Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DailyKos :: Conversations with Daniel Ellsberg

'SusanG' has conducted a six part interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the journalist who broke the Pentagon Papers. Part 1 is background on those papers and other contemporaneous leaks.
Part 2 may be of more interest, in view of the military's recently declassified psyops plan(.PDF). There, Mr. Ellsberg describes the relationship between reporters and intelligence services in America - especially with regards to Judith Miller and Plamegate - and the degree to which the American media is controlled.
Part 3 concerns how secrecy undermines democracy - see censored story #1 from the post below -, part 4 concerns whistleblowing and its consequences, part 5 outlines parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, and in part 6, Mr. Ellsberg describes the coming security state. All are worth a read.


Blogger Management said...

Conversations with Daniel Ellsberg, Part 1
by SusanG
Fri Jan 20, 2006 at 03:53:39 PM PDT

(Bumped and slightly reformatted - Meteor Blades)

The Pentagon Papers and the Overlooked 1968 Leaks

In 1969, former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg and colleague Tony Russo began photocopying a top-secret, 7,000-page study that examined escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam over the course of 23 years and through four presidential administrations. The McNamara Study, later known as the Pentagon Papers, revealed a systematic pattern of presidential lying to the public and to Congress about the aims, methods and failures of U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia. For two years Ellsberg attempted unsuccessfully to persuade various members of Congress to make the documents public; finally, in 1971, he turned the papers over to the New York Times, which published the first installment on June 13, 1971.

* ::

The Nixon administration obtained an injunction against the Times, and Ellsberg began supplying portions of the Pentagon Papers to other newspapers, several of which also were served with injunctions. Over the course of several weeks, while Ellsberg evaded the FBI in order to get the rest of the document out, 19 newspapers took part in publishing the whole of the study. Ellsberg then surrendered to authorities and in 1973 went on trial for 12 felony counts of espionage, conspiracy and theft that could have resulted in 115 years in prison. Charges against him were finally dismissed on the grounds of gross governmental misconduct when during the course of the trial it emerged that the White House had authorized a break-in at Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office by the "plumbers" who later broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate (a revelation that led to spectacular headlines such as "Watergate Meets the Pentagon Papers!"). Ultimately, the break-in at the psychiatrist's office and the subsequent destruction of related evidence by the Nixon administration made its way into the formal Articles of Impeachment that led to Nixon's resignation.

For more than 30 years, Ellsberg has continued to pursue a life of political activism, and in 2002 Viking published his Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

This is the first of a six-part series of conversations with Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future postings can be found at the end of this interview.

A thought came into my head in the form of a rule: No one is ever going to tell me again that I have to lie, that I have a duty to lie, that it's all right just because someone's telling me to do it. No one is going to say that and have me believe him, or think I have to obey him. I'm not going to listen to that anymore. It no longer has any authority for me.

Lying to the public, about anything, but above all on issues of life and death, war and peace, was a serious matter; it wasn't something you could shift responsibility for. I wasn't going to do it anymore.

It came to me that the same thing applied to violence. No one else was going to tell me ever again that I (or anyone else) "had" to kill someone, that I had no choice, that I had a right or a duty to do it that someone else had decided for me.

--Daniel Ellsberg
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

I was so moved in your book by the passage where you recount the sudden realization that you will not lie for anybody ever again because they tell you too, you will not kill. I read that and thought: Well, isn't this what human beings should be saying all along? But, no. It's a huge revelation to you.

No, this is what humans do. I read the first parts of the study in 1967, so strictly speaking, I knew that period directly and then I learned some more about 1961 and 1960. But when I read it in its entirety - 23 years of a long whole history - it changed me in a way that reading just one volume would not have done. And that is: It suddenly cured me of the overriding ambition to work for presidents.

The system seemed so corrupt at that point and so out of control that for the first time ... My identity had been totally bound up with the executive branch. I couldn't imagine working for Congress, for example. And I had no impulse toward the courts or the press. But the executive branch - I believed what the people with Bush believe. I then believed that it's for the president to decide this stuff even though he may make mistakes. But he'll make fewer mistakes than somebody who has less knowledge or less concern for the national security.

Now I knew already that Johnson had abused that terribly. And now in 1967 I was reading that Kennedy had greatly misled the public on this issue. But that alone, I think, wouldn't have kept me from hoping - like a Powell or a McNamara or a Clifford - that the day may come when another president will want my advice and I want to be available for him and to have some influence on events at that time.

