On September 13, 2010, The New York Times Community Affairs Department and POV presented a panel discussion on the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, and the Times. The conversation, featuring Daniel Ellsberg, Max Frankel, former New York Times executive editor, and Adam Liptak, New York Times Supreme Court reporter, was moderated by Jill Abramson, managing editor of The New York Times.
ELLSBERG AND THE NEW YORK TIMES
Jill Abramson: Good evening, everybody. I think we’re gonna have a lively panel and a discussion of the very interesting film, The Most Dangerous Man in America. And seated right next to me, uh-oh, is the most dangerous man in America! I’ll introduce to you— Daniel Ellsberg.
Dan, at the point you took the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, you had tried to interest anti-war Democrats in looking into them. And did you think that the Times would publish them? Were you frustrated at that point?
Daniel Ellsberg: I was. I was skeptical that they would. I’d seen Neil in the fall of 1970, and he was very disillusioned with the war at that point. quite— at that moment— feeling bad about the relation of his paper to the war. I didn’t get the feeling from him that the Times was at all likely to use it.
And — really, by that time, I felt — there wasn’t a lot of promise in putting these out because they dealt with—
Abramson: Right, old history.
Ellsberg: —the Democrats. Old history and— Nixon was well committed to the war. He was unlikely to change his position because of these papers. But, nevertheless — with Cambodia and Laos having occurred — the next year, by 1971, I thought, “Well, Why not do it?” And I’ve often said that I feel very regretful that I had not put out those documents when I could have, in 1964 and ’65. I think that a war really might have been avoided then.
As the Pentagon Papers showed, and there have been many other examples of this, I was not an unusual person who knew the government was lying in 1964. There must have been a thousand people.
And there must have been hundreds, at least, who had the documents that I had that I could have given, any one of them could have given. Not one person, not me, not anyone, broke that story. And Johnson went into a landslide election fighting Goldwater, saying, “We seek no wider war.” That was a total lie. And the press did not pick it up at all. Now that’s the most serious kind of secret, and it was kept very, very carefully.
CONGRESS TURNS DOWN THE PENTAGON PAPERS
Ellsberg: I didn’t get the feeling that the Times was at all likely to use it. And so, I did go to Senator Fulbright—
Abramson: Oh, okay.
Ellsberg: Who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And he had said initially that he was very excited to get them and there would be hearings. This was back in 1969. But Nixon managed to convince people that he was getting out of the war, he convinced them through Kissinger and others without actually saying it.
And Fulbright said he didn’t have the support of his own committee in holding further hearings on compelling an end to the war. So he backed off. Even so, I continued to hope that they would turn around on that. And when Cambodia came and there was excitement about that and they did cut off the funding for Cambodia — not for the war, they were — they again said, “Okay, we’re gonna have hearings.” And I was working hard in the committee — trying to check which documents should go in, and so forth. But again, that fell through. By the fall, the mood had gone out of that. And by the end of the year, Fulbright told me, “No, this wasn’t gonna happen.” He wasn’t gonna have hearings. That was the end of 1970.
EARLIER LEAKS OF THE PENTAGON PAPERS
Ellsberg: Neil told me at one point in about April, he said, “The Times has actually assigned me to other jobs. I’m not working on this. They’re not working it. But I wanna keep up on it in case they change their mind eventually. So, do you mind if I do have a copy?” And I had told him from the beginning, that I didn’t want to give a copy hanging around the Times if they weren’t gonna use it, because it would be there indefinitely. And some day, somebody would look at this and call the F.B.I.
So I said “I know that when you copy it, it’s out of my hands. You know, copies go around.” I knew this from the Institute of Policy Studies who they promised me there would be no copies and they were all over the place at that point. And they had actually given their copies to Neil, it turned out, without telling me. So I said that I didn’t want to have copies run unless I knew. Meanwhile, the decision would be based on, “Would they print a lot?” I didn’t want it to be a one-day story or a couple-day story. It had to be handled in a big way. And I did think documents were essential.
BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE NEW YORK TIMES
Abramson: One slow March day in 1971, Neil Sheehan came into Max’s office and presented a paper bag that had select documents from the Pentagon Papers.
When Neil Sheehan brought those papers in for you to look at, what did you make of them? Did you right away think, “Oh, my God, these are so consequential, you know, they will be historic. The Times must publish”? Or what did you make of them?
Max Frankel: Neil was under great pressure from his sources to publish the whole shebang. He wanted it all out. And he had tested the Times editors in New York. And the answer was, well, “This is — all sounds like a fascinating document with proof of the history attached in thousands of documents. But how can we give an opinion as to how interested we are until we see some of this?” So that’s when Neil went and got a few pages.
Abramson: So you felt immediately, “We need to see more.”?
Frankel: We need to see more. We didn’t know who the sources were. Neil never mentioned the name “Ellsberg.” They were his “sources in New England.”
We looked at this material and we said, “Clearly this is legitimate and fascinating and important.” These were documents that were flying around various administrations. “And by all means, let’s see more.”
Abramson: Then you came to New York to—
Frankel: I came to New York for these discussions and also told the House Counsel, Jim Goodale what we were about to get. And he said immediately, “Sounds like an injunction is gonna face us. And they’re gonna demand that we stop printing.”
Abramson: I think an early reaction of the publisher was, “It sounds like 20 years to life.”
WAR SECRETS IN A SHOPPING CART
Abramson: Pieces of this history that I think are so wonderful are — Punch Sulzberger, who was a great hero of this story — felt at a certain point after being briefed about the papers that he wanted to have a look at the material itself. And in a great piece of New York Times lore, Abe Rosenthal, who was then the top editor of the Times in New York, put a lot of copies into a shopping cart and wheeled, personally wheeled the shopping cart into Punch’s office.
Punch ended up making a difficult but in terms of history’s judgment, you know, a decision that fundamentally shifted, the way that the New York Times was viewed by the public. What was that all like?
Frankel: Punch Sulzberger was a Marine. And he was being told by his lawyers, “This is a treasonous thing to do to publish secret documents. The patriotism of the Times will be impugned. You will risk serious fines.
Abe rolled this shopping cart up there— not so much ’cause he wanted to dump this stuff on Punch’s desk, but to use his— Xerox machine to make additional copies. Abe’s brilliant idea was, “If this leaks and the F.B.I. comes demanding these documents back, we’re really in trouble.” So a whole secret operation was established over in the Hilton Hotel. We rented a suite. And one by one, the reporters and editors working on this disappeared from the newsroom and the Washington Bureau. And they began to study and digest this material and began to write the stories that would describe the documents and this history.
And when we finally brought it to Punch, he said, “Doesn’t sound very exciting to me.” So, it had to be rewritten again. He finally set a deadline on the whole operation. It was a trip to London that he had long planned.
Frankel: He said, “I’m leaving on Saturday. And so we decide by Friday whether it’s a go or not.”
Ellsberg: Rosenthal, when he went in for the final decision from Punch Sulzberger was prepared to resign if he didn’t get the documents. I was very impressed to read that. No one in the government acted that way with respect to Vietnam War or any of the others.
Frankel: You should understand that the debate was very complicated because the other issue was if it becomes known that we had this material and chose not to print it, what does that do to the reputation of the Times?
Abramson: That’s a familiar issue. But he said, “Yes,” to it all.
Frankel: He said, “Yes,” to it all. In fact, the day we finally persuaded him that there were no outright military secrets in these documents, we came rushing up to his office on the last day and he said, “In my absence, so and so will decide and make sure there are no secrets in it, and let’s go.”
JUNE 13, 1971: THE PRESSES ROLL
Abramson: On June 13th, the presses rolled. The Times had planned to do a series of nine articles, and to print the documents. And—
Frankel: Ten. Ten.
Abramson: Ten? Okay. People were very much talking about what the Times had published. After the second—
Frankel: Except in the White House, because Tricia Nixon was married that day. And right next to the Pentagon Papers on the front page of the Times.
