U.S. GOVERNMENT Source of Pentagon Papers calls for more leaks
After the leak, he was arrested and charged with 12 felonies.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- A decade before he leaked to the press secret Vietnam War documents known as the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, then a nuclear war plans consultant under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, drafted a presidential query to the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
"If existing general war plans were carried out as planned, how many people would be killed in the Soviet Union and China alone?"
The answer shocked him. Ten years later he would release the secret Pentagon assessment of the Vietnam War, and today he is asking federal employees to sweep the covers from government misdeeds in a nationwide "Truth Telling Project." Ellsberg queried the Joint Chiefs in 1961.
The answer, directed to President John F. Kennedy, came back in the form of a straight-line graph, beginning at 275 million dead on the day of impact, climbing to 325 million after six months, when nuclear fallout would have killed 50 million more.
He should have gone public with it then, he now says as he unhappily considers the dearth of people willing to risk careers by revealing government deceit.
Recalling the 1961 episode this month in the kitchen of his Kensington, Calif., home, Ellsberg drew a replica of the 4-decades-old graph and above it the words "Top Secret -- Eyes Only for the President."
The plan was for a nuclear U.S. "first strike" in the event the Soviets invaded West Berlin or Yugoslavia.
It called for nuking every major Soviet and Chinese city. Collateral damage, including the obliteration of Soviet satellite nations and others, including neutral ones and even U.S. allies, on the Soviet and Chinese perimeters, would bring the death count after six months to 600 million, the Joint Chiefs projected.
"That's 100 Holocausts," Ellsberg said, lecturing in the fall at the Unitarian Universalist Association in Kensington, where the Rev. Mr. Bill Hamilton-Holway described him as "the nation's most important whistle-blower."
"Since that time, the notion of evil, which I had associated with the Nazis before, had a very concrete meaning for me," Ellsberg said. The episode "showed me that just about anybody was capable of participating in great, great evil."
Leaked to paper
Ellsberg also describes the 1961 episode in his 2002 book, "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers." The title refers to the 7,000 pages of secret Defense Department documents he leaked to the New York Times.
A self-described former Cold Warrior, Ellsberg had concluded after a tour in Vietnam as a State Department observer that the American public was being deceived about the costs, the likely duration and the chances of success of the war. Before giving the papers to the Times, Ellsberg had taken them to Sens. J. William Fulbright and George McGovern, hoping in vain that one would disclose them.
Ellsberg was arrested and charged with 12 felonies and could have spent the rest of his life in jail. A judge dismissed all charges in 1973 after revelations of government misconduct including a burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office by the "Plumbers" of Watergate fame.
For the past three decades, Ellsberg has done anti-nuclear work largely out of the national limelight, getting arrested more than 60 times, he said. Now, he is once again the object of national attention.
He sees parallels between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, both of which he believes were based on deceit and manipulation of opinion.