But I was reading about four presidents and I knew about the fifth: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon. I looked at that and said: My identity is no longer bound up with presidents. In fact, I don't think that's the way for a patriotic citizen who knows what I now know to best serve his country. And that's a very unusual place to come to.

It sounds like a total reshaping of your identity. You were in your late 30's, early 40's?

In 1969, I was 38.

You've put all that time into your career and suddenly everything you've thought about yourself is brought into question.

Keep in mind too, it wasn't just a revelation about ... well, this line of work isn't what I thought it would be. We were being led to greater disaster. I could very well see that the war could become larger.

Henry Kissinger said on April 27, 1972, "Well, we could hit the dikes. How many would that kill? Two hundred thousand?" Nixon said, "No, I'd rather use a nuclear weapon." What if Kissinger, instead of saying, "I think that would be just too much." ... what if he'd said, "You're right, Mr. President" - which is what he always wanted to say and which he did say, nine times out of ten. "That's brilliant. You're brilliant, Mr. President, this is the time for it. This is the time."

I think he could have gotten away with it. In the offensive of 1972, he couldn't have gotten away with using it on Hanoi, but if he'd used it on North Vietnamese troops in a threatening way, I think he could have gotten away with it. Now there would have been a big protest. Say it stopped the offensive and he could say it was successful. Would that have led to impeachment? No, that would not have led to impeachment. Would Nixon have lost the election for that reason? I'm sorry to say I don't think so, if it seemed to stop the offensive.

What happened was, they stopped the offensive with B52's, without using nuclear weapons. But that's how close we were.

The turning point for you seemed to be not the release of the Pentagon Papers, but the early act of copying them. You were taking documents to be copied out of RAND for the first time illegally. You didn't seem like you were sure what you were going to do with all this, you just knew this could prove useful. That, to me, seemed to be the real first step.

Yeah, from then on I knew I was now subject to legal penalty whatever I did. So it was just a marginal effect of illegality. Although, of course, at every point when you make it more likely that they find out, the next time you go out or anything you do, you're still having to grab the electric wire.

I was very struck by that two-year period when you had the Pentagon Papers but weren't doing anything with them yet - I mean, you'd given them to several senators but nothing was happening on that front. It seems to me you had an extremely practical, pragmatic approach to how you wanted the papers to have the greatest effect. You didn't seem willing to martyr yourself, ruin your career, raise all this, unless you really gave it your best shot at being effective.

I think you could be led astray on your line of reasoning there. Certainly I was not simply out to go to jail or to have a trial. I know at the time I didn't expect much from my trial, I would have been glad to miss the trial. In other words, if they'd dropped it, I would have felt on balance, that's fine, I have other things to do. I didn't feel we'd make a lot of headway in a trial. And you know, 30 years have gone by since then and I feel that all the more. I don't expect things from a trial. I like civil disobedience actions, but in a trial you usually don't get out of it what you put into it in the way of time and effort and money.

That was a difference I had with my co-defendant, Tony Russo, who had great hopes from the trial. I never really believed that that would amount to anything.

Except your trial -

Right, it turned out that had the trial not been on - I'm talking just about the coverage of the trial itself - it turned out that the trial was absolutely crucial to the actual effect that it had. But that was because it made it legally obligatory for the president finally to reveal stuff they had done against me criminally, which tore it open. Had the trial ended much sooner we would never have learned about the plumbers. The fact that there was a trial on made them disclose the illegal stuff they'd done against me. It was an indirect effect.

But it was a spectacular indirect effect.

There's no question that had we ended it earlier, Nixon might have stayed in office. But that was an effect we could not have anticipated.

Here's the point I want to make. First, if you look at publicity that the action got, then of course, thanks to Nixon's injunction and the fact that 19 newspapers in all conducted civil disobedience (whether they thought of it in those terms or not, that's what they were doing), it was effective.

Most of those other papers [after the New York Times injunction] were moving in the face of the attorney general and the president both saying this is dangerous to national security and illegal. And that has every look of an act of civil disobedience by every practical point of view. I'm sure the newspapers did not want in their own minds to recognize any analogy to people who were draft resisters or people who were demonstrating. They thought of them as rabble and subversives. But the newspapers were engaging in this massive act of civil disobedience. There has been nothing like it institutionally that I can think of.

