Brad Friedman on KPFK, December 1, 2010
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BRAD FRIEDMAN: Dan Ellsberg is the former military analyst who, as I said, brought the Former military analyst who brought the nation to a virtual standstill in 1971 when he released thousands of pages of top-secret documents to the New York Times (and others) concerning U.S. Government involvement and decision making (in other words, lies) leading up to the Vietnam War, showing essentially that the Johnson Administration did lie to get us into that war. Those documents became known as the "Pentagon Papers" and their publication by the Times was challenged by the Nixon Administration all the way up to the Supreme Court, after which Ellsberg was personally targeted by the Nixon Administration, a point which is interesting in light of the way that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now being targeted.
Ellsberg has been a strong supporter of both WikiLeaks and Assange in the wake of the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars (about which Dan Ellsberg says he has "waited 40 years for a release of documents on that scale"), and now hundred of thousands of cables send to and from U.S. Embassy diplomats concerning our diplomatic efforts around the world.
He's also the subject of the 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America. The most dangerous man in America now joins us on KPFK. Dan Ellsberg, welcome to the show, sir.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Glad to be here, Brad.
FRIEDMAN: Delighted to talk to you. It's been awhile since we have talked. And we were talking at that time, a couple of years ago, about FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. But let me just jump in right off the bat. You said that you've waited 40 years for a release of documents on this scale. I believe you were talking at the time about the Iraq war logs. Now we have this document dump, and that have been referred to, even last night on The Daily Show, as this generation's Pentagon Papers. Dan Ellsberg, how do you find that to be true and also how is it not true? In other words, how are these releases from the Pentagon Papers back in 1971, as far as the information they have and the response to them from the media and the politicians?
ELLSBERG: Sure, there are great differences as well as, I think, some very deep similarities. Fundamentally similar in many ways. To start is of course that they mostly deal --- not the latest ones, but the Afghan and the Iraq disclosures – deal with wars that are very similar to the war that was exposed in the Pentagon Papers. So many of the issues they reveal are very similar. And also they're both on a scale as to make the pursuit of the source of that very intense and probably successful. In my case I was sure they would know that I was the only, that I was the source of those, and so I expected to be put on trial. I expected, actually, to go to prison for the rest of my life. And the charges did add up to 115 years.
I'm very impressed that Bradley Manning, the suspect in this, who has not been proven to be the source yet by the Army but if the Army's --I should say the Pentagon and Army's suspicions are correct then I admire what he did and I feel a great affinity for it, because he did say, allegedly, to the person who turned him in, Adrian Lamo, in a chatlog, that he was prepared, he was ready to go to prison for life or even be executed, he said, in order to share this information with the American people who needed to have it. And that's the statement I said I've waited, in a way, for 40 years to hear someone make. I think it's an appropriate choice for somebody to make. It's not that they're obliged to be willing to do that so much. That's something a person has to decide for themselves very much. But I certainly think that when so many lives are at stake as in these wars or the new wars that may be coming at us, as in Yemen or even Pakistan, that to try to avert those is appropriate and to shorten them when they're clearly hopeless and dangerous, as in Afghanistan.
FRIEDMAN: Well, Dan, is there a difference …
ELLSBERG: It's worth one's own life to try to avert that.
FRIEDMAN: Is there a difference in the documents that were released allegedly by Bradley Manning in that they concerned an ongoing hot war, so to speak, and documents that could endanger people out in the field right now versus the largely historical documents of the Pentagon Paper that looked back over several decades.
ELLSBERG: Look, to start with, yes, they are a different level of government bureaucratic communication here. These are, both the Afghan and Iraq logs, are field level, in those cases military --- pretty much --- communications of the kind that lie behind the Pentagon Papers, but the Pentagon Papers were high level, top secret decision papers that showed a great warning, actually, about the escalations that lay ahead, as well as planning for escalations that was being concealed from the American public. Wrongly, I would say, leading them into very dangerous, reckless policies. So these are not the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately. I wish they were. We need the Pentagon Papers, not only of Afghanistan and Iraq, but as I said, of Yemen, Pakistan and other wars that may lie, or actually covertly …
FRIEDMAN: Well, that we find that we're now in, Dan! You know …
ELLSBERG: Covert stage.
