Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, discusses Bradley Manning’s selective leaks that informed the public of criminal government behavior without endangering lives; Edward Snowden’s bravery in the face of Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers; why it’s safe to assume the NSA records every single electronic communication; evidence that Robert McNamara kept LBJ in the dark about the true nature of the Gulf of Tonkin incident; why Obama persisted with an Afghan “surge” despite knowing it couldn’t work; and the psychology of government secrecy.
Scott Horton Interviews Daniel Ellsberg
The Scott Horton Show
June 20, 2013Â
TRANSCRIPT Â (scroll all the way down for audio)
Scott Horton:Â All right, y’all. Welcome back to the show. It’s the Scott Horton Show. I’m him. Scotthorton.org is my website. I keep all my interview archives there, more than 2800 of them now, going back to 2003. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at /scotthortonshow.
And our next guest on the show today is the American hero, Daniel Ellsberg, liberator of the Pentagon Papers, subject of the excellent documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America, author of the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, which is so important, and you can read Chapter One for free online if you just google around a little bit, all about his first day on the job at the Pentagon in a certain position anyway, the day of the Gulf of Tonkin incident and a very first-person account of what happened there. Incredible stuff. And then he writes all over the place including for Truthdig, where he did a great series on nuclear weapons, and he’s an antiwar activist of many descriptions and in many very important ways, courageous whistleblower and defender of courageous whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg. Welcome back to the show, Dan. How are you?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I’m fine. Thanks for such a warm introduction.
Scott Horton:Â Well, I love you. What am I going to do? Play it down? Come on.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Right, okay. Now it’s out in the open. Okay, great.
Scott Horton:Â Okay, good. So. Let’s talk about the American hero, Bradley Manning. He’s halfway through a military trial right now. I don’t know if you want to talk at all about, you know, where we are in the court process so far, or just about Manning in general.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â You know, because of the Snowden revelations here I haven’t kept up as I should have, and will shortly, on the daily transcripts of that trial, so I’m not up on the very latest stuff on that. Have you been following it closely?
Scott Horton:Â I admit I’ve basically been keeping track through Nathan Fuller and have not read the transcripts myself either, but — although I could say that it seems as though the government’s case is not very strong and that the cross-examination by the defense attorney has been very effective at undermining quite a few of the government’s claims and in basically setting up the informant Adrian Lamo to admit that there was nothing nefarious here, the kid really meant well. There’s just no doubt about it.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Okay. Very good. You know, it’s the group that I’m associated with on the board, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, that gathered money, collected money in order for there to be a transcript so it wouldn’t be in effect a secret trial. So the transcripts are there. Now it’s up to me to make use of them. So thanks for that summary.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah. Well, and of course, thanks to bradleymanning.org, Nathan Fuller, and all those other guys. They’re doing great work there attending the trial, and I’m sorry, I can’t remember the young woman’s name who’s done such great work on this.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Alexa O’Brien.
Scott Horton:Â Alexa, exactly.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah. Was making a transcript earlier which was all the press had to work with.
Scott Horton:Â All right, now. You know, something really bothered me the other day, and it was one of these TV jerks was interviewing Glenn Greenwald and he was saying, ‘Well, now, so would you make the case then that this Snowden guy is somehow different and better than Bradley Manning, who after all is considered a terrible villain by so many people.’ And so that is the conventional wisdom. That’s the consensus that everyone agrees, is that Bradley Manning actually is just a no-goodnik, and even if he did mean well, just think of what a sin it was to indiscriminately dump so many documents. I mean, they don’t really have anything. That’s the best that they have on him, I guess, but they want us to all just really cheer for the state in its crusade against this young man. What’s your position on all that, Dan?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â You know, you don’t see many national security whistleblowers who are identified to the public. Most leakers of classified material are anonymous and stay anonymous. So it’s really a very small set of people whose names are known at all, and when they stick their heads up, when they do make themselves known or become known, the media on the whole shows a very puzzling willingness or determination to join the government in deprecating them, you know, and helping smear them in many ways and focusing on their personal foibles or their sexual life, whatever. This happened certainly with me, not so much on the sex. It so happens that Pat Buchanan and the White House reached the conclusion that publicizing what they knew about my sex life would, quote, ‘only increase his numbers.’ I was a bachelor at the time. So they chose not to use any of that. And they don’t seem to have anything on Snowden.