So that gets as much attention as you can dream of, thanks to the president. Does it affect policy? I would say that in 1971 when it came out, and in 1972, its effect looked like zero to me. And that's what I told people, the effect on policy as far as I can see is zero and that's what I was trying to do. I wasn't trying to get a lot of attention; I was trying to get the war ended.

The effect of the Pentagon Papers themselves had a lot of effect on public opinion but that did not affect policy. The public was already mainly against the war and this just made that majority larger. But Nixon wasn't paying attention, going by the majority.

This is something that's relevant right now. I would say now in a practical sense, the American people had as much democratic influence over the invasion of Iraq. Meaning zero. They were so misled on that one, and Congress was so misled it's useless to say that they participated in that decision-making. Yes, a relatively democratic country can behave as it if it were a dictatorship. The president can get his way.

How surprised were you then by the lack of effect on policy of the Pentagon Papers?

The answer is, not particularly. I was disappointed, of course, and sad, desperate, but not terribly surprised. You could say I was surprised by the amount of attention we got from the public and from the press. I didn't foresee that - it was at the outer limits of what I foresaw. But in terms of actually affecting the war? By 1970 and 1971 or 1972 it's simply wrong to say - as I heard you imply earlier - that I was holding my fire or that I was encouraged by the prospect of a sizable effect.

I did not expect there was much chance that this would have an effect because it was history and it was history about the Democrats. And once Nixon had staked his own flag on the war, which was November 3, 1969, a month after I started copying the Pentagon Papers, from then on I put the odds on the Pentagon Papers having a big effect low and steadily lower. Every month that went on, it got a little lower.

But a long-term effect?

I thought we had a long-run effect in educating people, but that's not why I was doing it. We'd have the advantage of revealing imperial operations in a way that we haven't seen for thousands of years, except with the Nuremberg documents and those deal only with the Nazis. That's good for the long run. And it could have had a lot effect if people had used this on Iraq War Powers authorization, a very big effect on how Congress is lied to and why Congress has to take control again of the decision and have hearings, investigate and make them make their own decisions.

The Pentagon Papers are extremely relevant to that, and I'm not sure they've ever really been exploited from that point of view.

Even in 1969, I didn't really feel that the Pentagon Papers had more chance of ending the war than our letter from RAND. The letter from RAND, small thing that it was, got a lot of attention and it was relevant. It had a plan in there: End the war in 12 months. I tried to get prestigious people, which I failed to do, but at least the experts at RAND could say, get out. That struck me as a real addition to the discussion, and it was.

The Pentagon Papers, it seemed to me, was not as promising as that. But I did both. One was going to put me in prison, the other wasn't. But I didn't limit myself to the one that was not going to put me in prison, and I didn't limit myself to the one I thought most promising.

What would have happened if Nixon had totally ignored the printing of the first installment?

Nothing would have happened.

Nothing. He was designing his own demise by his overreaction.

Totally. In essence, that's what I'm saying. People who judge either my expectations or the relevant effect by the newspaper publicity I think are misjudging if they're trying to understand my motivation. I wasn't going just for a lot of publicity, I was going for an effect. I didn't expect much effect. I hoped there would be some, but I didn't have high hopes of it. And as far as I could see there wasn't any, which was a disappointment but not a shock.

Had he ignored it - by the way, you know, they all agreed in the first day or two, this is a Democratic fight, let's just ignore it - if they'd stuck with that, the Pentagon Papers would have sunk like a rock pretty much. They were just too long, too much to read, people wouldn't have paid that much attention.

The truth is, after November 3, 1969, I really never did think it would have a significant effect. I was sort of always open to doing it, and when occasions arose, I kept trying. But I wasn't even focused that much on the Pentagon Papers. I was focused on other things.

But now where they really went wrong - it wasn't foolish, what I didn't know at the time, was their worry about what else I had on them. Putting out the Pentagon Papers did lead them to think that if I had something else, I would put it out, I couldn't be trusted not to put it out. That caused them to take criminal actions against me, which had a major effect.

If they knew that all I'd copied was the Pentagon Papers, there was no need for the plumbers and they wouldn't have taken these actions against me. They wouldn't have tried to beat me up in May 1972 and Nixon would have stayed in office and the war would have gone for at least another couple of years.

