Daniel Ellsberg: Edward Snowden is a patriot

The man behind the Pentagon Papers talks NSA, Bradley Manning and whistle-blowers' importance in a new interview

Published June 14, 2013 4:34PM (EDT)

The following is a transcript of Brad Friedman's interview with Daniel Ellsberg for KPFK/Pacifica Radio. For a link to the complete transcript, and more details on Brad Friedman's interview with Ellsberg, including the audio, and his original report on the conversation, please see Friedman's coverage here.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms - the NSA - he said, "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America. And we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross that abyss. "That is the abyss, said Senator Frank Church, "from which there is no return."

Is that the case? We're going to find out momentarily from my guest, Daniel Ellsberg.

The Guardian asserted last week --- actually over the weekend in Glenn Greenwald's article in which Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, was outed as the leaker, the whistle-blower, of these NSA documents we've been seeing over the past week --- The Guardian asserted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden "will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistle-blowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning." So of course it seems like a good time to talk with Daniel Ellsberg about all of this. We can't really talk with Bradley Manning, unfortunately. He's in a military brig facing his trial.

But Dan Ellsberg is a 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 decisions made leading up to the Vietnam War showing, essentially, that the Johnson administration had lied us into that war. Those documents became known as the "Pentagon Papers"and their publication by the New York Times was challenged by the Nixon Administration all the way up to the Supreme Court. Ellsberg was then personally targeted by the Nixon Administration, who, as part of the Watergate scandal, attempted to break in and steal medical and psychiatric documents on Ellsberg, a point which is interesting in light of the fallout from both the WikiLeaks, the Julian Assange and Bradley Manning cases, and now the Edward Snowden NSA contractor leaks.

Dan Ellsberg is also the subject of a 2009 Emmy-nominated documentary, "The Most Dangerous Man in America." You can get more on that at mostdangerousman.org. He also tweets @DanielEllsberg and his website is Ellsberg.net. I'm also proud to say that Dan Ellsberg has even guest blogged at BradBlog.com over the years.

Daniel Ellsberg, welcome, Sir, back to The Bradcast.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Thank you. Glad to be here, Brad.

FRIEDMAN: Delighted to have you here anytime, certainly, but especially now. There's a lot that I want to get into with you on this case, Dan, and the specifics of it and your thoughts on it. But it seems to me --- and I will in a moment --- but it seems to me that right now you are one of very few people in this country, perhaps in this world, who can actually give us some sense of what it must be like, what it is right now that Edward Snowden is going through? What is in his mind? What's he dealing with in his life from your perspective, given the background you have, given that you had an entire administration --- and country, arguably --- out against you back in the 70s after releasing the Pentagon papers.

ELLSBERG: Well, I'd hardly presume to guess very strongly what's in the mind of a man that I haven't met. And yet, what I've learned enough about him right now is to make me admire him very much and respect him and thank him for what he's done.

I do make a point of trying to meet whistle-blowers and have met quite a few of them, in part because one thing that I know that they share in common is that they've lost a lot of friends and colleagues very suddenly. And I have the bad news for them, they'll probably never get those back, or most of them. So they need new friends and they do find new friends, and I'm happy to be one of those.

Also, I usually find that we have a lot in common --- even if our lives have been very different --- that brought us to his position. We all did come to a position where the choice was to continue being silent about something that we thought threatened human lives or, in Snowden's case I think in particular, threatened the Constitution, the nature of this government, in a very bad way. And whether we were willing to continue that, continue our careers, which might be very comfortable in his case and mine (much more than Bradley Manning's, for example) or do something to inform the public that would undoubtedly confront us with possible life in prison. A lot of leakers, whistle-blowers remain anonymous and I respect that decision, because if you can get the information out - especially documents out - without having to face this challenge of prospect of either a trial or possibly being eliminated, all the better for most people. But when you do reveal yourself, as Bradley has now done in his court case.

FRIEDMAN: Bradley Manning, we're talking about.

ELLSBERG: Bradley Manning. Did I say Bradley? The other Bradley.

FRIEDMAN: That's okay. No, no, separating that from Ed Snowden, yes.

