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Daniel Ellsberg's role in leak of Pentagon Papers gets a second look

'The Most Dangerous Man in America' on PBS recalls his actions and the personal and political tumult that followed.

October 05, 2010|By Scott Timberg, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Ellsberg was critical of George W. Bush's administration for what he regards as its disdain for transparency, but also blames the Obama White House for continuing the cloaked practices in the war on terror. He's heartened by the recent cache of documents released by WikiLeaks on the Afghan war, though he thinks newspapers are more credible places to publish than the Internet. But he applauds the site for offering a clearer look at what the U.S. government is up to: "There should be a Pentagon Papers out ever year," he says.

There's very little apparent self-congratulation to Ellsberg. Although he was attacked by political opponents for betraying his country, Ellsberg's regret is rather that he didn't leak documents earlier — in 1964 when the conflict was still escalating.

"I'm one of a few dozen people who could have prevented the Vietnam War," he says, drumming his finger on his wooden table with every syllable. A Democratic Congress would have turned on Johnson, he thinks, if they had seen how bogus his war justifications were. "But I was very inhibited – I felt like I was breaking my promise."

It's human nature that troubles him the most.

"Humans are herd animals," he says. "They depend very much on being part of the group, and to remain part of the group, they'll do anything. And a much larger number will go along with anything. And the broadest form of that is keeping your mouth shut."

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