But, for example, I noticed, having just seen this I would say terrible film, We Steal Secrets by Alex Gibney — rather incomprehensible why he made such a what I would call a bad film — but I notice that no mention was made of — there was ample time given to the charges that were made that Manning and Assange, before Manning’s name was known, but that the source and Assange and WikiLeaks might have blood on their hands, or did have blood on their hands. No mention made of the fact that the Pentagon has repeatedly announced that they have no evidence of any blood resulting from these revelations, which is kind of relevant to those charges.
You know the fact is that there was a problematic aspect, I would say — I don’t call it a fact; subjective here — but there was a problematic aspect, even my view initially, about Manning putting out a lot of material that he hadn’t read. That has a bad ring to it. How can he know whether it’s damaging or not? But you know, three years later, I’ve seen a lot of benefit come out from the cables that might well not have been — that he might not have read, and that might well not have been published by any one source, like the New York Times. For example, the corruption in Tunisia, which led to Arab Spring, really, which led to the downfall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, led to the nonviolent uprising against Mubarak. It’s not at all clear that that would have come out if he had limited himself to the relatively small fraction that he could have read. And on the other hand, no damage whatever. I think we have to — I’ve changed my opinion on that, in other words.
Scott Horton:Â Well, you know —
Daniel Ellsberg: Â He did discriminate between what he did put out, which was only — and I say this in his terms and mine, only Secret. It was not Top Secret, it was not communications intelligence, to both of which he had access. Almost no one seems to realize that his daily work involved communications intelligence higher than Top Secret and Top Secret material, none of which he put out. So whether he should have or not, he was very discriminating in what he put out, just as I was and just as Snowden is.
Scott Horton:Â Right.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â The public is — I don’t know anyone who’s made that simple point.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Well, you know, he has in his guilty plea to the facts on the lesser charges —
Daniel Ellsberg:Â — finally in court when he made his statement. And I believe, by the way, that to hear from him make a statement like that showing what he had put out and what he had not put out, was one of his reasons for making that guilty plea. It was not part of a bargain. It was puzzling to a lot of lawyers why you’d plead guilty to 10 out of 22 charges without any kind of plea bargain, without getting anything back, but I think one of the reasons was to make that point that he had selected what he had put out and felt that the material was only Secret, not even Limdis, Nodis, Exdis — those are distributional restrictions that are put on things — that he presumed that at most it would be embarrassing, and that it would not hurt security. That judgment seems to have been vindicated; after three years, no evidence of damage.
And meanwhile I think his other reason was to say very clearly he had not been induced to do this by WikiLeaks; the idea of a conspiracy there on the part of WikiLeaks was simply invalid and he wanted to say that under oath as clearly as he could. Just as I did when I submitted to arrest, I took public acknowledgement of all the facts that I had done, all the actions that I had done, so that I could say, ‘I did this on my own. I didn’t tell anyone who might otherwise be suspected of helping me. They had no part in it.’ And that didn’t relieve them of all suspicion, but it helped, I’m sure. At least that’s what I wanted to do. And Snowden has done the same. Snowden has taken advantage of revealing himself to say that his partner, his girlfriend in Hawaii, did not know anything of what he was doing, to try to relieve the pressure on her and on his family.
Scott Horton:Â Okay, well, and we’re going to get back to him here in a few. But let me ask you this. I’ve been making the case, and I guess I’m basically cribbing from Kevin Zeese, the lawyer, on this, that Manning’s mistreatment at Quantico, his being held for three years before his court martial was even begun, and the fact that the president — I mean this to me is just the icing on the cake even more than the abuse in prison I think — the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the three highest ranking people in the military chain of command, all have pronounced Manning guilty. And it seems to me that any honest judge would have to admit that that is a direct order to his judge to convict, and how else is she to possibly interpret that? And so he must be set free, Dan. But, then again, I don’t know. Am I going, you know, off the reservation here? What do you think?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â No, you’re absolutely right. He should be free on both counts, just as my charges were dropped when it was revealed that Nixon’s White House had taken steps against me that were criminal and impeachable actually and figured in his impeachment proceedings and, as the judge put it, ‘offends a sense of justice.’ Well, of course Manning’s treatment has offended a sense of justice. But when you say ‘must be set free,’ well, that position has been raised, all of that has been raised, and the court, the judge decided that on the basis of his being held under conditions that the UN Rapporteur for Torture regarded as at least cruel, inhumane treatment and possibly torture, as a result of that they would take 112 days off of his sentence, which might be a life sentence. So I suppose, you know, he gets three months off when he’s in terminal conditions of some kind.