ELLSBERG: You have a good name there. I mean, a newly honorific name.

FRIEDMAN: [laughs]

ELLSBERG: Snowden has done, of course, and I did when I was arrested, took full responsibility for what we've done. That's unusual and I think the motives are the same, to some degree, in each case. Each of us wanted to relieve other people who would be suspected and harassed or prosecuted or whatever to the extent we could. You can't --- just by our saying that we did it on our own and the other people are not responsible --- of course, doesn't prove the case purely, but it does in fact relieve, I think, the others from much more that they would have. Manning, for example, made a point of saying that he was not aided, or unduly, or not influenced, not persuaded, to get his information out by WikiLeaks. That surely does have relevance to the proceedings of the grand jury in Virginia that's dealing with that case. Snowden, too, said that he wanted to relieve his colleagues. I certainly did. I knew that various people who had access to the Pentagon papers would be suspected, like Les Gelb and Mort Halperin, Paul Warnke and possibly others, and I wanted to say they didn't know anything about it, confirm what they were undoubtedly saying themselves to the FBI, and do what I could there.

Also, once you've revealed yourself like this, you're able to explain what you've done and why you did it, what the motives were, and...

FRIEDMAN: And is that your sense of why he --- because I was on RT America yesterday and during an interview someone asked me why did he reveal himself now? Why did he not stay in secret? Do you have a sense of why he decided to do that?

ELLSBERG: Yes, I do, actually. [chuckles] It's interesting. I was a little puzzled at first as to --- first of all, let me answer the question implicit in that. Why is he not in the country? And I think the current climate is such that if he were in the country, we would have no more chance to hear from him than you or I or anybody has had from Bradley Manning. He'd be in jail, he might be in the same cell in Quantico --- at best --- as Bradley Manning was for ten and a half months, in isolation. Or he might be in Guantanamo.

FRIEDMAN: That was my sense as well. That he...

ELLSBERG: He would not be out on bond as I was 40 years ago. I was able to speak very freely in this country out on bond during my trial. And to speak not so much about my case as to the war, and to put my message out about the nature of the war and why it should be ended.

So he, Snowden now, from where he is, and he's given more than one interview, has really been able to say how dangerous he believes this practice of total data gathering that's going on on the American people, how dangerous that is. He's able to say it in a way he couldn't do in this country. Why he chose Hong Kong I couldn't judge too much. He says, he said today, I just noticed, in his story, that he was ready to trust Hong Kong justice on this point. They have a relatively free press. He felt he could get a reasonable deal. But he had to be out of this country. Certainly I think he would have been very mistaken to go to mainland China with its...


ELLSBERG: ...authoritarian system. I notice that Russia has offered him asylum. Again, that would be just to confirm people's attitudes that the White House and the leadership in Congress is trying to give that he's unpatriotic. I have no doubt at all that he's a patriotic American, as he's said. And to call him a traitor reveals a real misunderstanding of our founding documents.

FRIEDMAN: It does. And, you know, we've seen a lot of people now taunting him. [Rep.] Peter King this morning called for, not just for him to be arrested but for the journalist Glenn Greenwald to be arrested, which I found was extraordinary. Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for George W. Bush, has been also taunting, calling for the DOJ to throw the book at him, had actually tweeted --- Fleischer did --- "Real whistleblowers don't flee the country," to which I replied, "Real press secretaries don't lie their country into war."

ELLSBERG: Ha. Good tweet. Very good answer. Yeah.

FRIEDMAN: So to you, this is now the only way really that whistle-blowers can even get their side of the story out. They'll be tarred and feathered or thrown in the brig as Bradley Manning was. Correct?

ELLSBERG: But you know, interestingly, the question of who's a 'real' whistle-blower or who's a 'real' Press Secretary is a pretty problematic question. And the question of who decides that. The truth is that 'real' Press Secretaries for the President do lie all the time.


ELLSBERG: And real whistle-blowers apparently leave the country, because there's no question in my mind that he is a whistle-blower in the best, complete sense. And he left the country and he did it for good reason.