ELLSBERG: Less so in Pakistan but very much in Yemen. One of these cases, of course, reveals that the Yemeni leaders, Saleh and his deputy and so forth, are assuring Petraeus that they were lying for us and lying to keep it from their own people that Yemen was being bombed by a foreign power, namely us. And of course that's keeping it from the American people as well. We weren't admitting that. And not only to keep it from the Yemeni people but to keep it from Americans because Americans, I think, do have a right to know who we're bombing, who we're at war with. Certainly Congress should be making that decision and has not been. Certainly. So our Constitution is being absolutely flouted on that, as is true in Iraq, for example. Or in Vietnam. So there have been some significant revelations, although on the whole these latest releases, large as they are in scale, haven't yet proven as informative as the earlier ones on Afghan and Iraq. And they're not, as I say, at the level of the Pentagon Papers. I wish they were. And yet there have been a number of significant revelations there. I mentioned one, that we were bombing …
FRIEDMAN: Yemen, certainly. Yeah.
ELLSBERG: … and that that was being concealed for us by lies to the Yemeni Parliament, which amount to lies by us, as well, to our own people. But another example, for instance, which is rather like some of the things in the Pentagon Papers, were the warnings by our former or recent ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, that our policy there of bombing, drone attacks and other attacks in Pakistan was, as she put it, counterproductive and dangerous. Meaning that it's endangering a regime that, with all its faults, Pakistan, is less bad for us in the world and for Pakistan than what might well follow it if we destabilize it. And what we're doing is destabilizing that regime. What that also means is that our policies are endan- in both Yemen and Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are endangering Americans at home. The idea that these releases are dangerous I think conceals a very misleading and basically dangerous attitude. And that is that the only risks to Americans lie in telling the truth or exposing these operations, or in any degree of transparency. Now, there may be some risks, in some cases. There are risks in democracy, and there's risks in openness. It's not without any risk. Our Constitution, on the whole, relies on our taking those risks in order to be a democracy and to have, to avoid debacles like the ones we've just been mentioning. But what these critics don't seem to recognize is that our current debacles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, all these places, do not result from too much openness or too much transparency. They reflect the risks which were realized risks having to do with secrecy and silence and lies. The silence about the lies that got us into Iraq, for example, or, and in general the decision-making that is getting us into these. Now, the case of Yemen, for example. Probably there are, there's an argument to be made about whether we should be attacking supposedly Al-Qaeda cells in Yemen. At the same time, many people in the government, it has been leaked now, actually believe that those attacks will mainly be targeted with the help of Saleh, the ruler in Yemen, against people who have no relation to Al-Qaeda, people are opposing his regime for various good or bad reasons.
FRIEDMAN: And indeed there have been a huge amount of civilian deaths, we now learn, in …
ELLSBERG: Not only civilian deaths but also the people they're actually targeting had to do with civil wars, a separatist movement in the south, rebels in the north, that have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and nothing to do with the United States.
MERCY MALICK (News Director): So we may be targeting political opponents…
ELLSBERG: [unintelligible] ... possibly understand or should be involved in.
FRIEDMAN: Is there anything, Dan Ellsberg, is there anything that should not be leaked because it really does pose a risk to national security? Is that any excuse at all for not releasing this classified information, because it might put someone at risk?
ELLSBERG: Well, yes. Sure, there could be. For example, but we have some experience on that now, as to whether these particular releases actually show that risk, or show the danger. The risk is there. In the initial releases it was alleged that there were the names of informants to the United States which should not have been released. Although, in fact, a number had been redacted already by WikiLeaks as well as by the newspapers. And so we were told by Admiral Mullen and others that surely people had already been killed as a result of this and many more would be. Well, six months have passed since the Pentagon first got the contents, in this case, of Bradley Manning's computer, and then they were released a couple of months later. And the Pentagon itself has acknowledged that they have no evidence that any single person has been harmed as a result of that. In fact, they went further, rather surprisingly, in Kabul, to say that they hadn't found it necessary after all to inform or protect any one of those individuals. So if there was a risk there, fortunately no one was harmed.
