Daniel Ellsberg: Nowadays People Leak Earlier (And that's a Good Thing)

Roundup: Media's Take

Matthew Stannard, in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 29, 2004):

When famous whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg boarded a plane to Cincinnati earlier this week, he took along a little light reading: a stack of articles about former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who has stirred controversy with allegations in his book and testimony before a special panel that the Bush White House was somewhat indifferent to al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and obsessed with Iraq afterward.

Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers documenting government misrepresentations about the Vietnam War, sees Clarke as part of a trend:
well-placed individuals in the government who have gone public with books or interviews outlining their concerns and criticisms about their country's government--while that government is still in power.

Ellsberg is not alone in that observation--observers from across the political spectrum, whether they support Clarke's actions or not, agree that a new willingness exists to tell all far sooner, and far more publicly, than in the past.

Ellsberg cites officials such as Scott Ritter, the former lead inspector for the U.N. Special Commission on Concealment and Investigations team, and Katharine Gun, a British government linguist who leaked an e-mail purportedly from U.S. intelligence services asking for help spying on U.N.

Opinions differ on whether the willingness to tell all is a good thing, but to Ellsberg, who has been sharply critical of the war in Iraq and even written articles encouraging current government employees to leak what he calls "Iraq's Pentagon Papers," the phenomenon is a source of optimism.

"I think these people are heroes. They're really acting appropriately in a very dangerous situation," he said. "It's as if we are learning about the Tonkin Gulf a month or two later instead of years later."

Although Ellsberg, now 72 and living in Kensington, considers Clarke somewhat of a kindred spirit, he doesn't quite see him as a whistle-blower.
Clarke was no longer an employee of the administration when he spoke out and did not provide documentation to back up his accusations--accusations the administration has rejected.

Ellsberg said the only real whistle-blower of recent times is Gun, who briefly faced charges under the British Official Secrets Act and supported her claims with documents.

"I find her really admirable," Ellsberg said, but he considers the rest remarkable, too, for being willing to go public in a way and with a speed that simply didn't occur 40 years ago.

"Why are they acting differently from people in my generation?" he said. "We knew (Vietnam) was just as deceptive and the policy was just as bad, but we certainly weren't tempted to leak."

At least, not until Ellsberg did it. But since then, a number of observers said, going public early and often has become more and more acceptable, even among ranking government officials....

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