In my case, as I said, there was a different country 40 years ago, where I was able to speak for so long. The things that were done against me, which included trying to "incapacitate me totally" at the orders of the White House, in other words, assault me or kill me, those were illegal then. And in fact they faced President Nixon with impeachment proceedings and led to his resignation. That's very different. All the things that were done to me then including CIA profile on me, a burglary of my former psychiatrist's office in order to get information to blackmail me with, all of those things were illegal, as one might think that they ought to be. They're legal now, since 9/11, with the Patriot Act, which on that very basis alone should be repealed. In other words, this is a case right now with Snowden that shows very dramatically the dangers of that Patriot Act used as it is. So the fact is that all these things are legal. And even the one of possibly eliminating him.

We have a President who claims the right and makes no secret of the fact that he believes he has the right to kill anyone anywhere in the world, here or elsewhere, including American citizens. Now, that's an extraordinary claim. I presume he thinks it's legal or he wouldn't be saying it so openly. It's no secret. But could that possibly be legal? Could it possibly be constitutional? That claims an executive right that no king of England has pretended to since John I. The Magna Carta talked about the need for due process in a way that is not fulfilled in what this administration has called "due process", which is internal review, which is a mockery of the rule of law.

FRIEDMAN: It is, because it's all done in secret. And they say, "Oh, there's due process." Sure, there's due process that nobody actually gets to oversee.

I'm speaking with Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary Pentagon Papers whistle-blower. Daniel, you wrote in the Guardian over the weekend that "There has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material and that definitely includes the Pentagon papers 40 years ago."

Why is Snowden's leak so much more important, as you see it, than the Pentagon Papers were 40 years ago?

ELLSBERG: Well, I tell you, it's hard to compare these things. They're different enough exactly. What I really said and stand by is it's certainly not less significant than anything that we've seen, including the Pentagon Papers. But in its own way it's far more than simply a leak of material that was very highly classified, above top secret communications intelligence. By the way, all three of these people that you mentioned: Manning, Snowden, and I, all had clearances that not only included "top secret" but clearances higher than "top secret". We all - including Manning and Snowden - had access to information much higher than "top secret" which we did not disclose. Snowden has said that, he has even eluded to the kinds of information that he has such as the names of covert agents, all the places of CIA stations in the world, he said, which he had no intention ever of revealing because he felt that the public need for that did not outweigh the need for secrecy.

But what he has revealed, and that's what I would like people to focus on, to read what it is, whether they like him or dislike him or hate him, learn from what he's put out. Read it. Because what he has revealed, of course, is documentary evidence of a broadly, blatantly unconstitutional program here which negates the Fourth Amendment. And if it continues in this way, I think makes democracy essentially impossible or meaningless. You quoted Frank Church at the beginning as saying that if the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the government as they were 38 years ago, when he was writing...


ELLSBERG: ...were turned on the American people, he said, the capacity for total tyranny would be there. And he went further. He said he didn't think there was a possibility of real democracy because if a movement of opposition of any kind, or dissent, arose, the government would know enough about each individual and their workings together to "deal with it" effectively, one way or another. Blackmail, persuasion, or whatever. He didn't think that free association would really be possible any more, free speech would be possible. The question is, when he said, "That would be an abyss.."

FRIEDMAN: "From which there would be no return."

ELLSBERG: "From which there would be no return." We haven't tested that last part yet. We're in the abyss. What he feared has come to pass.

Let me make a quote that I haven't actually seen anywhere, but I heard it from Tom Drake himself, who was another whistle-blower [sound skips] today, a high official at NSA...


ELLSBERG: ...Who was tried and his case fell apart. He said that he was present at a meeting right after 9/11, with [sound skips] -den, then head of NSA, which Hayden said, "We are now going to target the United States as if it were a foreign country."

FRIEDMAN: Oh, brother.

ELLSBERG: Target it, meaning - remember, in a lot of these countries IT&T installed the telephone system. That's true in Cuba, true in Chile. Meant we knew every aspect. We ran the system, basically. And in other countries we had every kind of access we could. But the access in those days was limited to what Church mentioned. Telephone. Telegram. They didn't have faxes, emails, cell phones, computers, online banking, GPS. None of that existed then. All of that is now available to the NSA and to its partners in the so-called intelligence community: the FBI and the others, CIA...

