Pentagon Papers Leaker Says He Has Terminal Cancer

Daniel Ellsberg has been told he has three to six months left
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 4, 2023 12:50 PM CST
Pentagon Papers Leaker Says He Has Terminal Cancer
Daniel Ellsberg speaks during an interview in Los Angeles in 2009.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Daniel Ellsberg, who copied and leaked documents that revealed secret details of US strategy in the Vietnam War and became known as the Pentagon Papers, said he has terminal cancer and months to live. Ellsberg posted on his Facebook page Thursday that doctors diagnosed the 91-year-old with inoperable pancreatic cancer on Feb. 17 following medical scans. Doctors say he has three to six months to live, he said. Ellsberg said he has opted not to undergo chemotherapy and plans to accept hospice care when needed, the AP reports.

The documents in the Pentagon Papers looked in excruciating detail at the decisions and strategies of the Vietnam War. They told how US involvement was built up steadily by political leaders and top military brass who were overconfident about US prospects and deceptive about the accomplishments against the North Vietnamese. Ellsberg, a former consultant to the Defense Department, provided the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a reporter who broke the story for the New York Times in June 1971. Sheehan died in 2021. Sheehan smuggled the documents out of the Massachusetts apartment where Ellsberg had stashed them, illicitly copied thousands of pages, and took them to the Times.

President Richard Nixon's administration got a court injunction arguing national security was at stake and publication was stopped. In June 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing publication, and the Times and the Washington Post resumed printing stories. The Nixon administration tried to discredit Ellsberg, an effort that included Nixon aides orchestrating a break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy, and violations of the Espionage Act, but his case ended in a mistrial when evidence surfaced about government-ordered wiretappings and break-ins. "When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War," Ellsberg wrote.

(More Daniel Ellsberg stories.)

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