Abramson: Which got better play?
Frankel: Her wedding.
Abramson: The marriage. Yeah.
Frankel: Abe Rosenthal decided not to be provocative in the presentation of the material. And so it was a “Vietnam Archive,” you know— very off-putting on a Sunday morning when Tricia Nixon in her bridal gown is next to the story.
Abramson: So, then the second installment was published. And then the Times heard from the Attorney General, who sent a missive to the paper demanding that the Times not publish any more articles.
Now, Punch and the lawyers had decided that they would abide by court decisions. The missive from Mitchell was not a court decision. It was an administration demand. So, the third installment was indeed published. But then the courts weighed in, Adam, and— and what happened at that point?
Adam Liptak: The Times gets enjoined on a very—
Abramson: What does “enjoined” mean?
Liptak: Enjoined means that we were prohibited by law, by court order from publishing these documents. And we said we would go along with those and we would appeal it to the top court and do whatever the Supreme Court told us to do, which was, itself, a sort of interesting decision, but probably one compelled to some extent by the very powerful debate inside the company. I do want to stress that Jim Goodale, then the general counsel of the company from a legal perspective, really threw his lot in with and stood by the newsroom in a way that I don’t think you would see in every company today as our outside lawyers were fleeing, we get the cable from the Justice Department. Lord Day & Lord resigns. And in the middle of the night, we’re scrambling around to find new lawyers to be available in court in the southern district the next day when this hearing will be held.
THE SUPREME COURT CASE: NEW YORK TIMES CO. V. UNITED STATES
Abramson: Adam, had the government ever tried before— before something was published, because obviously, the Times had more of these articles coming, so here you have the government asking to prevent publication of news — had that ever happened before?
Liptak: No, no, not on national security grounds. So this was quite new and in a way, disappointing. We think of the Pentagon Papers case as a as a tremendous victory. And it was. But, it’s not the greatest thing that the government thinks it has this power. And it’s not the greatest thing that the government, in that case, which is a pretty good case on the facts, gets three votes in the Supreme Court. So in that sense, it was a disappointment that the battle was even joined.
Abramson: Ultimately, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of the Times. And in that decision, Justice Black wrote a ringing affirmation of the First Amendment: “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government.”
Frankel: Very important, though, Justice Black and Douglas tried to bait the Times‘s lawyer, Alex Bickel, into an absolutist position saying the government may never restrain you from printing something. And Bickel had said from the beginning “I’m not gonna buy that that bait, because if we don’t get Potter Stewart and Justice White in the middle— so we’re going to—
Abramson: We won’t have the majority.
Frankel: —carve out— and— and his formula was, “The damage that the government has to demonstrate has to be immediate, direct, and irreparable,” which, if you think about it, is almost impossible to prove, but, that became the law, in effect.
Liptak: But the questioning at the argument really was along those lines. “Mr. Bickel, what if I knew for sure that the publication of these papers would result tomorrow in the death of 100 soldiers? What if I knew that?” And Bickel said, and [this was] a very controversial answer in some quarters, “Well, my inclinations toward humanity would overcome my somewhat more abstract devotion to the First Amendment.” Controversial enough that the A.C.L.U. filed a brief after the fact, disavowing that answer.
Liptak: But probably necessary as Max was suggesting to get the two votes.
Frankel: It may—
Abramson: —to get to the six.
Liptak: To get Stewart as well.
Ellsberg: It may well have been necessary to get the swing judges that he wanted— fine. And Bickel himself, I think, had that feeling. He said at another point, “I am not a First Amendment voluptuary.”
Liptak: Yes, very good.
Ellsberg: But— like Black and Douglas—
Abramson: You’re full of little potty mouth, then, tonight.
Ellsberg: I was close to this—
Abramson: I have to keep an eye on you.
Ellsberg: Voluptuary? Is that— is that obscene in the—
Abramson: It sounds.
Ellsberg: —in a family newspaper— in a family newspaper, you can’t—
Abramson: I’m not sure.
