Daniel Ellsberg to discuss WikiLeaks at Princeton

Posted on February 25, 2012


On March 8, renowned Pentagon Papers journalist Daniel Ellsberg is scheduled to speak at Princeton for a discussion on WikiLeaks. A Princeton webpage describes the upcoming talk — entitled “Secrets, Lies, and Leaks: From the Pentagon Papers to Wikileaks” — as follows:

“Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 precipitated a national political controversy when he released the top secret “Pentagon Papers” to the media, will participate in a conversation with Bart Gellman ’82, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author in residence and visiting lecturer in public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, titled, “Secrets, Lies, and Leaks: From the Pentagon Papers to Wikileaks.” The event is co-sponsored by the Wilson School and the Princeton University Committee on Public Lectures. It is part of the School’s “Media and Public Policy” thematic lecture series.

“While working at the Rand Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg contributed to a top-secret study of classified documents regarding the conduct of the Vietnam War that had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.  These documents became known as the Pentagon Papers.  Ellsberg was one of the very few individuals to have access to the complete set of documents: 47 volumes, 7000 pages.  In 1969, Ellsberg secretly made several sets of photocopies of the classified documents that revealed that the U.S. government had knowledge, early on, that the Vietnam War most likely could not be won, and that continuing the conflict would lead to many more casualties than what was admitted publicly.

“Ellsberg initially shared all the documents with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which failed to hold the public hearings he hoped for.  In early 1971 he gave some 4000 pages to The New York Times, which published the first of nine installments of excerpts and commentaries on June 13, 1971.  After three installments, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles under court order requested by the Nixon Administration.  During that time, while eluding an FBI manhunt, Ellsberg leaked the documents to The Washington Post and 17 other newspapers, in the face of three other injunctions, the first prior restraints on publishing in our history.  Following the lifting of restraints by the Supreme Court, publication resumed.  But Ellsberg was indicted and prosecuted on twelve felony counts of violating the espionage, theft and conspiracy statues–the first prosecution ever for a leak to the public–with a possible sentence of 115 years in prison.   Almost two years later, after five months in federal district court, all charges were dismissed for gross governmental misconduct against Ellsberg–by a White House team known as the “plumbers”–and illegal evidence gathering.

“A series of releases by Wikileaks in 2010 of classified and unclassified official documents raised again the issue of whether there are special cases where government secrecy should trump the First Amendment.  The releases included a video showing the killing of civilians by an American helicopter crew in Iraq, titled “Collateral Murder”; tens of thousands of classified war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq; and finally some 250,000 State Department cables, many classified secret, downloaded by Pfc. Bradley Manning, who now faces court-martial charges, including counts under the statutes first applied to leaks in Ellsberg’s case.

“Ellsberg has come to the defense of both Pfc. Bradley Manning and the Australian director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, claiming that if Manning did take the actions charged–which would clearly violate military regulations, subjecting him to court-martial–he nevertheless acted rightly and even admirably, motivated by conscience and patriotism. Ellsberg argues that Assange should not be considered a criminal under the laws of the United States, in light of the First Amendment, for posting the sequence of revelations on the WikiLeaks website and sharing them with major newspapers internationally.

“The event will be archived online for later viewing on the Woodrow Wilson School’s Webmedia site – http://wws.princeton.edu/webmedia
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