analyst at the defense-oriented Rand Corporation, then joined the Defense Department in the Richard M. Nixon administration. As a "war theory" expert, he was granted the highest security clearance. He supported the war in Vietnam, but his perspective gradually changed as he saw internal Pentagon documents that described the war as hopelessly stalemated.

His change of heart became complete after Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered a brutally honest (and also, of course, top secret) analysis of US military involvement in Vietnam. The study, titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, made it clear that from the earliest American involvement in the Vietnamese war, numerous public statements about the war from government officials had been knowingly, demonstrably false. Unsure what to do, Ellsberg did nothing for three years, before deciding that the public should know it had been lied to. He then photocopied thousands of pages of this secret material, and gave these "Pentagon Papers" to reporter Neil Sheehan at the New York Times, and to the Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers.

Beginning on 13 June 1971, the Times began publishing excerpts daily, and the Nixon administration demanded that they stop. Other newspapers began publishing excerpts, and they too received cease-and-desist letters from the Justice Department, until Attorney General John Mitchell secured a temporary injunction blocking further publication of the documents. The matter was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 that freedom of the press trumped Nixon's complaints, and allowed the publication of the documents to resume.

Ellsberg was the first American prosecuted under the Espionage Act for passing along classified documents to newspapers, not to a foreign power, and he faced 115 years in prison had he been found guilty. Meanwhile, in an attempt to lessen the Pentagon Papers' impact, the Nixon administration spread false rumors that Ellsberg was homosexual, and had committed war crimes while in the Marines. White House "plumbers" were sent to burglarize Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to obtain possibly damaging information about him. And finally, the White House sent several Cuban CIA "assets" to assault or assassinate Ellsberg at a rally where he was speaking, but the size of the crowd made their mission impossible. As all the government's misconduct came to light, the judge dismissed all charges against him.

In the decades since his brief time in the national spotlight, Ellsberg has been an activist against nuclear weapons, and worked for Physicians for Social Responsibility. In 2005 he camped out with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas to protest the US war on Iraq. He has been arrested about 70 times at various demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, and jailed about 50 times.

What Ellsberg did in 1971 was extremely controversial at the time, and remains so. There are many people who consider him a traitor. Ellsberg says his conscience is haunted by the three years he wavered, worried, and waited before leaking the Pentagon Papers, and he wonders how many American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines might have been spared if he had started his photocopying sooner. And he still advocates whistleblowing by any government employees who can expose government lies, corruption, and cover-ups.

[1] Both of Ellsberg's parents were Jewish, but they converted to Christianity before he was born, and Ellsberg was raised in the Christian Science church. He was a practicing Episcopalian while raising his children, and has said he considers himself culturally but not religiously Jewish. In his later years he has studied Buddhism, and says he is particularly drawn to its principles of non-violence.

Father: Harry Ellsberg (engineer)
Mother: Adele Ellsberg
Wife: Carol Cummings (college sweetheart, m. 1951, div. 1964, two children)
Son: Robert Boyd Ellsberg (author, b. circa 1956)
Daughter: Mary Ellsberg Carroll (healthcare executive, b. circa 1959)
Wife: Patricia Marx (activist, heiress to Marx Toy Co., together 1965-70, m. 1970)

    High School: Cranbrook School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1948)
    University: BA Economics, Harvard University (1952)
    University: King's College, Cambridge University (studied 1952-53)
    University: MA, Harvard University (1954)
    University: PhD Economics, Harvard University (1963)

    Pentagon Papers Leak
    RAND Corporation (1959-)
    Bradley Manning Support Network Advisory Board (2010)
    The Harvard Crimson
    Draft Deferment: Vietnam 2-S
    Assassination Attempt 3-May-1972 (abortive, Washington, DC)
    Conspiracy charges dropped
    Espionage charges dropped
    Theft charges dropped
    Civil Disobedience outside the White House, Washington, DC (16-Dec-2010)
    Jewish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Hepatitis, Yoga

    War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State (19-Apr-2013) · Himself
    Ethos (10-Feb-2011) · Himself
    The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (11-Sep-2009) · Himself
    Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire (10-Sep-2004) · Himself
    Hearts and Minds (1974) · Himself

Official Website:

Author of books:
Papers on the War (1972)
Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001)
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002, memoir)

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