And they obviously felt it was serious enough that they were going to make a big deal of it, an example out of you.

A major part, I have to admit, I'll concede this too ... the scale of the Pentagon Papers seemed so large that it was hard for them just to ignore it. They did have several choices at the time. Basically, to pursue it with an injunction was a major political error that Mitchell made. It's usually attributed to Kissinger, but it was really Mitchell. And the other was to go after me criminally. And they never doubted that they wanted to do that although Erlichman and some others advised them not to do it and that advice should have been followed for political reasons.

What other strategies were you pursuing at the time?

The truth is, I can't look back and say that I did have any strategy that had any real promise. It would be true to say - and I'll give myself credit for this - that I, like a lot of other Americans, was doing what I should have been doing then, and that was everything I could think of that might possibly have some effect. And I was not taking account by that time of what the cost would be for me. And that of course cuts down the number of Americans who were acting that way, but there were still thousands, thousands of people, who were choosing to go to prison without any expectation that doing that would have any very big effect.

I didn't think of what I was doing as having any greater prospect than any of those people, and that was pretty small. If you look at the book then, you might say, well, I'm doing all this strategizing, but the truth is it was just a matter of trying to think of things that might help, none of which had any very big effect

Well, then ultimately it comes down to individuals feeling that they've got to do something, they've got to keep trying something. Even if it's not going to work ... for your own self-opinion, you try.

I would not have done something as clearly dangerous as the Pentagon Papers if I just couldn't think of any way to help. And there were times really when I felt that way. So I didn't do much. I let it drop for several months at a time. Then something else would come up and I'd say, oh, my God, I've got to do something about this. Is it worth looking at this again? Or I would think of a new way to get them out or something.

But try with Congress, lobbying, a resolution, a letter, a demonstration, the People's Peace Congress. an MIT conference, the People's Peace Treat Conference, getting arrested with Howard Zinn at the Boston Federal Bulding.

Perhaps it's never just one big thing that gets the ball rolling anyway. Like it wasn't just you releasing the Pentagon Papers. And it wasn't just Kent State and it wasn't just people showing up making them back down from going into China. It was a combination of individuals doing their own thing.

That's very well put. I'll make one last point on that. In the Milgram experiment - totally applicable to Abu Ghraib, by the way - what Milgram found was if you had a bunch of people who were supposedly all doing the same thing and agreeing on it, if they saw one person disobey the experimenter, refuse to give the shocks, that greatly increased the chance of other people stopping. If two people did it, the chances dramatically increased. Meaning if one person does it, people think ... maybe I shouldn't do that, I don't want to stick my neck out. One person doesn't have the dramatic effect, but it has some effect. Two or three people? You say, wait a minute. This is something that you can do. And they all stop.

That's why administrations want to come down so hard on the first person to do it, to stop there being a second or third person because that could open the dam. That's why I get 12 felony counts for 115 possible years in sentencing. What the hell was that about? They really overreached on that one. But it had the effect, it did slow people up quite a bit, a whole lot actually. People would say, I'm not sure I want to do that, even though Ellsberg did get away, do I want two years to rely on what got him off?

People should keep this in mind: If somebody else has done it, then don't just say, well, now they've done it, let's see how it goes. The second and third person to join can have a huge effect. Practically speaking in one's own life, if somebody has set an example like that, it's not now too late to join them. It hasn't been done yet. It won't be done until the cover is really ripped off these things and this stuff really comes jamming out. To do that, the second and third and fourth person can all have still very significant effects. That's what I would like to see. It was very good to see that a dozen people complained about the NSA. Well, let's get a thousand of them out there.

In your book you talk for the first time about leaks that you made in 1968 to the New York Times after you saw the impact of someone else's leak - Westmoreland's request for 206,000 additional troops. Were those 1968 leaks more effective, in your opinion, than the Pentagon Papers?

Actually, what I did do in March of 1968 is pretty much what I want people to do. I had timely information. I went first to Bobby Kennedy when I saw the effect of the 206,000 leak, the idea that Westmoreland had asked for 206,000. I didn't leak that.

I would like to know and to publicize the person who did that because they had a tremendous effect that perhaps saved us from an escalation that would have led to nuclear war. That was the great leak in history and it may have been kind of inadvertent, I don't really know what the motives were. Somebody may have slipped it out. Or it may have come from somebody who wanted them to send 206,000. That's also possible.