On the other hand, and since then, WikiLeaks and the newspapers have gone to much greater lengths now to redact the names, and if there was no harm from the first results I think there's no reason at all to expect it in this case. On the other hand, Admiral Mullen is something of an expert, I guess, on blood on hands, because he's one of the people who has sent these troops into harm's way in wars they should not be pursuing or escalating at this time. And that's not just a risk. Thousands of Americans have died as a result of that. And I would say, from what I was saying earlier, Americans at home have definitely been endangered by the help that these operations give to Al-Qaeda, who is a genuine enemy of ours. They recruit for Al-Qaeda. They make it hard for other countries, whether they're democracies or in most cases not democracies, countries whose cooperation we need against possible terrorists in their country, make it hard for them to help us. They have to do it secretly.
FRIEDMAN: And that's what we have …
ELLSBERG: That's why any cooperation with the U.S. is so unpopular, and that reflects the fact that our presidents have chosen to bomb those countries.
FRIEDMAN: And that's one of the things that we have learned from these leaks, that in fact a lot of this ends up being a recruitment opportunity for Al-Qaeda. Speaking with whistleblower, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Dan, you wrote an op ed at The BRAD BLOG, what was it, February 2008, you said, "Many if not most covert operations deserve to be disclosed by a free press. They are often covert not only because they are illegal but because they are wildly ill-conceived and reckless. Sensitive and covert," (hang on) "Sensitive and covert are synonymous for half-assed, idiotic and dangerous to national security as well as criminal." And one of those potentially criminal acts, we have learned from this latest document dump, is that Hillary Clinton ordered diplomats to essentially spy on her counterparts. Julian Assange now, WikiLeaks founder, has called for her to step down, to resign in the wake of this. Do you share Julian Assange's call for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resign in the wake of these leaks, Dan Ellsberg?
ELLSBERG: In a word, no. I've come to respect Assange's judgment in a lot of these matters a lot more than I do the Pentagon spokesperson's. In this case, I don't agree with him. In a way, I would have to say as a former insider here, he has far too idealistic and romantic a notion of what it means to be Secretary of State or a high official in the U.S. Government. And really any government. Among the various illegalities, the various recklessness and so forth shown by our policies, this one is indeed illegal, but it's not high on the list. Probably all countries do it to a large extent.
Yes, they're worried about interfering with the normal operations of our diplomats --- and, by the way, so many of those normal operations now involve facilitating and carrying on aggressive wars, as in Iraq, or torture or various other activities that endanger Americans --- that interfering with a lot of those normal activities is probably to our good.
That isn't to say, though, that they don't have some more ordinary --- I have to keep saying, those activities are pretty ordinary, unfortunately. But, I'm not saying that everything should be known that they do, or that everything they do is harmful. No, that's not true. And indeed they are disadvantaged by having the constant suspicion that they all are intelligence agents, which they really aren't. They're not trained for it and that's not what they're supposed to be doing. Just as the fact that the CIA was recruiting journalists or academics in past years.
FRIEDMAN: But does this hurt our diplomatic …
ELLSBERG: It makes it hard for those people to do jobs that were, in many cases, useful.
FRIEDMAN: Does it … yeah.
ELLSBERG: By the way, if you want to hear an example of a leak that was, in fact, harmful, I would say that the leak by the White House by Rove and Libby and Cheney of Valerie Plame's name earlier, as revealed in the movie Fair Game around now. There's an example of a very harmful leak. She was involved in something that was worth doing, which was tracking and averting proliferation of nuclear materials. It had to be secret, her identity had to be secret to do that. And that was in our interest. And for them to reveal that was extremely irresponsible on their part.
