Daniel Ellsberg, US whistleblower and peace activist, dies at age 92

News 17.06.2023

US peace activist Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official who leaked classified information documenting the US government’s lies about the Vietnam War, passed away on Friday at the age of 92. He received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006 “for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.”

“Dan loved a quote by Henry David Thoreau where he says that you should ‘cast your whole vote’, that you can change society in everything that you do. And Dan certainly lived his life like that. His conviction that everybody has the power to create change inspired countless people around the world,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director.

Ellsberg, who was born in 1931 and graduated from Harvard University in 1952, became a world-renowned whistleblower after he leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1971. The documents showing that the US government had knowingly misled the public were instrumental in ending the failed military intervention in Vietnam.

After serving in the US Marine Corps from 1954 to 1957, Ellsberg joined the Rand Corporation as a strategic analyst while also obtaining a PhD in economics from Harvard. At Rand, his focus was on the command and control of nuclear weapons and the guidance to nuclear war plans.

In 1964, he joined the US Defense Department to work principally on decision-making in the Vietnam War – his first day there coincided with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which sparked the eight-year bombing of Vietnam.

Over the next five years, which included two years on the front line in Vietnam, he became progressively disillusioned with the war. This led to his decision to do anything he could to stop the war.

In the late 1960s, he contributed to a 7,000-page top-secret study on decision-making in Vietnam under four US administrations. The study contained thousands of pages of historical analysis and original military documents. Once Ellsberg had read the entire report, he started copying and passing it to US Senator J. William Fulbright, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When Fulbright did nothing, and the US went on to invade Laos and Cambodia, Ellsberg decided to leak the report to The New York Times, then The Washington Post and, when injunctions not to publish rained down on these papers, to seventeen other newspapers. The Pentagon Papers were out.

After a historic court battle, the US Supreme Court voided the injunctions against the newspapers as contrary to the First Amendment. However, Ellsberg was arrested and indicted on twelve counts of felony. President Richard Nixon was concerned that Ellsberg might have even more sensitive papers that he would leak, so he illegally arranged to have the offices of Ellsberg’s former psychoanalyst broken into, hoping to find information to blackmail Ellsberg into silence. This incident became part of the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation and, ultimately, the end of the Vietnam War.

In 1973, the case against Ellsberg was dismissed by the courts, citing governmental misconduct against him.

After this, he devoted his life to working for peace and nuclear disarmament. He campaigned against the neutron bomb and later against the development of the Cruise and Pershing missile systems. He even sailed on a Greenpeace boat to protest against Soviet nuclear testing.

Ellsberg took part in scores of actions and estimated that he had been arrested around 70 times, including in protests against the Iraq War.

In 2012, he co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation, aiming to protect and promote the right of freedom of the press.

Ellsberg continued his activism until the very end. Even in the months leading up to his passing, he gave media interviews warning about climate change, the threat of nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine and the silencing of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden.

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