Certainly there's no question that the effect was enormous. When I saw that, I then went through this routine - and there was a tactical one - where I did a leak a day of high-level information. I kept that secret for so long that I tend to forget it. If you really keep something secret, I can tell you psychologically, you tend to forget it in a certain sense in that it doesn't enter your generalizations, you don't operate with it. You haven't totally forgotten it, because something can remind you of it, I often said sincerely after the Pentagon Papers came out that that was my first leak. That was flatly wrong. I really had forgotten.

If somebody had asked me about that, I would have said, well, of course, it had happened. But I really had put it out of my calculations. I didn't talk to anybody about it.

When was it that you finally publicly said that you had done those leaks?

I never really published it. It didn't come out because it was years later. I certainly didn't bring it out. The prosecutor in the Pentagon Papers case had suspected that I had been the source of the 206,000, so they tried to introduce that into the case after my indictment and we were able to move to keep it out. Then it disappeared again because it wasn't in the indictment.

I would say my leaks in March 1968 had more effect than the Pentagon Papers did have on policy. I know that sounds peculiar, but the 1968 leaks were not only timely but they actually were very effective in the context of the 206,000. In combination with that, it was the big turning point.

That 206,000 would have meant calling up the reserves. That would be the equivalent now of putting in the draft, meaning you now have unlimited troops to work with. In those days, we had done everything we could up to 550,000 without the reserves. If you'd called up the reserves, you could now send several hundred thousand more over.

If we'd sent those troops, we would have invaded North Vietnam, that's what Westmoreland wanted to do. And if you'd invaded North Vietnam, you'd be next to China. And the upshot of that would almost certainly have been Chinese intervention and war with China. So all that was at stake.

In March of 1968 I was facing within weeks a decision that I understood, that I knew was a mistake, that might result in the use of nuclear weapons at Khe Sanh and the open-ended extension of the war which would lead to nuclear war with China. For that, I was ready to go to prison.

The difference that the next year's reading [of the Pentagon Papers] - starting just the next month - made, and meeting people in the War Resistance League, was that by the fall of 1969 I was ready to go to prison without that urgency, without the feeling that I had something that might change it. I'd just seen the 206,000 have a big effect and my leaks added to that. A year later, like Randy Keeler and like Rosa Parks and like others, I was now ready to give it up without the belief that it was going to be very effective or that it was going to change the war.

And without the belief that I was facing imminent escalation.

What are the lessons of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers?

They're separate. There's a quote in my book:

To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: you can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say; and you can't rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it's wrong, and the president can be wrong.

That's Haldeman reporting to Nixon what Donald Rumsfeld actually said.

Now Rumsfeld was making the point that there was a downside of the Pentagon Papers for them because it might be applied to the presidency, to Nixon himself. Nixon's judgment was: Let's not worry about that, let's put out more stuff that makes other presidents look even worse. On this point, he was basically right. People did not infer from the Pentagon Papers that Nixon was lying to the same extent as the previous four. I hoped that they would, but they didn't.

Actually he wasn't saying things that were much of a lie, as Johnson did. He was just implying, very much through Kissinger's unattributed backgrounders, that he had changed the policies entirely and that he was determined to get out entirely without victory. That was false. As I've said, press conferences are a vehicle for lying to the public, backgrounders are a vehicle for lying to the press. Kissinger played the press wonderfully on that. Without the president having to lie, Kissinger would say things like, judge us by where we are six months from now, implying to various people that we'd be out in six months or in a year. That went on and on.

Do you now consider yourself anti-war under every circumstance?

No, I'm not a total pacifist. Obviously I wasn't when I was in the Marines or when I was in the Pentagon. For example, the British anti-aircraft gunners and Spitfire pilots who were firing at German bombers over London were not just justified in what they were doing but were doing exactly what needed to be done, even though this obviously involved lethal force.

Likewise, resistance to Hitler was justified. Of course, ever since, both the British when they wanted to invade Suez or the Americans in Indo-China, have wanted to equate all our adversaries with Hitler in malevolence and in the impossibility of alternative means of defending ourselves. In literally none of those cases since World War II have those analogies really been valid.