But meanwhile, the treatment of him, and the pronouncements by everybody here, like — I’m talking about Snowden now — have convinced Snowden, and I think very realistically, that if he wanted to be able to tell the public what he had done and why he had done it and what his motives were and what the patterns of criminality were in the material that he was releasing, it had to be outside the United States. Otherwise he would be in perhaps the same cell that Bradley Manning was, and that’s a military cell. The NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, permits military custody indefinitely of an American citizen who’s a civilian, and Snowden could very well find himself at Quantico, naked perhaps like Bradley was for a while, and be really incommunicado, as Bradley has been for three years with the single exception of being allowed to make a statement when he pled guilty to 10 charges. And that’s the only chance he had to speak out. So I think Snowden has learned from that example.
When it comes to being pronounced guilty, the head of the intelligence committee here, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has said this is an act of treason, indicating that she has probably never read the definition of treason in the Constitution, in her Constitution, in our Constitution, which involves the element of adhering to an enemy of the United States, which no one is claiming that Snowden has done, or that Manning has done. He’s not going to be charged with treason, as a matter of fact, but the word can be used as a smear, and of course the effect of that on a potential jury is very significant. Of course the word is being used very commonly about him and Manning, and me for that matter, by Cheney and others that you’d expect it from.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Okay, and now one more thing before we get too far into the Snowden thing, back to Manning here.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah.
Scott Horton:Â This is something that we’ve discussed in the past, but I think it’s so important to get on the record, especially here in the middle of his military court martial and everything, and that was the final straw that made him do this, as he explained to the informant Adrian Lamo, was that he had been ordered not just to look at pieces of paper or watch videos and review war crimes committed by others, he had been ordered to participate in them. He had been ordered to help the Iraqi government imprison — capture — abduct people for the crime of writing op-ed pieces wondering specifically where did the money go, about corruption in downtown Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â And he knew would be tortured by the people we were turning them over to.
Scott Horton:Â Right.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â No, not only was the action of turning them over to torturers illegal, criminal, but so was the order to not investigate it further, which was what he was asking for, not to stop the process but to continue to get more people to hand over more suspects. As he put it, summed it up, ‘I was actively participating in something I was totally against.’ And the challenge he makes to every person, really, on the planet, and every American citizen, everybody in the armed services or the government, but all of us really: Do we feel that what is happening, being done in our name and with our tax dollars, is something that is legal, moral, ethical, something that we should be doing, prudent? Or are you one of those like me who finds it reckless, immoral and in many cases criminal? The question then is, what do you do about it? And Manning put his life on the line. I think it was appropriate. The stakes justified that kind of personal risk, and the same is true of Snowden. The stakes — we’re coming back to him I guess, but, I’m saying the stakes, as they were for me, were worth a person’s life.
Scott Horton:Â Right. I mean this is the thing, and we’ve talked about this for years before anybody ever heard of Manning or Snowden. Obviously you’ve been talking about this since before I was born, but you’ve been talking about this with me since 2004 or 2005, something like that, and that is that when we’re talking about these imperial wars of occupation, of aggressive war and invasion in other people’s countries, that the soldiers have a duty to liberate this information and publish it and make sure that the Post or the Times or Greenwald or Julian Assange or somebody can get their hands on it, because the mission is wrong. What they’re doing is wrong. The empire is wrong.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â The orders, they’re expected to give the benefit of the doubt to an order that it’s legal that they get, and they certainly do that, and that’s understandable in a military context in particular and really pretty much everybody in government. But a lot of orders that have come down in my lifetime, and in the last 10 years and before that, are blatantly illegal, blatantly unconstitutional. The orders to torture, to hand over people for torture, to fail to investigate that, are blatantly illegal, and everybody obeyed that except Bradley Manning that we know of. If somebody else has refused any of those things —
Actually there have been, I would say, one or two people who have exposed it, so let me take that back. Joe Darby, of course, who had to go under a witness protection system for a while here, having exposed the torture at Abu Ghraib. Sam Provance, likewise, was demoted and threatened with court martial for doing that. So there have been a few people who spoke out. General Taguba, actually, his career was ended when he asserted that what we were doing was blatantly illegal, and that ended his career.