Ellsberg: can’t say “voluptuous.” But— another answer could have been the secrecy of these documents has so-far condemned over 30,000 Americans to death and several million Vietnamese. And the continued secrecy of them will undoubtedly contribute to the death of tens of thousands more Americans, and so forth. I think that’s true. And, by the way, we’ll come to this later, I’m sure, but that comes up in the WikiLeaks case, right now.
Abramson: Right, we will.
Abramson: Max, when the case went to the Supreme Court— you were asked to write an affidavit, which I think is one of the most interesting documents about the way Washington works that perhaps has ever been written. An interesting issue in the case was these documents were stamped “Top Secret.” You know, what is the nature in Washington of— what does “Top Secret” mean? How are secrets kept? How are they not kept? How are they leaked? And in your long experience as a political reporter, you’d seen all different kinds of leaks
Frankel: This whole affidavit came about because I walked into the room of lawyers, none of whom had read this material. And they were about to go to court to defend us. And so I was sent in as somebody reasonably familiar with the material. And all I heard was, “You guys did a very nasty thing, here. This is unpatriotic, unheard of, probably against the law. But we’ll try to get you off. But this is terrible.” Their heart was not in this case because they didn’t understand the essence of diplomatic and military reporting, and the use of classified documents in Washington and around the world for normal traffic. You know, the Army wants to leak how bad the Navy’s airplanes are. And the Air Force wants to dump on the Army. And so everybody is trafficking in classified material.
Abramson: My favorite thing in your affidavit is you tell a story about receiving a top secret leak directly from President Johnson. I was hoping you would share that with us tonight.
Frankel: Sure. Premier Kosygin of the Soviet Union and President Johnson met in Glassboro, provided by the governor of New Jersey. And it was to be a two-day meeting with one day in the middle for time off. So they had their first day’s meeting. Then they had a day off. Johnson flew — and I was the White House correspondent — we flew to Texas.
And the next thing I know, I get a summons and President Johnson says to me and to his press secretary, George Christian, “Go in that house there and pick out a bathing suit.” And — all the suits were — you know, for — three for him and his friends, right. They hardly fit. We’re standing up to our chins in in his swimming pool when he starts telling me about how he got the better of Kosygin. “And how do you know this, Mr. President?” And he says, “Well, you know, can’t talk about this but, the fact is, we’ve monitored every message he sent back to his colleagues. One of them is in the Kremlin. Another one is traveling in the Middle East. We got all — ” and he starts describing what Kosygin is telling them and what they’re telling him, and all of which to prove, to aggrandize Johnson great triumph in this summit meeting.
Abramson: How did you take notes in a swimming pool?
Frankel: You run — you remember key phrases and you run fast after the event.
Abramson: But, the power of the affidavit and that anecdote, of course, was here you had the president himself leaking allegedly top secret material.
Frankel: There is a corps of correspondents there and officials in the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the State Department, and in Congress, who regularly and routinely traffic in secrets. And the whole point of this memo addressed to them, our lawyers, saying, “For God’s sakes you got to understand how this works.” They finally said, “Okay. Sign your name to this and we’ll send it to the judges.”
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: SECRECY REVISITED
Abramson: The issue became salient once again after 9/11, when the Times and other publications were the recipients of requests from the Bush White House to occasionally withhold publication of stories that involved secrets and national security issues. Probably the most famous one involved our publication of the story about the NSA’s eavesdropping program.
And Adam, during the Bush years, a number of leak investigations were initiated.
Did these other, you know, routes of trying to put a freeze on the press, do you think they, in the end, accomplished the same thing?
Liptak: They sure can. I mean keep in mind that the Pentagon Papers decision was on this narrow point of can the government stop you from speaking before you speak. But even two justices in majority, who agreed with us that you can’t do that, you can’t freeze the speech before it happened, two of them said, “A subsequent prosecution to the press? Perfectly okay with us. Have a look at that, Justice Department.”