That doesn't mean that you can't fight anyone but Hitler, a literal Hitler. There have been a couple times when our cause was just in the sense of opposing oppression - that would apply to the first Gulf War - but where the means used were questionable.

I've gotten very skeptical about the case that any government, ours or any other, makes to its people and to the world for war. Put an extreme burden of proof on that. It wouldn't be wrong to call myself a near-pacifist, but certainly not an absolute pacifist.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Sat Jan 21, 2006 at 09:22:50 AM PDT

Judith Miller, the New York Times and Government-Controlled Press

In agreeing to hand over a copy, even in the absence of any assurances that the Times planned to run the story, I was aware, as presumably Neil [Sheehan] was, that I was signaling my trust in him to use the material as he saw fit. It was my consent for the Times to publish at its discretion. But in fact, as I learned later, he did not need my consent, or my copy for that matter. What I did not know, what he chose not to tell me, was that the Times had already rented several suites in the New York Hilton, where a team was working over the Pentagon Papers on a crash basis, writing commentaries and selecting parts of the text and documents for inclusion. They had had a full copy of what I had shown to Neil for more than a month.

Parts of this story came out over the next two years (though major parts remain obscure or puzzling to me to this day). Near the end of my trial, on belated discovery, we got the contents of Howard Hunt's White House safe, which included a chronology by Hunt indicating that Neil and Susan Sheehan in March had checked in under assumed names at hotels in Cambridge and had taken thousands of pages, eventually the entire study, to local copying establishments in Medford and Boston.

One weekend, when he knew I would be out of town with Patricia, Neil had come secretly to Cambridge and used a key to Spencer's apartment that I had given him. He removed the whole study, and he and his wife took it to a copy shop in Medford.

--Daniel Ellsberg
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Although in the public mind, Daniel Ellsberg and the New York Times may be joined at the legendary hip, as the quotation from Secrets above indicates, there are aspects of that relationship that are, if not straightforwardly problematic, qualify at the very least as... baffling.

Ellsberg's position in Washington at the Defense Department and in Vietnam as civilian advisor gave him first-hand opportunities to observe governmental manipulation of the press from one side; his subsequent role as source and disseminator of classified information gave him a view from the other. With a Carl Bernstein article published in 1977 in Rolling Stone magazine, entitled "The CIA and the Media," another piece of a puzzle that had long interested Ellsberg fell into place when Bernstein reported that for 20 years, many mainstream journalists had been working hand in glove with the CIA.

Whether it's a matter of self-censorship, gentle governmental pressure or outright threat, Ellsberg believes the institution of the press in America as entirely "free" is mythical. His observations on the conduct of Judith Miller and the New York Times have further eroded his trust in the press as an unfettered actor in the public arena and have caused him to draw some speculative and unflattering conclusions about both the reporter and the nation's paper of record. To a lesser degree, the media blackout surrounding the anti-war movement during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq - which coincided with the public launch of his memoir - added to his disillusionment.

This is the second of a six-part series of conversations with Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future postings can be found at the end of this interview.

* ::

When did you actually write your book? I know it was published in 2002.

From about the fall of 1999. I had been working on it really for years before that, from about 1995. Most of what I wrote in the first couple of years didn't make it into the book, so there will either have to be another book or separate pieces. I wrote quite a bit about my earlier life and about nuclear matters. That should make my next book.

So at the point that you finished writing this, we were not yet anywhere near going to war again.

Well, no ... when I finished it, which is essentially the spring of 2002, I wasn't thinking at all at that time that we were going into Iraq. By late summer it was pretty clear they were pointing toward Iraq. But that really became clearer in September and I was heading right toward publication date, October 15. The first copies were available at the beginning of October.

I began speaking out against what I saw as the rush toward war from September on. And that probably lost me my appearance on the Today show, which was scheduled for the day of publication, My publisher, Viking, was pretty happy about the appearance, saying that was the best opening I could get. But about two weeks before that, about the first of October, the Today Show suddenly cancelled with no explanation, except that an assistant producer who had actually arranged the booking in the first place said that her boss, another producer, had said, "I don't like his politics."

It was too late to get on any of the other network shows at that point. So the day that they dropped the Today show, it was pretty clear to Viking that I wasn't going to be a New York Times bestseller because it's almost impossible to do that without any national shows.

Do you think there was any sort of organized campaign to keep you off the air?