So the punishment is clear enough, but the stakes actually make that worthwhile. What are you here on earth for? What is your life for and what is it worth? For what will you risk and sacrifice? And many people ask themselves that. They can think, they should be able to think of a number of things. But giving up their career in order to save the Constitution or to save tens, hundreds of thousands of people from death in wrongful wars or needless wars would seem to me it should be one of those things. It doesn’t seem — people just don’t ask themselves the question. I think if more people asked the question posed by Manning or Snowden of what they ought to do in this situation, they wouldn’t all do it, but some of them would.
Scott Horton:Â Right. I mean I think of it, you know, in terms of — and I don’t know what the prison sentence really is, but would you rather have a couple of years patrolling in Afghanistan helping the Delta Force do night raids and maybe getting your legs blown off by a land mine when you’ve got no business there in the first place, or do a few years in the brig for doing the right thing and telling the people the truth, you know? Which is more courageous?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, Manning was in a base that I just saw in the movie that was described as perhaps the safest in Iraq. It was far from any — there’d been no enemy action whatever, so he wasn’t exactly risking his limbs there. And he’s not risking just a few years of course. He’s risking his life.
Scott Horton:Â Well, that’s true.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â But you’re right, though. Most people do not have information that poses them with that kind of risk and they don’t take any risk at all. That seems to be the normal, ordinary thing. I think that’s a human characteristic and one reason that we’re on our way, in my belief, to extinction, with the threat of nuclear winter, nuclear war, still with us and the climate changes that are confronting us, and the population. And I think a species that has so much capability for destruction, for damage, and so constrained in ability to care about people outside our own group, ourselves, our family, our team, our organization or our nation — it’s very clear, by the way, that Manning, and very particularly, was concerned about the non-Americans who were being harmed by all this. And that’s in a way what people like Cheney and others mean when they say treason. To care at all about what we’re doing to other people is in their minds a form of treason. And unfortunately too many people share that. But some people have awakened, and unless more wake up from that, to that kind of concern, we’ve had it. This species is going to go and take an awful lot of other species with it.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah. Well, you know, the thing is, it’s in the dark times that, you know, there’s always you find the silver lining too, right? For example, you’ve got this guy Snowden who certainly must have heard your call at some point. You know what I mean? He’s not ignorant of Dan Ellsberg, this guy.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well he did — he said he admired Ellsberg and Manning.
Scott Horton:Â There you go.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I was very glad to be in that company. But that sounded as though — unlike Manning who was probably too young to have heard my name at all, and Assange, who was born the week I was eluding the FBI actually back in 1971, though he heard about it from his mother, his antiwar mother. But I was glad to hear that probably the example had not deterred him, because both of us of course were put on trial, facing a life sentence, Manning and I. Manning is very likely to get it. I lucked out in many ways in that the crimes against me came out in time to spare me that life sentence. But Snowden was not deterred from that, and frankly that was something that was a surprise to me. I was just reading a book here, This Machine Kills Secrets by Andy Greenberg, which mentioned at the end of one chapter, well, given this digital era, there will be more Bradley Mannings. And having just read that, I have to admit I said to myself, ‘Yeah, don’t hold your breath. When people see what’s happened to Manning, people aren’t going to rush to join him.’ And it didn’t take long for Snowden to come along and expose himself to exactly the same risk as Manning. That gives me hope, more hope than I’ve had for a long time, that there will be others who show that kind of civil courage on which I keep saying — and it may sound like hyperbole but in my mind it’s not — civil courage on which our species’ survival depends.
Scott Horton:Â Well, you got to be pleased by some of these polls have, you know, give or take — I know they come back with different numbers but give or take half the country says that this Snowden guy obviously is siding with them against their government. Right? They don’t believe for a minute this hokum that their government is them.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I am encouraged by that. And by the way, just minutes before this call, here’s what’s easy to do now these days, I just signed a digital petition that Barbara Lee has put out for repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was signed without any — just by reflex, by everyone but her, Barbara Lee of Oakland, back in 2001, and she wants to repeal that since it’s be used, as she says, to support torture, kidnapping, drone assassination, other invasions and whatnot ever since. She says it’s time to cut that back. So there’s a credoaction.com, I think it is, petition where Barbara Lee, to support her bill to repeal that.