The Nixon Justice Department did have a look at it and the southern district U.S. attorney pushed them back. But at least theoretically, criminal prosecution in the press after publication remains a wide open possibility. And then you have the points that Jill was considering — you can go after our sources, punish our sources. In the end, if you do that vigorously enough, the sources will dry up whatever we do.
Ellsberg: By the way, as the only non-Times person up here, I shouldn’t refrain from saying, I’ve been very publicly very critical of the Times‘ decision to withhold the NSA wiretap story— not only, for a whole year, but very critically, past the election of 2004. I think it’s quite possible that the revelation that the president had, for three years, been blatantly violating the law.
Abramson: Although in truth, it wasn’t known in real time at the election, the gravity of the legal issue was not.
Ellsberg: The legal issue, perhaps.
Ellsberg: But anyway—
Ellsberg: The— a whole year. I think that did make a difference.
Abramson: The thing is when the government says— you know, by publishing a story you’re harming the national security, you’re helping the terrorists. I mean there are still people today who argue that the NSA program was the crown jewel, the most valuable anti-terrorism program that the Bush administration had going, and that it was terribly wrong of the Times to —
Ellsberg: And the Times went ahead.
Ellsberg: In the end, that’s what I’m saying.
Abramson: In the end, we did go ahead. But I’m saying these are not cavalier decisions.
WIKILEAKS: THE NEW PENTAGON PAPERS
Abramson: I thought we would talk a bit about WikiLeaks. It’s been nearly 40 years since the Pentagon Papers, that a cache of documents of this kind have been brought to the public. Do you see a similarity?
Ellsberg: Well, there are differences, of course, strong differences, and strong similarities. The two that strike me in particular, of course there’s been nothing in the 40 years on the scale of the Pentagon Papers until WikiLeaks. This is even larger in scale, with the technology now. So— much more is put out.
Abramson: Were you envious—
Ellsberg: And I think more is going to put out.
Abramson: —of WikiLeaks, that they could just post the documents themselves?
Ellsberg: Oh, if I’d had that, I think it would be—
Abramson: You would have been busy.
Ellsberg: The nights and nights of copying the stuff. So technically, I am. Actually, I’m envious of the new Xerox machines. They collate, and they staple. They do everything for you. I could have saved a lot of time. But of course these are not the Pentagon Papers.
Abramson: Yeah. They’re not.
Ellsberg: These are field reports. They’re operational reports. They’re at a lower level. From another point of view, the Pentagon Papers were only the Pentagon Papers. They were not the White House papers. They were not the CIA papers. They were not the end of the story, by any means. They were just what I had. And they were only history at that point.
Abramson: We had a little reflection of history in the case of WikiLeaks, where we didn’t have to go to the Hilton this time, Max. But on one of the floors of this beautiful new building, we established a kind of secret work place. And for a month, a group of reporters, some who were covering Afghanistan and Pakistan for us, pored over these documents, to make sure that we did not, rashly publish anything that would endanger either the national security or people. And there is some controversy when WikiLeaks posted all their documents with the identities—
Ellsberg: I think that was a mistake.
Abramson: — of some informants —
Ellsberg: That they should not have—
Abramson: —were on there. But the careful editorial review of these things, I think, is the proper response when the government starts arguing that stories are going to seriously endanger lives.
Ellsberg: I said that I would not advise someone to put out a great raft of material they hadn’t read.
THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT AND PRESIDENT OBAMA
Ellsberg: What people don’t generally know is that Congress did finally pass an official secrets act, a broad one, for the first time in October of 2000. And Clinton vetoed it. We would have it if he hadn’t vetoed it. Now, Senator Shelby tried to bring that back later. Kit Bond — in television, has said that he wants— has in fact, proposed, he’s put the resolution, the same act, any revelation of classified material is illegal. Not just communications intelligence — not just — if the Republicans take Congress in November, especially both houses, but perhaps even one, let me make a very simple prediction. You’re going to get an official secrets act brought forward. And if it passed both houses, it will not, I think under these circumstances be vetoed.