FRIEDMAN: You, you wrote, in fact, "The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the East German Stasi - the secret police in the former Democratic Republic of East Germany --- could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America." Is that fair? A comparison to the East Germany...

ELLSBERG: Oh, that isn't to say that we are a police state at this moment. We're obviously not, because you and I are talking. I wouldn't --- in East Germany we wouldn't be on the air or we'd be in detention camps.

FRIEDMAN: Good point. Good point.

ELLSBERG: So we're not there yet. But we have the infrastructure for a police state such as never, ever existed. I think with another 9/11 there would be mass detentions and it wouldn't be only Middle Easterners or Iranians or Arabs or Muslims and so forth. It would be people who support WikiLeaks, support Brad Friedman or Snowden. Such as me and, I presume, you. And they know that because, all right, we're saying it on public radio, but supposing we hadn't. There's a lot of people who don't have the access here to the public but they do talk to their friends on the phone or by email. And they'll be picked up just as quickly as you or I.

And there's one step beyond that. My knowledge of the Stasi is not very extensive, but it's largely from a movie called "The Lives of Others," which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film some years ago. Everybody should get that now. It should be reissued now. Preferably. It has subtitles. In German. But I'd like to see it dubbed so it had a wider audience. What that shows is what life can be with a government that knew as much as the Stasi did then. But if they know --- and one thing they can do with that information right now --- is to turn people into informants, so that the government has not only the information that people say on electronic devices, they have what they say in the bedroom, because their wife or their whoever --- spouse --- is an informant. As happened in the movie. That is what did happen in East Germany. And if we were to get that here, and there's the infrastructure for it right now, we will become a democratic republic in the same sense as the East German Democratic Republic.

FRIEDMAN: Well, Dan --- speaking with Dan Ellsberg --- Dan, we actually saw that some years ago. I believe it was during the Bush administration, when we had folks coming forward, whistle-blowers coming forward and saying yeah, they were able to go back and listen to phone sex conversations between troops who were out in Iraq. They were just able to pull them up like they were pulling them up in iTunes. Let me get, if I could ...

ELLSBERG: That's what Snowden said he could do, for anybody in the country.


ELLSBERG: And remember, he's a three-month employee at that moment of Booz Allen, a so-called private corporation. You know, one little thing that I think the public should learn from all of this: 70% of the intelligence budget, which is in the $50 billion range, near $60 billion, 70% of it goes to private contractors. And so, it isn't just elected representatives who have access to this, it's a myriad of private contractors. Highly paid people who can pass that stuff around.

FRIEDMAN: Which brings me to another point. And, by the way, Jee, do you have clip number five? This was, believe it or not, it's a very short clip. We got to see this last night on "The Daily Show," of all places. It was a conversation, I think, from "The Tonight Show" back in 2008. Shia LeBeouf, young actor, had this to say about a meeting he had with a guy in the FBI.

ELLSBERG: Pardon me, who was the person you're talking about?

FRIEDMAN: This is actor Shia LeBeouf, an actor who was speaking...

ELLSBERG: Oh, yeah. I know who he is

FRIEDMAN: ...on "The Tonight Show." Go ahead, play that clip, Jee.


LeBeouf: We had an FBI consultant on the picture who told me that one in five phone calls that you make are recorded and logged. And I laughed at him. And then he played back a phone conversation I'd had two years prior...

Leno: Come on.

LeBeouf: ...to joining the picture. The FBI consultant. And it was like one of those, it was one of those phone calls, it was like, "What are you wearing?" type of thing.

FRIEDMAN: That is just unbelievably creepy. And when I hear these people saying, "Oh, there's oversight on this. We trust President Obama, unlike George W. Bush, none of that stuff is happening now," nobody knows this. And even the Senators, Wyden and Udall - Democratic senators - have been begginghave been pleading for more transparency in this matter now for years. From the NSA, from Eric Holder. There has been a debate, Dan, about the discussion --- You know, "we need to have a national discussion about these things. However, what Edward Snowden did is not the right way to make that happen." It seems to me that's the only way that these discussions ever happen. After the Pentagon Papers and...

ELLSBERG: You know, Wyden and Udall are both on the [U.S. Senate] Intelligence Committee. They did, in fact, have access to this stuff, like Dianne Feinstein, who approves of it.


ELLSBERG: ...who's Chairman of the Committee. Now, they did not, it would seem, approve of it. But let's look at how much that did for us. Their knowledge of it. And what is so-called oversight. When Ron Wyden, Senator Ron Wyden, asked the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, "do you collect telephone data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" As you know, you know his answer.


ELLSBERG: His answer was, "No." That was in March. He was confronted with documentary evidence that that was false. His answer is, well, "it was a difficult question for me to answer yes or no", although actually he did give a yes or no answer.

FRIEDMAN: [Chuckles] Correct.

ELLSBERG: He said "the least untruthful answer I could give was 'no'." Well, one could argue with that. A less untruthful answer would have been "yes." Let's see. The short answer is no, the long answer is "Yes. We do collect that."

What's interesting is Wyden knew that. He knew that Clapper was lying. [I just read the other day?] But he didn't mention it because it was a secret. So he didn't tell us that what Clapper had just told the American people was false. He felt he couldn't do that.

Now, he's recently, since then, revealed that he had given Clapper advance warning that he was going to ask that exact question, knowing the real answer to it. Give Clapper a chance to tell the truth. I don't know whether he expected it or not. And after Clapper had lied, after the session he gave Clapper, he says, a question: do you want to revise that answer? Clapper said no.

So we didn't learn. Wyden felt - and I'd say I give him credit for asking the question and for knowing, but what did that oversight do for us, the American people? It had no influence on what Clapper did or informed us of. And, of course, the same is true of all the other members of the committee. In short, that the supposed oversight structure of these committees is totally open, is fraudulent. It was a failure at an attempt, what Senator Church was looking for, to reform the system. As was the FISA court, which also came out of the Church investigation of NSA.

So you have a court. And the president points, say, "Well, we have the oversight by a court." Yes. A court that meets in secret, hears only the government's side, and out of tens of thousands of requests for warrants, has modified about six. So, as [former DIA, NSA intelligence analyst turned whistle-blower] Russell Tice has called it, it's "a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp." In short, we have no checks and balances. We have one-branch government, the Executive. The Legislative and the Judicial part are entirely failing so far. Now, with this evidence - and by the way, to have all those powers connected in one branch was in James Madison's term, "the very definition of tyranny."

FRIEDMAN: Dan, I got just a few more minutes with you and I've got a number of questions I want to try to fly through here. There has been, since these disclosures, there has been action taken to some extent. The intelligence officers are now briefing hundreds of folks in Congress. The folks in Congress who were supposedly fully aware of these programs beforehand. You've got companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook begging the government to allow them to give more transparency about what is being done and what is not being done. There is a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators filing a bill to do away with the secret decisions of the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

It seems to me that action is actually, to some extent, already being taken. So when you hear these people saying there are other things that --- "we need to have this important discussion but there are other ways to go about it" --- it seems to me that's just a lie. That there is no other way to go about it. Right?

ELLSBERG: None of which are happening. And what you've described seems all useful. None of it would be happening now or ever without Snowden's putting himself at risk and giving out these documents.

FRIEDMAN: Were there additional transparency laws, Dan? I wanted to ask because I've been having a debate with a colleague of mine. What were the additional laws, transparency laws and so forth, that were passed after the Pentagon Papers, to help shed light on what the DOD was doing?

ELLSBERG: Oh, yes. Right. I'd have to think of his name now, but the man who was in charge of the subcommittee of the Government Operations Committee who was mainly associated with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), his name slips my mind at the moment, he called me up afterwards and said that without the Pentagon Papers, the amendments to that act - the Freedom of Information Act - leading to its covering classified information (which was not true in the beginning), we would never have had that without your Pentagon Papers. It's the only time I talked to him. He said, I wanted to tell you that that was essential. So we did get the Freedom of Information Act.

We did get the ruling, the ruling that there should be no warrants, no warrants issued --- I'm sorry, no overhearing of American citizens by NSA or others, without a warrant. And they created the secret FISA court to deal with these warrants in particular. That was legislation which may or may not have had some effect on the NSA for some period, but clearly has failed since 9/11.

