Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Devil and Daniel Ellsberg

by PETER LEE

Even liberals are calling for Edward Snowden to “do an Ellsberg” i.e. demonstrate his patriotic lovingkindness by surrendering to US authorities.

In his memoir Secrets, Ellsberg details the dirty tricks projects the Nixon administration initiated against him and speculates their purpose was to blackmail him into shutting up, or drive him into exile or even suicide.

Ellsberg writes, “I feel sure, knowing myself at that time, that nothing could have induced me to do any of those things.” (pg. 443)

Nevertheless, as my recent piece in Asia Times points out, Ellsberg feels that Snowden is in a different situation:

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.

Ellsberg returned to this issue on July 7 in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.  He pointed out that he had, like Snowden, gone into hiding and accepted fugitive status in order to complete his distribution of the Pentagon Papers before surrendering.

Ellsberg also noted that while under indictment he was able to stay out of jail for two years to agitate for the end of the Vietnam War and, in the process, make the case for himself in the court of public opinion, on the strength of a less than backbreaking $50,000 bond—a luxury that Edward Snowden would be unlikely to enjoy:

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

Secrets also describes Ellsberg’s spiritual journey from parfait knight of the US foreign policy round table to anguished and increasingly indignant whistleblower.  His privileged access to the government, think tank, and media elites is worlds away from Edward Snowden and his anonymous grubbing in the data mines of the post-9/11 security state.

While working on the Nixon transition in late 1968, Henry Kissinger asked RAND to review the Vietnam situation.  RAND nominates Daniel Ellsberg:

Kissinger approved, though with one reservation…Kissinger was happy to have me do the study, but he had one worry about me, my “discretion.”

I was astonished…My whole career was based on a well-founded trust in my discretion. (Secrets, pg. 230).

A few pages later, Ellsberg completes a document framing the crucial Vietnam issues for comment by the various US executive branch stakeholders; it is circulated as “NSSM-1” i.e. National Security Study Memorandum 1, the first document of its series put out by Nixon’s National Security Administration.  The various stakeholders provide 500 pages of extremely revealing responses.

Fast forward to pg. 241-2:

[Mort Halperin, the DoD staffer responsible for assembling the Pentagon Papers] took me aside…one morning and said, “I’m going to ask you not to show any of this material to anybody at Rand or take any copies back with you.”…I took it for granted from Mort’s unemphatic, secrets_coverpro forma tone that what he meant was simply to go on record as telling me not to do this, thereby signaling that it should not get back to the White House that Rand had his material…if Mort had really been serious about keeping me from sending this back to Rand, he could have conveyed that very reliably…

So having registered Mort’s warning and agreeing with him, I took care to copy all the documents myself in the copying alcove of the NSCD, rather than hand them to a secretary to copy, as I would otherwise have done.  When I took them back to Rand, I convened a rather large meeting…Having made and passed out a number of copies, I repeated the warning that Halperin had given to me…I said that this was presumably so he could disclaim responsibility…

“Discrete” indeed.  Not to worry:

…Some months later…I asked [Halperin] if I had been right…Halperin said, “Of course.”

In Daniel Ellsberg’s estimation his leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 did little, if anything to end the Vietnam War as conducted by Richard Nixon. The U.S. war only ended because of Nixon’s downfall soon after his re-election in 1972, thanks to the antics of his plumbers, the team of extra-legal leak-plugging zealots that Nixon’s coterie unleashed on his enemies.

The wonderful, ironic element is the role of Henry Kissinger—and Daniel Ellsberg–in Nixon’s fall.

According to Ellsberg, Kissinger had a low opinion of Nixon; on the occasion of RMN’s election, he told an audience at MIT that Nixon was “not fit to be president”.  That was not the Kissinger line once Nixon appointed him as his National Security Advisor, but one can speculate that Kissinger’s doubts precluded a comfortable atmosphere of trust and understanding between Nixon and his national security Richelieu.

Nixon was not too disturbed by the leak of the Pentagon Papers at first.

The Papers concluded their narrative with the Johnson administration and painted a pleasing picture of Democratic duplicity and cluelessness under Kennedy and LBJ.

Nixon, eager to undercut the stature of Edward Kennedy, his expected Democratic challenger in the next election, instructed his minions to push out the Pentagon Papers story of the US role in the deposition and liquidation of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

Diem, in addition to being an incapable president, was also an ardent Catholic who lived a virtually cloistered existence.  Nixon felt that highlighting Kennedy betrayal of a fellow Catholic would weaken Edward Kennedy’s appeal to his core religious base.

Doubt and anxiety pervaded Nixon’s mind, however, when a key document from his own administration, NSSM-1 , the memorandum referenced above, made its way into the hands of a Senatorial critic, Mark Mathias, and Mathias revealed some of its pessimistic conclusions.

The prospect of a leak in his own national security apparatus appalled Nixon, because he had hid the details of the secret bombing of Cambodia even from his own secretaries of state (William Smith) and defense (Melvin Laird).

The irony is that NSSM-1 leaked, not because the current denizens of the Nixon White House couldn’t keep a secret, but because Daniel Ellsberg had copied the document while he was working for Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger, the dissembling courtier (or, if you prefer, the terrified capo secretly writhing before Nixon’s Don Corleone) dared not short circuit the leak investigation by admitting that he had nourished the Ellsberg viper in the bosom of the new administration:

…there was no awareness throughout that period that what I had given Mathias was (simply) NSSM-1.  Moreover, it’s clear from numerous taped discussions that Kissinger never did reveal to Nixon the embarrassing information that I had worked directly for him in February and March of 1969…Since no one knew both those pieces of data, [Attorney General John] Mitchell’s conclusion…that there must be a conspiracy was inescapable…[Secrets, pg. 435]

And so the operation to find the anti-war movement’s non-existent co-conspirators inside Nixon’s NSC—the march of folly of the plumbers who blundered through the Watergate operation and eventually brought down the Ellsberg case and the Nixon presidency—was born.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan’s Resurgent Militarism, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail