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Daniel Ellsberg: Whistle-Blowers Are Good for Democracy

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Posted on Aug 29, 2013
Sara Beladi

Daniel Ellsberg, right, with Robert Scheer.

(Page 4)

RS:  Yeah. So, what I’m trying to get at is that your position really is comparable to that of Snowden and Manning, right?

DE: Yes.

RS:  And Assange and Greenwald should have at least the protections that The New York Times had.

DE: Yes, definitely. Absolutely, as much as they do.

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RS:  And The Washington Post.

DE: But the Times no longer has as much protection as they used to. And that’s where they should realize that rather than trying to throw Assange to the wolves by distinguishing him from them, they should realize that there is a direct threat to them. That’s the truth. And to you. This is, ten years ago you wouldn’t have said that. But now there’s every reason to think the administration is going to go after not only sources but journalists and publishers. And the reason for that indication of course is they’re calling James Rosen of Fox News an aider and abettor of Steven Kim. Which is a charge that could be made against you as an investigative journalist as you know, one of the few after all, for all the classified material you put out in the past.

RS:  Yeah.

DE: And, an aider and abettor. And here’s the thing, the language of the act ... 18 USC 793, paragraphs D and E, which is the only act I can roll off like that because it’s the one I was the first one to be prosecuted for, but if you read that language it applies just as well as to a journalist. It makes no distinction of journalist or anybody else. Anyone unauthorized to have this information, who retains it or gives it to anyone else unauthorized — like their wife or their child or their husband —that applies as well to a reader of The New York Times, that language, as it does to a journalist. Now, that might seem ridiculous, you know, that they would ever do such a thing. But you may have noticed, people in the Armed Services are forbidden to read, or download on their computers The New York Times, or The Guardian. Right now it’s The Guardian that’s publishing this stuff. So they’re banned from downloading it –

RS: Yeah.

DE: ... James Risen ... is being ordered by the circuit court to reveal his source ... or face contempt or go to prison. So they’re using the grand jury to say, “Just tell us the name of the criminal who committed this offense.” And then Rosen is being directly—in an affidavit—described as a criminal himself, an aider and abettor. The next step will definitely not end with Assange. And they start with Assange of course, who did exactly what The New York Times did: same everything. … They are counting on enough journalists distancing themselves from him to make it look as though this is not a foot in the door. But that’s what it is; it’s an entryway into prosecuting journalists.

RS: You know the interesting thing about that aspect is it’s the selective prosecution. Because the fact is, and I’ve argued this, when it comes to national security issues, foreign policy issues, an overwhelming source of information is classified and routinely leaked -

DE: Yeah, yeah.

RS: And an example I use, and I’ve never seen anyone refute it, but I happened to get off an airplane in San Jose. I was going up to see Sid Drell at Stanford; I was an Arms Control Fellow along with Condoleezza Rice [and others] and [nuclear scientist] Edward Teller was on the plane. … And Edward Teller said, “Oh, where you going?” I said, “I’m going up there to Arms Control Center … and he says, “Make sure, Sid tells you about the great results we just had on lasing with the Cottage Test.”

DE: Really? That sounds pretty classified.

RS: Classified?! It was the biggest secret that an enemy would want to know. … If we had actually produced this X-ray laser, you know, boom! ... He would routinely make these kind of comments and so forth. And when I went up there and Sid Drell came out and I said, “Hi Sid, just ran into Edward Teller. He said you’re going to tell me the great results that they had on the Cottage Test.” And he turned white and said, “Outside!” and we walked outside. He said, “What are you talking about? This is the biggest secret. I’m not going to talk about that. What was Teller—he must be losing his mind.” … Well, I wrote about it.

DE: Yeah.

RS: Teller didn’t even tell me it was off the record.

DE: Yeah.

RS: I did write about it and what happened was that an investigation was done and it turns out they didn’t get the factor. The machine, the machinery monitoring the results had been distorted by the test.

DE: Oh so they didn’t even have great results.

RS: No, it was false.

DE: That’s classified [laughter].

RS: Interestingly enough, he was only leaking it because he thought they did get great results. 

DE: Well, I said this whole system is an information management system, which, by the way, serves the press to some extent too. It means that when they tell you something like that as a scoop, they’re giving you something that makes you indebted to them, basically, as a current and future source, which you won’t get anymore if you print something they don’t want. … Now it’s something they want out. But they want the right reporter to get it. They don’t generally give it to you or to Sy Hersh, you know. They give it to somebody who’s a favorite.

RS: Right.

DE: So it seemed like a moot issue in a way—you know whether it’s constitutional or not – they’re not using it against journalists. ... But they weren’t using it against leakers, either. You know, there were lots of leaks.

RS: Yeah. Every day you pick up the paper.

RS: ... You almost cannot pick up a story on foreign policy, whether it’s Egypt today or anything else that does not have anonymous sourcing … or other classified information that they’re revealing.

DE: Yeah. Okay, what Obama is doing … is to try to end investigative reporting of the national security complex or Homeland Security which covers just about everything now as we know from NSA, you know the excuse of terrorism gives them the change to survey everybody whether they have access or not. But what he’s trying to do is not only, is to criminalize—not only in the letter of the law but by actual prosecutions – criminalizing putting out classified information that they don’t want out ... which tends to be exactly what the public needs to know because it makes them accountable. They … want to put out classified information they have to explain themselves, to support their policies, to counteract critics and so forth. ... But you can be sure they will never prosecute for that because those are leaks that are, in effect, authorized. ... [Under] regulations, no leak to a person without a clearance is authorized; it’s all unauthorized by the regulations, but in fact they do that every hour of the day and they will never prosecute for that. So you have selective prosecution there by not prosecuting authorized leaks. ... 

So, coming back to Manning for a minute 4,000 Americans died – troops – and hundreds of thousands – and I really believe the estimates of a million and a half are better estimates ... of Iraqi civilians, plus the refugees, plus the ... tens of thousands at least, of American troops who were subjected to post traumatic stress and suicide because of atrocities they’ve committed in many cases or that they’ve witnessed. ...

Not one person being indicted for getting us into that or for pursuing it ... those people died because there was no official – at high level – with the moral fiber, the moral courage, of Bradley Manning or of Edward Snowden to warn us of what was coming out. And there was no way to get that information unless someone took the courage of risking his or her own career or prison to do it. ... I would say in that context where not one person had the courage [to do]what he did and not one person has been indicted, he does not deserve one day more of jail.

RS: See that’s –

DE: But ... the prospect of that ... did not deter Snowden.

RS: You know it’s interesting ‘cause always put in terms of what’s the cost, what’s the price, the real cost . And this is what I think was involved in the Nuremberg principle – it was the distorting of the national debate, undermining any kind of accountability in real time to your own people. So I mean, really, that was the basic thing, “Did you know about the concentration camps and why didn’t you” –

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