Liptak: Well, I’d put aside the politics for a second. I do agree with you this far: If the law gets clearer, from our perspective, it will get worse.
Ellsberg: Well actually — There had never been a prosecution of a source before. I was the first. President Obama, has brought himself three cases, as many as all previous presidents put together beforehand. Small number: three. But— three there.
I predict that the situation will change legally, and that with a clear-cut crime, journalists will be brought in routinely. You — you were saying you — may not be so clear. But it seems to me pretty likely that, under this precedent, and its successors, journalists will be brought in the day that there is an announcement that we, the Times, has access to classified documents, which is every week or every other day or something, and say, “Fine. Who committed the crime? We’re not charging you. We’re just want to know who committed the crime. And if you don’t tell us, you can go to jail for contempt.”
THE BURDEN OF SECRECY
Frankel: The heavy burden that you have to hear in your inner ear in this business perfectly decent people saying, “Who elected you to decide what’s in the national interest?” And the extension of that question is, “There ought to be a heavy burden on discipline in the bureaucracy.” There should be a heavy burden of conscience and of clear violation of the law and national interest before secrets or government information is just dumped out.
Ellsberg: Well Max, you don’t have to worry about that because the burden of losing access, losing clearance, losing your job, losing— would part prison now, losing possibly your marriage with a result of—
Ellsberg: Income going down, very common for whistleblowers, that burden keeps secrets very, very well. And I wanna say—
Frankel: You’re right.
Ellsberg: —too well.
Frankel: Too well.
Ellsberg: So yes, of course, the president needs — any leader needs discipline. And he gets more than he should have, more than is good for this democracy, more than has ever been good for it.
Frankel: The proof of your point is—
Ellsberg: Might he—
Frankel: —that when we went out— when we were under the gun, and we went to leading government officials who privately said that these revelations did not compromise national security, we said, “Will you come to court and say so?”
Frankel: McNamara and on down, they all, except one, turned us down. The one exception was Ted Sorenson, who was later nominated to be head of the CIA and was—turned—was—
Frankel: —was vetoed— probably for that reason.
ELLSBERG ON ROBERT MCNAMARA, COLIN POWELL, AND IRAQ
Ellsberg: A very interesting question, What should McNamara have done, knowing, as we now know, that in ’67 — I actually knew it in ’67 — that he felt the war should be ended and should be ended on terms that it could have been ended on, actually— what should he have done?
He said, “Well, if I’d resigned, it would have been a one day story.” That’s a little — not quite right. But Powell, of course, faced the same decision, I’m sure, later. And if they had just resigned, it’s true, not probably very much would have happened.
But they had another opportunity. They could have put out documents. They could leave it not to me or to somebody else or to— the chief of staff or somebody. A Powell or a McNamara could have gone to Congress and told the truth, with documents.
Now that could have ended the war. He wasn’t ready to stop the war earlier on. But by that time, he wanted to end it. Yes, I believe he could have ended it. And others could have done the same. And when we come out to the discipline of officials and what they should do right now, the fact is, the Pentagon, I am certain, and CIA, and State, and we know, some individuals, felt that it was absolutely wrong from every point of view to be invading Iraq, that that would worsen our counterterrorism problem irrevocably. It would be a disaster from every point of view. In addition, it was a crime against the peace. It was illegal. It was aggression. But many of them thought it’s a disaster. Not one of them told that to The New York Times or anybody else at the time. Now that’s the kind of discipline that is not good for a republic—
Frankel: I think that’s a —
Ellsberg: And the cost of it is Iraq.
Frankel: I think that’s right.
AUDIENCE Q&A: IRAN’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM
Ray McGovern: I’m Ray McGovern with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. My question is part substantive and part procedural. I’ll try to make it very quick. It has to do with Iran’s nuclear program. The facts are that 16 intelligence agencies of this government decided unanimously, with high confidence, in November of 2007, that Iran had stopped working on the nuclear weapons part of its nuclear program in the fall of 2003. We have a new intelligence director. Let’s say he comes in and says, “We’re gonna change that estimate. We’re gonna fix it around the policy. We’re gonna change the final draft already agreed to, and we’re gonna say that Iran presents a major danger and it’s imminent.” Now what should an analyst who participated in this very honest process, as happened in November of 2007—
McGovern: —what should he do? Should he go to The New York Times? Or should he go to WikiLeaks? If he goes to The New York Times, there’s gonna be considerable delay, maybe 14 months delay.
