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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.

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If Bradley Manning [who is charged with leaking a video of an incident in the Iraq war to WikiLeaks, and is a suspect in the new Afghanistan leaks] is quoted correctly by the person who informed on him, he said he was willing to go to prison to tell the American people the truth about things that had sickened him to learn, and that he felt were criminal in a war that he felt should be ended. When I read that, I recognized the first person I had read of in 40 years that was in the same state of mind that I was in in 1969 and '71. I expected to go to prison for the rest of my life, and I thought the risk was worth taking....

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On whether he ever regretted what he did

No, I have regretted that I waited. I wish very much I had put it out before we escalated in Vietnam – that I had put it out in '64. In '69, I gave it to the Senate, and I do regret that I didn’t give it to press right away, because another year and a half was wasted waiting for them to take the political risks of holding hearings, which they initially promised and which they backed off from because of the charges they thought they would face. They would be accused of risking lives by putting out this information – as The Times was accused by Nixon, falsely, as it turned out....

When I hear these charges that it is irresponsible to have done this by [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange ... I don’t think that charge comes very well from from people who are so irresponsible as to put our troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan. The charge we hear – that his release is risking lives – is almost ludicrous....

On whether the Internet would have changed the Pentagon Papers

No, because they were published in their scale by newspapers and Beacon press, which paid a very heavy price economically for publishing them, although it survived. So they did get out. But information on this scale couldn’t have been available then. In a way, it was good that they didn’t all come out at once, because the president was tempted to enjoin them – which was unconstitutional and was rejected by the Supreme Court, but it gave the whole process a drama it wouldn’t have had otherwise. So it was good that Nixon tried to enjoin them, because it attracted the attention of the public to what the papers were saying in a way that might not have happened otherwise.