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Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of Pentagon Papers to Sen. Mike Gravel, dead at 92

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.

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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.

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Daniel Ellsberg was being treated for psychiatric disorders. His psychiatrist Dr. Fielding, had possession of many government documents that were presumably safe in his office under patient/physician privilege. Nixon had his A-Team burglars raid Dr. Fielding’s office to retrieve the sensitive documents and place Dan Ellsberg under arrest due to violations of the Espionage Act. Those charges were thrown out later because of Nixon’s illegal search and because Nixon was about to be impeached. Very interesting history behind all of this and thanks, Suzanne, for reporting.
    This brings up three questions:

    1. Unlike the Ellsberg case, there is no evidence to show that Trump was going to use the presidential records for any purpose other than proper storage, to which he had a right to store declassified documents in a safe place. So why is the Espionage Act invoked under Trump?
    2. Why doesn’t Congress read into the congressional record, the entire 1023 document which shows the intent of Joe Biden to take money from a foreign entity while Vice-President, that would enrich him personally and place the US security in compromise?
    3. The same question above regarding Hillary Clinton’s email documents, which she intentionally destroyed, on official government computers which led to the death of a US diplomat and his American security guards?
    These questions need to be answered by our leaders in Congress. The public has a right to know.

  2. It’s almost odd to even conceive now of Democrats and left-leaning journalists who still valued the truth and the nation’s general welfare over their own narrow partisan agendas and ruling-class conformity.

  3. It was illegal for him to give these papers to the newspaper, and equally illegal for Mike Gravel to post them to the Congressional Record. Why both men weren’t charged is an absolute mystery.

  4. Ellsberg was feted by the left when he released The Pentagon Papers. Now look how they react to Snowden or Assange or other people with enough courage to reveal the nefarious secrets of nation- states. Another signpost of the current degradation of the left from any moral principles.

  5. It’s too bad more journalists and national news organizations are not following in his footsteps! Thank you Suzanne for your work in waking up Alaskans!

  6. Of course the statist lapdogs have to chime in decry his actions. They just evidently trust warmongering politicians and were just fine with not knowing that the politicians absolutely knew years early we should not have gone to Vietnam and there was no way to win. History continually repeats right up to Ukraine today and we just vacuously support the troops and salute the flag. Soldiers lives and collateral damage be damned. Ironically Gravel didn’t get the credit he deserved while our current warmonger Senator Sullivan continues with the marching orders of the military industrial complex even though our main enemy can’t beat a third world Ukraine and we spend more than the next EIGHT countries combined. Such sad human beings represent us. God Bless America indeed. Ellsburg, Snowden, Manning are heroes all in exposing corruption and evil in government.

  7. Didn’t know Senator Gravel took that hand off & read it in Congress
    … learn something new everyday.
    It was daring of these Dems to risk espionage charges & help end the JFK-LBJ war
    … a war that Nixon ended.
    Question: If Ellsburg & Gravel weren’t charged w/ espionage why is DJT being charged?
    OH …. that’s right, we need a ONE party system like Soviet Russia & the 3rd Reich
    I almost forgot.

  8. A somewhat significant figure during the Vietnam War years. He seemed to be motivated for the best of reasons, being concerned about government misconduct, but on a huge scale. Not motivated for money or being a communist agent, in fact suffered for doing what he did.

    • That may be, but his actions were not justifiable. He put our military into harm here and abroad to salve his conscience.

      Worse, the soldiers who had no option paid the price for his conscience.

  9. 1965 part of the decade when US Supreme Court ruled to take out of schools mandated prayer in 1962 just the beginning when our grandparents (as Ellsburg, Gavel, the current Ny times and Washington post) were removing God out of America. How could they know what was right and wrong or for than matter unity while their generation was removing God out of America. My takeaway from this history footnote is helped through other readers responses is for me a younger member of another generation don’t be too quick to tattling against my superior’s or employment’s conduct, that I become more anchored in God’s Word so my mind can make more thoughtful decisions about who, how, and when those with bad conduct are either quietly removed without divulging secrets or exposed if needed. The worse thing I personally learned from my job hopping days is calling it quits and leaving someplace or something. It resolved nothing.

  10. We won’t have to worry about Joe Biden ever releasing secret files on bribery, kickbacks, self-enrichment, and schemes of influencing. Hunter Biden already released them.

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