But your point in general on the polls, there is an encouraging side to that, and I’ll tell you something kind of funny in a way. People have drawn attention to the fact that whereas the overall polling on this has not changed on whether you believe in the government having all the data on the telephone calls of everyone (and I would say that includes the content as well though that hasn’t been admitted yet) — what do you think about that? The polls are about the same as they were back when that was first revealed in 2005 by the New York Times, but the position, the relative position of Democrats and Republicans, has reversed almost in terms of the numbers, the relative proportion. Back in 2005 most Democrats opposed that under Bush and most Republicans supported it. Now most Republicans oppose this right now and most Democrats support it. So they reversed. Well, that looks on the first glance like simple partisan hypocrisy. But there’s another way to see it. In a way they’re both right. The Republicans correctly distrust those powers in the hands of a president that isn’t of their own party, and they’re right. And the Democrats don’t trust these powers; they can see room for abuse, when it’s a president of the other party, of the Republicans. Both right. Their only mistake is they’re willing to trust it if it’s in the hands of a president of their own party.
Scott Horton:Â Right.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â There they’re wrong. And that’s a naivetÃ© that doesn’t do them credit. But maybe they can wake up from that delusion.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Well, you know, I think that’s still the margin, right? That’s the swing voters in the middle. There are still a lot of people who hate this no matter who’s in charge.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â That’s true. Yes, that is true.
Scott Horton:Â Well, and I’m just having a good day today, I guess. I’m more optimistic than usual. I’m sounding like it anyway.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah. Well there I hate to tell you but there are also those people who trust whoever’s in charge.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Yeah, exactly.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Sorry to tell you that, but. No, actually, I am hopeful at the reaction to this, but we’ll see how long it lasts. The administration I’m sure is counting on its going away. Even Frank Rich was predicting that this was an interest of the moment but it’ll be over by August. Well, it’s up to us to see in a way whether we keep this one burning or not. I think there’s going to be a lot more revelations by Snowden, and that’ll keep it going, I think. Given that he’s not in the country.
Scott Horton:Â Right. I mean, according to Greenwald, he’s got a dozen more stories coming, minimum, so.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â My strong guess is that what we’re going to learn is that the recording of data, the storing of data, is not at all limited to, quote, metadata or to foreigners, with PRISM or anything like that. I think they’re what I would call collecting, that is recording, listening, recording and storing everything, everything. What we’re saying right now, of course. But for example William Binney, formerly of NSA for over 30 years, says the million-square-foot place they’re building in Bluffdale, Utah, NSA is building, is — he’s made some real calculations as to what that’s meant to store. And he said if all they were storing was text, for example, or metadata, a small room would suffice for virtually the whole world with the storage capability they have now. He said when you want 100,000 square feet, 10% of that million square feet they’re doing, he said that’s clearly for video and audio. And that means everything.
And when they say, when the president says, ‘We’re not listening to your calls,’ he speaks with forked tongue there because what he means is ‘We’re not listening live’ — obviously, it would take the whole population to be doing that, but he’s not saying, ‘We’re not storing it for later listening at our leisure with our feet up in front of the fire poring over whatever we want to of what you have.’ And I think when Keith Alexander and Hayden and these other people involved assure us that they’re not collecting — oh, who was it? It was Clapper. Clapper said, ‘We’re not collecting information on millions of Americans, which at first sounds like a simple lie in the face of what Snowden has revealed here; they are collecting data on hundreds of millions of Americans. But he explains, ‘Well, by collecting, I don’t mean just recording it. Collecting to me is when you pull up the file and you analyze it and you transcribe it, you know, something that happens later. Well, as he said it was the least untruthful answer he could give to the question, are you collecting data on millions of Americans?, a less untruthful answer would have been — he said no, and a less untruthful answer would have been yes.
But that’s the point I’m making here. I think they are still conning us into believing that the content of our e-mails and our phone calls and our chat logs and everything else is inaccessible to them where they’re not recording it, they’re not keeping it. I think that’s simply false. They have everything.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Well you know, I think the part of that that sounds the most fantastic is that they could keep all the audio from all the phone calls, that kind of thing, but I was talking this over with James Bamford, and you know telephone, regular land line, copper land line telephone, that’s only 14k, which is very low quality really. It’s good enough for the human voice but you couldn’t listen to a symphony orchestra over it, right? It doesn’t sound very good really. But it sure is enough. And they could probably, you know, with all the different audio codecs in the world, they cold probably zip down the average telephone call to nothing almost, you know what I mean? And then they can, you know, as you said, the storage space required, they’ve got it.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, maybe what they want is to assure that the best quality recording of all the symphonic music in the world will be in Bluffdale, Utah, so that I hope it’s deep, deep underground so that after the nuclear winter, whoever succeeds us will have access to, you know, really good acoustics.
