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Daniel Ellsberg strengthened public opposition to the Vietnam War in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
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So in March 1971 Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which began publishing them three months later. When the Times was slapped with an injunction ordering a stop to publication, Ellsberg provided the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post and then to 15 other newspapers. The case, entitled New York Times Co. v. The United States, ultimately went all the way to the United States Supreme Court,
which on June 30, 1971 issued a landmark 6-3 decision authorizing the newspapers to print the Pentagon Papers without risk of government censure.
Not specifically because Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers – which covered only the period up to 1968 and therefore did not implicate the Nixon administration – but rather because they feared, incorrectly, that Ellsberg possessed documents concerning Nixon's secret plans to escalate the Vietnam War (including contingency plans involving the use of nuclear weapons), Nixon and Kissinger embarked on a fanatical campaign to discredit him. An FBI agent named G. Gordon Libby and a CIA operative named Howard Hunt – a duo dubbed "the Plumbers" – wiretapped Ellsberg's phone and broke into the office of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, searching for materials with which to blackmail Ellsberg. Similar "dirty tricks" by "the Plumbers" eventually led to Nixon's downfall in the Watergate scandal.
For leaking the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act, but his case was dismissed as a mistrial when evidence surfaced about the government-ordered wiretappings and break-ins.
Ever since his leak of the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg has remained active as a scholar and antiwar, anti-nuclear weapons activist. He has authored three books: Papers on the War (1971), Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002) and Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001) as well as countless articles on economics, foreign policy and nuclear disarmament. In 2006, he received the Right Livelihood Award, known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize," "for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example."
Daniel Ellsberg is married to Patricia Marx Ellsberg. He has three children and five grandchildren.
When he chose to leak the Pentagon Papers in 1971, many people both within and outside the government derided him as a traitor and suspected him of espionage. Since that time, however, many have come to regard Daniel Ellsberg as hero of uncommon bravery, a man who risked his career and even his personal freedom to help expose the deception of his own government in carrying out the Vietnam War. The debate surrounding Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers has recently regained international attention as historical context for the debate over the decision of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, to leak hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies around the world. Ellsberg is an active and outspoken supporter of Assange's efforts.
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