I think I was simply hit by what hit every anti-war critic at that time. I think it was very hard to get on a national program criticizing our movement toward the war. So it wasn't just personal.

Probably if the book had come out a year later or two years later, when the connection to Vietnam was clearer and people were disillusioned with the war, it probably would have had a chance to get exposure.

You think the refusal to give voice to anti-war critics during that period was just a general feeling of "we have to be patriotic and not let any critics speak?"

I think it was partly that. What does happen though in many administrations is that the shows are made aware that they're going to face criticism and challenge directly from the White House if they seem to be putting people on who are challenging the policy at certain periods. I don't think it's really known, why the press was as compliant and self-censored - or censored by others. It would have to be self-censorship because I don't think the White House has the capability to give directives.

But the administration certainly isn't reticent about expressing their feelings about things. We're talking now about a White House does have a lot of say in licensing of TV and anti-trust type decisions that have to do with whether stations or newspapers can combine.

I don't know why the press was seduced in such degree as a press agent for the war or why the Democrats went along with it to the extent they did.

One factor is that they understood from early on that to criticize was to be called names, by the White House, Republicans in the Senate or the House. Names like "traitor," and certainly "unpatriotic," "cowardly," "weak on terrorism," "weak on Osama bin Laden," "playing the game of Osama bin Laden," whatever.

If your book had been timed differently, would you have drawn the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq in it?

I spent my entire book tour talking about the Iraq war. I did very little quoting from my book. I drew some parallels with how we got into it, the fact that we'd been lied into it. Of course, had the book come out later, say nine months, it then would have been the case that we were in the same kind of war as Vietnam.

What failures do you see in the current press?

For one thing, we'll find out something about the NSA or the Downing Street Memos, new revelations, and the press doesn't go back and look at their own reporting and say, how did we report that? Who lied to us? Somebody almost surely who is still doing it. How did he do it? How did he fool us? How easily we were fooled?

And in the run-up to the war -

I have asked people, how can one explain the performance of the press, which was so bad on the question of getting us into the war - and really, not just the build-up in the fall of 2002, but the year after the war started. Why are they so bad?

Scott Ritter said, you know, when they get a background piece of information that's given to them, "exclusively," that gives them a story. They can tell an editor who they got it from or how high the person was they got it from, and the fact that this person is saying this officially though anonymously gives them a story. And the person can get his byline on the front page, they can get it into the paper that way. If what he was told was a lie or terribly misleading in the wrong direction, this was what it was meant to do and that may eventually come out.

Why not burn the source then? Reveal who told them the bad information?

If the reporter were to punish that person or that agency, he gives up access to that person to be lied to again. Now you can say, what's his loss? To a reporter, which is more important: to have one or two stories that happen to be true or have ten stories in which nine are false, but they're all in? And then when it comes out, as Judith Miller put it, it wasn't as though she did anything wrong - she just repeated what she was told.

The reporter himself or herself has really little incentive to close off that source. That's why somebody who's a relative outsider, maybe in and out of Washington but not there regularly, has less to lose if he goes ahead and questions a source, or combines that piece of information with somebody else who refutes it.

But it goes back to something that Anthony Lewis told me years ago during the Vietnam War. He said, "Dan, you have to realize that in this town there is nothing that a bureau chief from a non-Washington newspaper can deliver to his editor that is more important than a lunch with Henry Kissinger?" And he said, "If when his editor or publisher comes to town and wants to see the top people, if he can get in a breakfast or a lunch or just an audience with Henry Kissinger, he's in, he's doing his job, he's okay. And if he can't do that, he's in trouble. And if you print the stuff that Henry didn't want printed or with the wrong slant, you can't deliver that."

Well, how do we circumvent this information shortage?

The internet does give a possibility for confrontation and interaction by bloggers and readers. It seems to me there's an opportunity that didn't exist before because of the internet for local people to be going into their local newspapers and networks and saying, Here's what was on the internet, here's the coverage, how come you didn't have anything on this?

A Tiger Force story came out in the Toledo Blade and Sy Hersh had a piece about it and he pointed out that nobody followed up on the Toledo Blade. They did these atrocity stories, which were very relevant to the whole issue with the attack on Kerry. The Toledo Blade was making it clear that there was a hell of lot more My Lais than we ever heard about.

