Pentagon Papers Leaker Daniel Ellsberg Is Dead

Famous whistleblower over the Vietnam War was 92
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 16, 2023 1:58 PM CDT
Pentagon Papers Leaker Daniel Ellsberg Is Dead
Daniel Ellsberg talks to the media outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, April 28, 1973.   (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

Daniel Ellsberg, the history-making whistleblower who by leaking the Pentagon Papers revealed longtime government doubts and deceit about the Vietnam War and inspired acts of retaliation by President Richard Nixon that helped lead to his resignation, has died at age 92. Ellsberg, who announced in February that he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, died Friday morning, according to a letter from his family released by spokeswoman Julia Pacetti, per the AP.

Until the early 1970s, when he revealed that he was the source for the stunning media reports on the 47-volume, 7,000-page Defense Department study of the US role in Indochina, Ellsberg was a well-placed member of the government-military elite. He was a Harvard graduate and self-defined “cold warrior” who served as a private and government consultant on Vietnam throughout the 1960s, risked his life on the battlefield, received the highest security clearances and came to be trusted by officials in Democratic and Republican administrations. He was especially valued, he would later note, for his “talent for discretion.”

The Pentagon Papers had been commissioned in 1967 by then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, a leading public advocate of the war who wanted to leave behind a comprehensive history of the US and Vietnam and to help his successors avoid the kinds of mistakes he would only admit to long after. The papers covered more than 20 years, from France’s failed efforts at colonization in the 1940s and 1950s to the growing involvement of the US, including the bombing raids and deployment of hundreds of thousands of ground troops during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Ellsberg was among those asked to work on the study, focusing on 1961, when the newly-elected President John F. Kennedy began adding advisers and support units.

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First published in the New York Times in June 1971, with the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and more than a dozen others following, the classified papers documented that the US had defied a 1954 settlement barring a foreign military presence in Vietnam, questioned whether South Vietnam had a viable government, secretly expanded the war to neighboring countries, and had plotted to send American soldiers even as Johnson vowed he wouldn’t. (More Daniel Ellsberg stories.)

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