And the Intelligence Committees, the supposed obligation to inform the Intelligence Committees of every covert operation that was going on. Now, once again, on the one hand we've had many examples where major covert operations were carried on without telling those committees, in violation of the law. Senator Moynihan once dropped out of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was so angry that they had not been told of our illegal mining of the Port of Corinto in Nicaragua.

He went back later. But, as I say, they often are not told. When they are told it's often vague, so vague. And if it's not vague, they tell two or three top members of the committee, which is against the law. The whole committee is supposed to be told. This happens --- and this is true of torture and it's true of the warrantless wiretaps under Bush --- they were not allowed, their staff, to review it, who were lawyers who could really take time and analyze it. They were not allowed to take notes. And they were not allowed to tell their colleagues on the committee, which was illegal. There's silence in the face of that --- because if they had refused those rules they wouldn't have been told either. And so it was more important for them to feel that they were in the know and they had these prestigious jobs than to obey the law and involve their own colleagues on the Intelligence Committee. That's a system that's totally broken.

FRIEDMAN: And let me put this question straight to you, because it comes straight from that same colleague who has been critical of both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald for reporting on those leaks. He says directly to me, and I said, "Well, let me ask Dan about this ..."

ELLSBERG: Who is this colleague, by the way?

FRIEDMAN: What's that?

ELLSBERG: Is this a journalist colleague?

FRIEDMAN: It is a journalist colleague, yeah...

ELLSBERG: A critic of Glenn Greenwald for reporting this unconstitutional behavior that came out, he should have, as a journalist, one journalist to another, he thinks you shouldn't have put that out? I think a lot of people here are being very strongly discredited, either as jurists, like [attorney Jeffrey] Toobin in the New Yorker, as a legal person, or the President, for that matter. Or a Dianne Feinstein in their oversight. Or [Thomas] Friedman, others, who, the criticisms they're making I think are very discreditable to them in their profession.

FRIEDMAN: It has been, you know, I've taken to calling this "Planet Partisan" at this point, because things have turned so upside down since just the Bush administration when we saw --- we have now seen supporters of Barack Obama using almost word-for-word some of the same defenses of President Obama that we saw being used to defend George W. Bush back then. And this has been going back at least for a number of weeks since it was revealed that James Rosen of Fox News was named as a co-conspirator. I'm hearing exactly the same defenses. It's amazing.

But Dan, let me ask you this question. He said [Brad's colleague] "Do you really believe the operations of the DOD and the national security apparatus became more transparent as a consequence of Ellsberg?" So let me put that to you. Do you believe they did become more transparent after the Pentagon papers? Or will we see in this case the system becoming less transparent to avoid again what happened here with Ed Snowden?

ELLSBERG: Well, that can be answered very easily. The fact is that there was an outpouring of information, but it was mostly historical information from the FOIA Act, as amended to include classified information. So in some periods - and I'm quite critical of President Clinton, for example, on many ways, but in one respect he was very good, in terms of putting out formerly classified information under FOIA. Enormously more than any of his successors including Obama, or his predecessors. So we did get a lot of information. If you look at the National Security Archive of Georgetown University [ed note: he meant George Washington University], you'll find enormous amounts of information that simply would not have been available otherwise.

But that doesn't mean that the government --- That sort of effect lasts for a period and then the government prevails. They want us to know only what they choose to tell us about what they're doing. That's true of any organization, not just governments and not just this government. That's not a partisan thing. They want us to know what is --- in their eye --- what they want us to believe. And the question is do we have a chance to get behind that and to check it?

Now, for example, the Watergate investigation, came after the Pentagon Papers, did more than the Pentagon Papers did to reveal the actual secret criminal workings of the government. So yes, it did become transparent. There was a good deal of transparency from the Irangate investigations, although that should have led to impeachment and for various political reasons it didn't. Impeachment, I'm talking now about Reagan...

FRIEDMAN: Reagan, yeah...

ELLSBERG: ...And George H.W. Bush. It didn't lead to the impeachment but we learned a lot more from those investigations. We learned a great deal from the Church investigations in 1975 that came, of course, after the Pentagon papers and drew on it very much.