* * *
Scott Horton:Â Let me ask you this. I could go back and read the book again, but I got Dan Ellsberg on the phone. Did McNamara lie to LBJ about what happened the second so-called Gulf of Tonkin attack mistake, or did they both lie together?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Why do you ask? I’m interested.
Scott Horton:Â Well, one of our favorite reporters tells me his interpretation is that McNamara got the message that you got, that ‘Oops, sorry, we were listening to our own propeller,’ but that McNamara fooled LBJ into, and basically didn’t update him that oops it was all a mistake.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, that is the conclusion of Gareth Porter —
Scott Horton:Â That’s my friend, our friend I’m citing there, yeah. Now I’m asking you.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â — in his book, and frankly I was very resistant to that interpretation, having lived through the events. It just didn’t, it sounded hardly possible to me, partly because I thought, well I read the cable that said ‘Hold everything,’ you know, ‘every previous report is in error, in question here,’ of the reports of torpedoes that were coming through. So I said, ‘If I read that, how could the president not know it?’ And then, as he showed me the detail of what we now know [were] the president’s phone calls between the Pentagon, where I was, and the White House, there’s no actual indication that McNamara, who did have that cable along with me, did pass that information on to the president. And I was very struck by how careful his analysis was. And it did look possible that, as he put it, that the president did really want to be absolutely sure that there had been an attack and that McNamara was willing to go with a much lower level of evidence. In fact there was no attack, so the evidence they had was wrong, as in the case of WMDs in Iraq. But wrong or right, there was a certain degree of alleged evidence.
Certainly both of them — well, again, I don’t know whether the president was fully aware here. Certainly McNamara did lie to the public when he said the evidence was unequivocal, just as when Rumsfeld said that the evidence of WMDs, ‘We know where they, here’s where they are, these are facts,’ and Powell said the same. That was a clear-cut lie that the evidence was strong and unequivocal, you know, on the very face of it. It was extremely weak and very equivocal. That was true in both cases. So they certainly did lie. The president, I have to acknowledge now, may or may not have known, in which case McNamara really did have a lot more to bear on his conscience than I realized, which is perhaps why he absolutely refused to discuss Vietnam for some 30 years, and eventually did write, he said, ‘We were wrong about the war,’ in his book In Retrospect, but I was told by the publisher of that book that they had to force those words out of him. He was not willing to sign that — a little piece of inside gossip here, that Peter Osnos, his publisher, told me that they had told him they would not publish the book unless he was willing to say those words, and so he did. Which is to his credit that he finally did. He was the only person who said that, out of the administration. And we were all wrong, and that we includes me.
Scott Horton:Â Well, and LBJ, he was looking for an excuse anyway, right? He didn’t have to escalate that war, even if —
Daniel Ellsberg: No, no —
Scott Horton:Â — McNamara did fool him.
Daniel Ellsberg: But I assumed. He was looking — he was expecting to expand the war, yes. Definitely. But he was a skeptic on the bombing. That is one of the things that brought me around in a way to Gareth Porter’s point of view on Tonkin Gulf eventually, that McNamara, McNamara was openly pushing for the bombing. I knew that. I have never been clear why. And LBJ was saying, according to my boss, who would come back from meetings in the White House, LBJ would say ‘your bombing bullshit.’ And LBJ was properly skeptical on the bombing. The bombing was a crazy idea, basically. I think — just a conjecture — I think that McNamara thought the bombing would get us into negotiations in which we’d be able to make a deal. Which was unrealistic, but that’s why he wanted it. But of course the military wanted the bombing because they wanted a much bigger program of bombing, so they wanted a foot in the door, which was all that LBJ gave them at first. But LBJ was not anxious to do the bombing. What he was anxious to do though was not to lose the war, and he was ready to put troops in, which McNamara was realistically resistant to. So the president was pushing for troops, McNamara was pushing for bombing, they compromised on both, and of course catastrophe followed.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Instead of doing neither, they did both, yeah exactly. That’s the same way it always works. That’s called “bipartisanship.” Oh well.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah. I think that Obama likewise was very resistant to putting a surge into Afghanistan, the last 30 to 40,000 troops, but he did it. In other words, he could see that it wasn’t going to accomplish anything, all of his personal military advisers told him that, but he did not want to get into a fight with Petraeus and McChrystal in the midst of his health insurance program and so he sent 30,000 more troops to kill and die in Afghanistan. That’s the way it goes. And that’s the kind of secrecy, and the obvious need for secrecy — the fact that his advice was not to do it had to be kept secret —
Scott Horton:Â Right.
