Daniel EllsbergPolitical Scandal Figure / Activist
Born: 7 April 1931
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Best known as:
The whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971
Daniel Ellsberg ruined his high-flying career as a Defense Department analyst when he went public in 1971with top secret government documents that outlined plans to escalate war in Vietnam, documents known ever since as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg grew up in Detroit and was a superior student at Harvard University, graduating in 1952. He spent three years in the Marines (1954-57), reaching the rank of company commander, then went to work with the Rand Corporation in 1959, working as an analyst and consultant to the Defense Department. By the early 1960s, Ellsberg's task was focused on American involvement in Vietnam, and he was stationed with the State Department in Saigon from 1965 to 1967. Back in the U.S. and again with Rand, Ellsberg was given government clearance to research classified documents. Among them was a 7,000 page study by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on U.S. activities and plans in Vietnam, showing what Ellsberg considered unethical and misguided plans to escalate the war. After being rebuffed through official channels, Ellsberg gave the documents to 21 national newspapers in 1971, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, igniting a First Amendment fight between the the administration of President Richard Nixon, who dubbed Ellsberg and the press a threat to national security, and anti-war activists and news organizations, who fought for the public's right to know. Ellsberg was acquitted of all charges after two years, largely because it became known that White House operatives had broken into his psychoanalyst's office to obtain blackmailing material. It was the same kind of operation that led to the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign the presidency in 1974 (and included some of the same characters, including Chuck Colson and G. Gordon Liddy). Since then Ellsberg has been an author, lecturer and activist against nuclear war and U.S. military intervention.
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