FRIEDMAN: I've got just a minute or two...

ELLSBERG: We haven't had anything like that since. That's what we need again. We need a select committee again, right now, really to investigate this. And to let us know their findings.

FRIEDMAN: Dan, I've got just a minute or two but I want to get in a couple more quick questions here. A response from you to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who I think is a great journalist, but he says that he is "against what is arguably the best way to trigger one of those debates," is leaks of this sort. He says, "Snowden is doing more than triggering a debate. I think it's clear he's trying to upend, damage, choose your verb, the U.S. intelligence apparatus and policies he opposes. He's not just opening the thing up for debate. He's taking it upon himself to make things no longer possible or much harder to do. To me that's a betrayal," he says. So, "Who gets to decide?" he asks about these sorts of disclosures. "The totality of the officeholders who have been elected democratically, for better or worse, to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I've never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don't agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the laws."

Your response?

ELLSBERG: The answer to me is very clear. Edward Snowden --- he's the guy who told us this stuff --- plus, I don't, should we trust the people who kept it secret all this time or carried out these unconstitutional programs. What about the people who kept the warrantless wiretapping secret from 2001, 9/11, until 2005, four years later when the New York Times finally revealed it?

There were thousands and thousands of people who did that, starting with the President. Are they the ones, then, we should trust? Should we trust the judgment of the people who lied us into Iraq, as into Vietnam?

I would say that the people who put their lives at stake, like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, right now, are people to listen to and learn from. And I'm afraid that --- I know Jonathan [sic] Marshall has a lot to be said for him as a blogger. I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit.

It's what I was saying earlier. A lot of people are being smoked out now about their understanding of democracy, which is that of, I don't know, a 15-year-old or something here or something, who is absolutely new to the subject and hasn't followed their last 50 years of history.

FRIEDMAN: Dan, I've got to unfortunately take a break and let you go. I wanted to --- unless you can give me a real short answer here --- one of the things in talking to whistle-blowers that I've heard over and over is about, not just the over-classification of just about everything these days, but also the concern that you brought up about private contractors now sort of having taken over our national security surveillance state apparatus. I have first-hand experience --- I'll come back and talk about that after the break --- of these terror tools that were developed for the "war on terror" by private companies who then turn around and use them. They used them against me, against Glenn Greenwald, arguably against the Occupy movement.

What are your concerns there with the over-classification and the over-privatization of our surveillance state? And I know that's a huge question, but you got to answer it in 30 seconds [laughs]...

ELLSBERG: It will always be the case that much is classified that need not be classified. But that's not the real problem. The real problem is how much is classified that needs not to be classified if we want to be a democracy. In other words, information that would allow us to hold our leaders accountable but make them blameworthy, and we can choose and influence the policy that is classified, it will be always tenaciously protected by the government.

In short, we have a great deal of secrecy on exactly what the public needs to know. And what Snowden has revealed is exactly in that category. And if Jonathan [sic] Marshall...

FRIEDMAN: Josh Marshall.

ELLSBERG: ...does not perceive that distinction and prefers to slander Snowden as being against the U.S. or being against intelligence, in the face of the fact that he has openly said he has a raft of information here which he will not reveal, and the stuff he has shown shows the very best judgment and puts into question, if Jonathan Marshall can't make that distinction, he's somebody I wouldn't listen to.

FRIEDMAN: Dan Ellsberg, always great to talk to you, sir. Thank you for speaking up for 40 years, for all you've done for this country. It's greatly appreciated. And even more so, greatly appreciated your coming on the air on The Bradcast to talk about it this afternoon. Thanks, Dan. Keep up the good work, my friend.

ELLSBERG: Thanks for the opportunity. I follow your blog and I profit a lot by it. Thank you.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Sir.

By Brad Friedman

Investigative journalist and broadcaster Brad Friedman is the creator and publisher of The BRAD Blog. He has contributed to Mother Jones, The Guardian, Truthout, Huffington Post, The Trial Lawyer magazine and Editor & Publisher.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bradley Manning Daniel Ellsberg Edward Snowden Glenn Greenwald Pentagon Papers