FRIEDMAN: Dan, I hate to cut you off but we've got just a few minutes left and there's a couple of other questions I want to get in here. I was going through my notes from chatting with you back in 2007 and you had pointed out that Katharine Gun in 2003 had given a cable from the NSA to her British outfit, the British equivalent of the NSA, where she was a translator, reporting exactly what we're now seeing, essentially: that there was a request to wiretap every member of the U.N. Security Council. And while it was reported all over the world back then, here in the U.S. not so much. There wasn't so much coverage of it. Now that we've got a Democratic Secretary of State in there, I find it interesting that, well, there's a lot more folks out there with the opinions that this is outrageous, now that it's a Democratic Secretary of State.
But I want to get in a quick question or two here about Assange. He's been called a terrorist by a lot of folks. Sarah Palin has gone so far as to say that he and WikiLeaks should be targeted like a terrorist organization, like Al-Qaeda, which presumably means he should be assassinated. When you hear that, and when you hear the charges now that he's wanted for rape all of a sudden in Sweden, is any of that familiar to you and what you had to deal with in 1971?
ELLSBERG: Oh, you are talking to someone here, me, who has had these same charges and same accusations and the same operations, actually, directed at me. Look at the most extreme of those, the possibility of assassination, which several politicians are actually calling for, or kidnapping.
FRIEDMAN: Was that done to you in the seventies?
ELLSBERG: Nixon actually sent, through Coulson and Libby and Hunt, a bunch of CIA assets, so-called, Cuban emigres from the Bay of Pigs, as a White House hit squad against me, directly. With orders to incapacitate me on the steps of the Pentagon as I was in a rally May 3, 1972. So anyone who says there's no danger to Assange of that happening is wrong. There is danger. It should be zero and it isn't. I don't say that it's necessarily very high. But charges of, very terrible charges. Treason. Of course, he's not an American, but charges made of Bradley Manning, who is. Bradley Manning is not a traitor any more than I was. I'm sure from what I've read that he in fact is very patriotic, as I was. And indeed the charge of treason in our country, in our Constitution, requires aid and comfort to an enemy with whom you adhere. And adherence to an enemy to the disadvantage of the United States. I don't think Bradley Manning or I intended at all to be disadvantageous to the United States. Quite the contrary. To do things, as I've said, to reveal truths that would reduce the danger that our policies are subjecting Americans to. And Bradley Manning, I'm sure, does not adhere to the Taliban or to al-Qaeda any more than I adhered to the Viet Cong, which was zero. So that charge is ignorant, let's say, of what the term means in America.
FRIEDMAN: He may be brought up, however, by a military tribunal because he's in the military, rather than in civilian court...
ELLSBERG: He broke regulations, just as I broke regulations when I revealed [the Pentagon Papers]. Now in his case, those regulations have the force of military law because the President can make criminal law for members of the armed services. He can't do that, actually. The law isn't just what the President says for civilians, as we're seeing now, we don't have an Official Secrets Act. And although I thought we did at the time and I thought I was violating it, in fact we didn't. And don't. And I was mistaken that I was actually breaking a law at that time. And the people who say that Julian Assange or even Bradley Manning, were he a civilian, were clearly breaking the law, are wrong. They can get prosecuted as I was prosecuted, but I was the very first person ever prosecuted and there have only been a handful since, since the law which is used in those charges is very questionably rightly applied in that case.
FRIEDMAN: And that prosecution was not successful. I've only got 30 seconds left here, Dan. We're hearing now that the next release of documents by WikiLeaks may have to do with U.S. banks. Being speculated that it may be the Bank of America, an executive's hard drive. Is that okay?
ELLSBERG: You're hearing rumors that corporations who are banks may have actually lied or committed …
ELLSBERG: ... I don't like to hear that. I'm an American citizen.
FRIEDMAN: Is that the sort of thing, though, that you would be in favor of leaking?
ELLSBERG: If you can't trust Bank of America. Who can you?...
FRIEDMAN: If you can't trust Bank of America, who can you? Daniel Ellsberg, always a delight to talk to you, never enough time to do so but I hope we get the opportunity to do it again soon in the future. Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, thank you again for all you've done to serve this nation and for taking some time out for us here today on KPFK, Sir.
ELLSBERG: Thanks a lot. Bye.