Daniel Ellsberg: — his advice from people other than Petraeus and McChrystal —
Scott Horton:Â Yeah, you know, wait, I just want to interrupt you for —
Daniel Ellsberg: — and so his position was, “give the generals whatever they want.” So that kind of internal controversy is the biggest secret because it raises questions as to whether this policy is really wise or necessary. And all presidents prefer the public to think, ‘I had no choice, don’t blame me, there really was no alternative, all of my advisers agreed that I had to do this,’ and so forth. The fact that that’s false is one of the greatest secrets, and that’s the reason we need whistleblowers. It’s not properly classified, but it is classified and that secrecy is kept to the death so tenaciously, so the only way we ever learn is when some future president decides that it’s in his favor to give the leak to somebody. Actually it so happens that Bob Woodward did come out with all those top secrets eventually, having apparently been given a green light by Obama to show that he really hadn’t wanted to do this but the military made him do it.
Scott Horton:Â Right. I was going to say, because it sounded at first as though, just the language you used, it sounded almost as though you were speculating, but I just wanted to point out that the publisher, Rothkopf, of foreignpolicy.com wrote an article just like that about how it was all about domestic politics and he [Obama] knew better, and there’s a book Little America that was serialized in the Washington Post that says that he specifically refused to read a CIA report that he already knew said ‘Don’t bother ‘surging’ because it’s not going to work,’ and then there’s one of Holbrooke’s guys who talked all about how the political hacks in the White House ran the entire Afghan policy and the only policy was to just prolong the status quo forever and not actually work at doing anything, just surge, not to win but surge just to prolong.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Look, that sounds — of course it is in line with my own understanding of it, but I didn’t know any of those references, and I’m very interested in it, and so after the program could I ask you to send me links for those?
Scott Horton:Â Sure, and I guess now I got to read Bob Woodward, which I didn’t want to do, Dan, thanks a lot.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, whatever. But, no, the particular ones you just mentioned all sounded very interesting. I’ll add one to that — well, by the way, Holbrooke’s dying words, literally dying words, his last words, were said in one story to be, I don’t have it exactly, something to the effect, ‘Get out of Afghanistan.’ But that’s quite possible, because I knew Holbrooke when he was a young foreign service officer, one of the few who spoke Vietnamese, in Vietnam. And he had been all over Vietnam. He knew the score very well. I was certain that he had to perceive Afghanistan in exactly the same terms. The conditions — there were differences. The language we didn’t speak was, you know, different from Vietnam. The terrain was different. The temperature was different. But the crucial aspects of it were so similar in terms of a hopeless war that I knew that Holbrooke had to see that. He couldn’t have forgotten that. Well, when Obama’s War comes out by Bob Woodward, he quotes, not directly but from somebody else, he quotes Holbrooke as saying of the surge, he says he was the most pessimistic, three words, ‘It can’t work.’ And he was Obama’s, in principle his top man, his plenipotentiary, on Iraq and Afghanistan. So Holbrooke of course doesn’t tell the public that, ever, doesn’t come out and say — because he’s the president’s man, he’s an insider. He doesn’t tell us that ‘I’ve given the president my opinion that this can’t work.’ And he wasn’t the only one. Nearly everybody inside said that. Even Rahm Emanuel, and definitely Biden for example. Everybody but Hillary and Gates actually, who were for it. So we don’t hear that.
I’ll tell you one other thing. Holbrooke, knowing Vietnam as well as he did and having worked on the Pentagon Papers, was the one person that I went to to try to persuade to make a united front, not to put out the papers but to come out publicly and from within the government and say, ‘The war is hopeless, we’ve got to end it, we’ve got to negotiate a deal here,’ various kinds. And I did present that to him. And he was at that point in the Peace Corps. He, because of his disillusionment with war, he had left the ranks of the foreign service officers in there and was working in the Peace Corps in Morocco. And he knew what I was saying, and we saw eye to eye on the war exactly, and he just clearly wasn’t willing to do anything like that, make any public statement, take any public stance, because he wanted to be the president’s plenipotentiary on Iraq and Afghanistan someday. And you cannot come out against your president’s policy and get a job even under another president. You won’t be trusted to keep your mouth shut, no matter what, no matter how disastrous the course is. That’s the test of being reliable, faithful, trustworthy — namely, you may criticize inside but you won’t tell an outsider, like Congress or the press or the public, that we’re lying or that we’re in a hopeless situation, no matter what it is. And I keep coming back to the point, even if nuclear war is at risk, as it wasn’t in that particular case, but —
Scott Horton:Â Right. And you know, I got to say, that’s one of the most important lessons that I remember out of your memoir of Vietnam, Secrets it’s called, that really stuck with me is the psychology of being an insider and just waiting and hoping, ‘If I can influence my boss a little and he can influence his boss a little — and after all, all those little people out there,’ as you say, including Congress, ‘they don’t have the Top Secret access. They don’t know what we know. So we don’t have any reason to listen to any outside open source type wisdom because none of those people have anything like the access we have, so it’s up to us wise people on the inside to stay on the inside and do our very best.’ And you can, really, as you’re saying, you can actually have the extinction of mankind in a thermonuclear war based on that kind of bureaucratic psychology of ‘We’re the insiders, we know better, blah blah blah,’ just because they’re bureaucrats, just executive branch bureaucrats, makes them the kings of the universe.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, you know, just, and maybe I’ll make this my last thought, if I may.
