Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg on America’s toxic political culture:
Well, as I listened to Attorney General Holder on your program just now, I realize that he’s in the same position of that Attorney General Mitchell was in 40 years ago with the Pentagon Papers when they came out. We have an act of free speech, of free press, of informing the public, an act in search of a crime, in search of a law that would call it criminal. No one had ever been prosecuted for what I had done then, revealing top secrets. There had been many leaks in the past, then as now, and no one had ever been prosecuted. I was the first. The act they found was the Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917, was never intended to work as an Official Secrets Act, as in England, which would criminalize any release of classified information. But they tried it on me. I was faced with a possible 115 years in prison, which is the kind of sentence they would love to hang on Bradley Manning, who is accused of being the leaker in this case. We don’t know if he was, but I’m going to give him credit for it, since I regard it as a very admirable act, for which I thank him at this time. And if he’s—if the credit is not due, it’s due to the source, whoever that was.
So, I think, actually, what this is about, to a large extent, is trying to, once again, to instate the Espionage Act as if it were an Official Secrets Act, use it to cut down, close off unauthorized disclosures to the American public from inside the government, and also to accompany that with a legislative move to supplement it with an act that is explicitly an Official Secrets Act, one that clearly Congress intends to criminalize any release of classified information, such as the one you were just quoting to—in Cancún. I was interested that the recent release—Amy, you must have been reading it, actually, unlike most people, and found something of note in the cables that were released by the New York Times, given to them by WikiLeaks, and eventually by the source, about what Bradley Manning is reported to have said, the U.S. throwing its weight around against the poor countries of the world to exploit their resources, something that he said he was determined to expose to the American people.
You are reminding us that it’s not only Republicans like Sarah Palin and others, and Peter King, who will be a high—have high position in the House in the next term, who are calling for this kind of thing. In my case—I’m sure, by the way, that if I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me at this time, the same material, same instigations. I would be called not only a traitor, which I was then, which was false and slanderous, but I would be called a terrorist, as a matter of fact. Now, that’s the word today for someone who is beyond the pale of any rights, of any rights of citizenship or any human rights, someone who can be just dealt with summarily like that. The reason for calling for illegal shooting, which is an odd and unusual call, is, as I said at the beginning, because our legal system, with its glorious First Amendment, we don’t have a law that makes it clearly illegal to do what—the truth telling that WikiLeaks and New York Times and Julian Assange has done. Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am, and I’m not.
And that is a—it’s appalling that our conversation after 9/11, in the last ten years, has reached a point where what Nixon did to me covertly can now be called for and actually done openly and very specifically. Nixon brought a dozen Cuban American émigrés, Bay of Pigs veterans, up from Miami to at least beat me up. The words were “incapacitate Ellsberg totally,” which covers the word “kill,” which, as their prosecutor said to me at the time, these guys, who were CIA assets, they don’t use the word “kill.” They avoid it. They use words like “neutralize” and “eliminate” and “with extreme prejudice,” “terminate,” that sort of thing. They avoided the word “kill.” I notice that the change now is that not only is that, which was a covert action, which actually was critical in bringing Nixon down because it was recognized as not only illegal, but really against American values in a fundamental sense, that has now become something you can talk about quite openly. And even the President can refer to special operations teams worldwide whose work is to capture or kill. The word “kill” is no longer avoided in these circles, assassinating people who get in the way by telling the truth.