latimes.com – By Elaine Woo – Before Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, there was Daniel Ellsberg.
The prototypical modern whistleblower, Ellsberg barreled into history in 1971, when he leaked the highly classified history of American involvement in Vietnam that became known as the Pentagon Papers. His unprecedented act drew back the curtain on the largely hidden world of U.S. policy-making, triggered court battles over freedom of the press and led to calamity for the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.
Considered a hero by some and a traitor by others, Ellsberg announced in February that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer and only months to live. He died Friday at his Bay Area home in Kensington, his family said in a statement. He was 92.
In a letter to supporters about his diagnosis, Ellsberg wrote that he felt “lucky and grateful” for his life.
“I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars,” the former defense analyst wrote of his decision to share the papers with the New York Times and other publications. Instead, he spent the decades after the dismissal of the government case against him as a writer, lecturer and antinuclear activist. He remained an ardent critic of the government, particularly during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the 2003-11 Iraq War. He encouraged whistle-blowing and was a prominent advocate of Snowden, who leaked top-secret documents about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance practices, and Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.
“Something like the Pentagon Papers should be coming out several times a year,” Ellsberg told a Georgetown University symposium in 2017.
The 7,000-page, 47-volume report told how four successive presidents, beginning with Truman, had lied about the scope of U.S. involvement and prospects for victory in Vietnam. Ellsberg, a hawkish former Marine lieutenant and Harvard PhD, had helped produce the study for Robert McNamara, who, as Defense secretary for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, had been the chief architect of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg hoped that publishing the papers would quickly end the unpopular war.