Scott Horton:Â Sure.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Coming back to Manning and Snowden, and actually I was the same on this point. Snowden is called arrogant, for example, because he took it on himself to put out this information, and even the president makes that point. Well, Snowden explicitly makes the very point. ‘I’m an ordinary guy,’ he says. ‘I’m an ordinary guy. I’m an American. I’m not a traitor or a hero, I’m an American, I’m just another guy sitting at a desk reading this stuff.’ Obviously Manning did not have grandiose notions of himself, he was tormented in his personal life, but each of them looked at this and said, ‘Here I have this information and the public doesn’t. Why should I, sitting at this desk, know all this stuff with these clearances that the public needs to know and senators need to know, and senators don’t have it?’ And by the way we know that because a number of senators have been saying since Snowden’s revelation, ‘I’ve learned more in the last 10 days than in the last 10 years of what NSA is doing.’
So the idea that, ‘Oh, we knew all this stuff, there’s nothing unusual here, or hurry on folks, keep moving, there’s nothing to see here,’ is one point, and then on the other point, a little contradictory, they say, ‘Super Top Secret, higher than Top Secret’ — the latter is really true. They haven’t been putting this out.
And Snowden was saying, ‘I don’t think it’s right that I can sit at this desk and task the system to get the e-mails with the entire record and all the details of anybody in the country from the president on down.’ He said, ‘It’s not only a question of my knowing it and the other people not knowing it. My being able to do this and to know this is not right. And there’s a thousand people like me who can do this. And that’s not,’ he said, ‘that’s not a country I want to live in.’ And Manning the same, saying, he says to Adrian Lamo, ‘This kind of information — horrible,’ he says, ‘criminal.’ He said, ‘Should it just be sitting in a safe here somewhere, in a dusty safe, or should it be out for the people to know?’ And of course I felt the same back with the Pentagon Papers. Why should I at the Rand Corporation have this history when literally the Senate cannot get it? So, you know, that’s not the way it should be.
And it turns out that when you make that perception of yourself, that you have the capability to tell a truth that will help save some lives or preserve our democracy — and you don’t have to be in the government to have that feeling. Think of all the people who over the generations have contributed to cancer of hundreds of millions, in the tobacco industry, and never told about it. Or asbestos, or Vioxx, or all the other things that are going on. And the people in the government who knew about global warming and were sat on and muffled and so forth. It isn’t that unusual to know a truth that would be of great benefit to some other people, that is to say would save them from torment or in terms of illness or keep us free, things like that, if you’re willing to take a risk of your own life, of your own personal life. If more people — you’re not going to get a lot of people willing to do it, but if you have more than we’ve had who follow like Snowden or Manning, on a lesser scale perhaps, we would be a lot safer and a lot freer than we are on the way to becoming.
Scott Horton:Â Thank you very much for your time today, Dan. I really appreciate it.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Thank you, Scott, for the opportunity.
Scott Horton:Â Everybody, that is the great Daniel Ellsberg, liberator of the Pentagon Papers, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, and his website of course is ellsberg.net, I might have forgot to mention that at the beginning, ellsberg.net. You can read Chapter One of Secrets, all about his big day, first day on the job in this new position at the Pentagon the day of the Gulf of Tonkin nonattack, the second so-called attack there. And follow him on Twitter.
That’s it for the show. Thanks everybody for listening. We’ll see you tomorrow here, 11 to 1 Texas time, scotthorton.org and noagendastream.com.
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