WikiLeaks Q&A with Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers
Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the most significant leak in Pentagon history – the 1971 Pentagon Papers – spoke to the Monitor about how important the WikiLeaks documents are and whether WikiLeaks is the Afghanistan war's Pentagon Papers.
Before WikiLeaks, before the Afghanistan war, before the Internet, a defense analyst named Daniel Ellsberg rocked America in 1971 when he leaked to the newspapers of the day a top-secret study of US decisionmaking in Vietnam. The documents came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Some 7,000 pages in all, the Pentagon Papers have long been considered the most important leak in Pentagon history, showing that senior Pentagon and administration officials were misleading Americans about the course of the Vietnam War. They recast perceptions of the war and and charted new legal ground, with President Nixon going to the courts in a failed attempt to try and stop The New York Times from publishing later installments.
Now, as WikiLeaks releases 91,000 classified documents about US military involvement in Afghanistan, the Pentagon Papers are once again entering the American lexicon. Are the WikiLeaks documents the most important Pentagon leak since the Pentagon Papers?
On the size and nature of the leak
This is the first really large-scale, unauthorized disclosure leak since the Pentagon papers. There has been nothing like it in the 40 years in between. So, I’m glad to see that new technology being exploited here. I couldn’t have released on this scale 40 years ago. In fact, I couldn’t have done what I did do without Xerox at that time. Ten years earlier I couldn’t have put out the Pentagon Papers. But this is much larger in volume and it’s more current....
On the similarities between the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks documents
[The documents] look very familiar to me. Different places and names, but they are describing a war that is as thoroughly stalemated as was the case 40 years ago and more in Vietnam.
On the differences
The Pentagon Papers were high-level, top-secret documents of decisionmaking estimates. They were alternative strategies. They were being debated, and they were presidential decisions of various kinds. It was a more revealing set of documents about the way in which the country was being deceived into continuing a hopeless war. So, you could say that the Pentagon Papers of Afghanistan remain to be revealed, and I hope someone does that. And, for that matter, the Pentagon Papers of Iraq we have yet to see. But this is a very good start. The drama of such a huge volume being released is giving the public media attention and the public attention that President Nixon’s injunctions gave to the Pentagon Papers. So, I’m glad to see the press really is taking the content of these documents seriously so far and not focusing solely on the question of the leak itself or the process.
On why is it important that this kind of information gets out