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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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In this case, there are questions that can be raised by such a large-scale disclosure. It’s not something I would advise in general – to put out information they haven’t had the opportunity to read entirely and judge themselves as I was able to do with the Pentagon Papers. But the volume has had the effect of dramatizing those and drawing attention to what is not there to be revealed, which is: a good reason for staying [in Afghanistan]....

On what questions the WikiLeaks documents raise

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Two are beginning to be asked and deserve consideration by congress. One: Is our presence not continuing to strengthen the Taliban, and has anything changed in last six months? Second: [Sen. John] Kerry [(D) of Massachusetts] seems to show some willingness to investigate the real role of Pakistan.

What really needs to be investigated is not whether Pakistan has a separate foreign policy from the US. They are a separate country and are entitled to see their interests differently from the United States. But exactly what are they doing? We know apparently they are supporting the Afghan Taliban, which they created with our encouragement, even while they have been opposing the Pakistan Taliban, which is a separate entity. They are taking credit for opposing [the Pakistan Taliban] because they threaten [Pakistan]. They are opposing the people who threaten regime change in Pakistan. We’ve been trying to encourage them as seeing Afghan Taliban as their enemy, but they don’t see them as their enemy.

So the question is: What does that say about our chances of suppressing the Afghan Taliban? With Pakistan supporting them, we will not be able to do it. The winnability of this war is zero. So what do we do then? Should we be giving Pakistan money to oppose our own efforts in Afghanistan? That isn’t too hard to answer, but it seems to be too hard for our Congress to answer. Congress should investigate. What should our policy be in light of the fact that we are at odds with our ally? It deserves investigation, and it hasn’t happened. Apparently, the leak here to the Times has stimulated new interest in investigating that in the Senate.

On whether he is optimistic about the power of raw information in a democracy

I still put my hopes in it, and in democracy – our democracy. A democracy requires this information. Unauthorized disclosures are the lifeblood of a republic. That remains true. We can’t rely only on the authorized handouts from the government any more now than we could under [British King] George III. The First Amendment was a marvelous invention, one of our best contributions to human society. And it deserves to be instituted in every country. Not many have a First Amendment, we are very lucky in that....