Abramson: Okay, we have your question. What should an analyst do? And since you were an analyst, why don’t you take a cut at it.
Ellsberg: I was not an intelligence analyst. But of course I felt that I had been derelict earlier in, as I say, in not putting this information out in ’64-’65. Right now, I think I would take counsel from the testimony of Paul Pillar, who was, I think, in charge of the 2002 estimate, and allowed a public version of that to go out that was highly misleading. And he has expressed great regret that he allowed himself to do that. So I — by the way, my understanding is that the 2007 came out — and Ray here was an intelligence briefer to the vice president and the president at the time. There were stories in the paper which impressed me, that— people in the intelligence community had said, “If you don’t put this out, we will leak it, or we will resign.” Or I— wouldn’t say they said it in so many words. But there was a fear that people would either resign or would leak. And that that threat actually managed to get that out. So again, you have somebody taking a real stand in getting the truth out.
WHO DISCLOSED THE SOURCE OF THE PENTAGON PAPERS?
Male Audience Member: There was a spell, a considerable spell before the paper admitted the source, who the source was, or disclosed who the source was, even though everybody else—
Abramson: In the Pentagon Papers?
Male Audience Member: Yes, in the Pentagon Papers. And— that is, everyone else was disclosing it— for us.
Abramson: Well, it was disclosed on a radio program.
Male Audience Member: Well, yes.
Abramson: By a journalist named Sidney Zion
Male Audience Member: Yes.
Abramson: Put Ellsberg:’s name in the public sphere.
Male Audience Member: Right. He went — as fast as he could to find — somebody who would listen, so he could broadcast that. But, my question is the paper, for quite a while, didn’t admit or say who the source was. And then, I don’t remember when I realized—
Frankel: We didn’t know.
Abramson: Right. Max—
Frankel: We didn’t know. I have not, to this day, been told by Neil Sheehan who his source was.
Abramson: Max Frankel, meet Ellsberg!
Ellsberg: Did Sidney Zion get it from Neil Sheehan, do you think?
Frankel: No, no. No.
Ellsberg: So he must have told somebody then.
Male Audience Member: No, I mean — it was — quite a while after it was pretty much admitted, well after the Supreme Court — before the—
Abramson: What Max is saying, it’s—
Frankel: It wasn’t relevant. The source was not relevant. We knew that they were anti-war people. We knew there was more than one person involved somehow. But that’s it. And we knew that Neil had to go to New England to deal with ’em. But that’s all we knew. Wasn’t relevant. We had the documents. And our judgment was based entirely on the written material.
A NEW LEAK FROM AFGHANISTAN
Ellsberg: Eikenberry, our ambassador in Vietnam, in —Vietnamistan, sorry. Afghanistan. Our ambassador still there revealed through the Times a cable that I saw on the Times net. I haven’t seen a secret notice cable here since the Pentagon Papers.
And he says there he’d written it in November— that— what General McChrystal was calling for was mistaken. It was counterproductive. It was going to recruit Taliban. That we were partnered with a totally inappropriate, quote— “partner” in Karzai that made it hopeless.
And so a very, very important leak. When I saw that, I thought, “Wow, I haven’t seen anything like that since the Pentagon Papers.” Unfortunately, it was a one day story in the Times. Congress did not call Eikenberry back—
Abramson: To come—
Ellsberg: He’s still in Kabul.
Ellsberg: They did not call him back and say, “How does this correspond to the testimony you gave under oath, approving the President’s and McChrystal’s plan?” So it shows even a current document, if it’s too short may be ignored. And that’s where we’re going.