Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked a classified documentation of the decisions being made by the United States in Vietnam War, died June 16 at his home in Kensington, Calif. at age 92. He had announced in March that he had pancreatic cancer and was not going to take chemotherapy.
Ellsberg, who had a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, worked for the Rand Corp as a military analyst, and for the State Department. On a trip to Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1965, he was traumatized by what he saw and turned into a peace activist and whistleblower.
He leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1969. Soon, the Times and Washington Post were embroiled in court defending their right to publish the contents of the Pentagon Papers.
While that legal process continued in the Supreme Court, Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel received another copy of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg, and inserted them into the Congressional Record, making them a legal public document, and making the court case irrelevant to the moment. The newspapers were set free to report on the shocking documents.
That document transfer took place 52 years ago on June 15, 1971 in the dark of night in Washington, D.C., with Ben Bagdikian, an editor at the Washington Post, making the curbside handoff to Gravel.
Gravel read some of the documents into the record. and continued late into the night and early into the morning. This ultimately took down the Nixon Administration, which had inherited the war, and which ultimately ended the war.
Ellsberg went on to found the Freedom of the Press Foundation, where the entire episode of this extraordinary political and journalistic effort is recorded.
Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democrat who later ran for president twice, passed away at age 91 in 2021, at his home in Seaside, Calif. Bagdikian, who went on to write the book, “Reporter of Broad Range and Conscience,” and “The Media Monopoly,” died in 2016 at the age of 96.
Photo by Kushal Das, Wikimedia Commons.