The point is that nowadays you can do what you couldn't do 10 or 20 years ago unless you subscribed to every paper in the world. You now go in there and you say to these people, how do you explain your lack of this coverage of this and can't you do better than that?

Or you go in and say, here are the internet archives, here's how you reported this a year ago, which we now know was all lies because of what's come out now. What are you going to do about it?

There's a tremendous lack of self-examination by the press. Put real public pressure on them right now, to get them to do a hell of a lot better than they did last year or the year before.

We have the fact that more than half of the country still believes that Saddam was connected with 9/11 and that WMD were found in Iraq. It's not enough to stop with that. Yes, it's horrible. But then we have to learn something from it. Doesn't that tell us that more than half the country then is not benefiting from the internet, because I would say if you're reading broadly on the internet, you couldn't have that impression.

To be fair, I don't think these people who believe that stuff ... I think they're not really getting it from the print either. They're getting it from Fox News and, I've heard, from their ministers, at their churches.

And how about putting some pressure on CNN, that they don't just try to become like Fox News? Put some pressure on them to counter the pressure they do get from the White House and from Fox News and from Ann Coulter.

You'd think the element of competition alone would motivate the press, yet it failed in the run-up to the war.

Exactly. As it did in Vietnam, of course. And by the way, it really failed to a large extent in the Gulf War.

In the fall of 1990, after the invasion of Kuwait, there was a congressional election coming up. The first reaction, we now know, of Bush and Powell and other was: we can't do anything about this. They are going into Kuwait. And then Thatcher and Scowcroft and some of the others said no, no, no, we've got to draw the line here, we can't let this happen and so forth.

All the word was in September and October was that we were putting 50,0000 troops into Saudi Arabia as a defensive strategy. I supported that move at the time, not because I was big fan of Saudi Arabia, but because from all I'd heard about Saddam Hussein, it would not be a good thing for the world for him to control the oil of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I wasn't in favor of the U.S. empire particularly, but I thought his empire would be even worse.

Then the military and others were pressing very hard for a combination of sanctions, boycott and blockade to get him out of Kuwait. If you were to look at American newspapers of late September and October before the election you find nothing in the Post and the Times suggesting the possibility that there may be an offensive into Kuwait, which would obviously take a lot more troops. And there was no hint that there would be that much of a presence over there.

There's a Dave's Smoke Shop that carries the British papers in Berkeley and I began getting the British papers, and it was astonishing. The British papers were filled with interviews of people from the Pentagon saying there's going to be a huge build-up immediately after the election and we're going to invade Kuwait.

So I look back at the Post and the Times. Nothing. They were covering the same building, the same State Department, Defense Department. What the hell is this? So then I noticed that in the LA Times, which I was also getting - I was living in Berkeley at the time - but the LA Times did have some stories to this effect. There were stories that were like the British papers. I called Tony Lewis at the New York Times and I said, "Tony, how the hell can it be that the British papers are all saying, and the LA Times is saying, that there's going to be a huge build-up right after the election and an offensive strategy and the Times isn't mentioning this?"

And he said, "Could you send me the LA Times?" I said, "Tony, I'm talking to the New York Times. You must get the LA Times." He said, "You know, I had the impression that we're cost-cutting here or something." So I actually sent them Federal Express, copies of the headlines from the LA Times and a whole collection of clippings I copied from the London papers. I sent them out to people on the East Coast and asked, What is going on here?

Well, what went on from start to finish was, there was scarcely a hint in the major papers or on television that this was awaiting us once the election was over. Bush didn't want to go into the election forecasting that we were going to get into a big war. Had he known for sure that the war would be such a wonderful success as it was, no doubt he would have trumpeted it a little earlier and won the election on that. But he wasn't, in 1990.

Yet the New York Times -- belatedly - printed the NSA wiretap story.

Yeah, but a year? A year to decide to do it? What the hell is going on? Supposing that they had held it just one more week than they did. You realize what difference that would have made? The Patriot Act, we'd have the extended Patriot Act for seven years. Now they're excused of playing politics by putting it out just before the vote ... in other words, when it was relevant. A year late, but still it wasn't too late for that. What if they'd held onto it one more week and we had a Patriot Act? What would be the appropriate response of the citizenry and Times readers to that? If we had a Patriot Act in which critical votes had been cast ignorant of that story?

If they had let that go another week then I want to suggest there should be a process for impeaching the editor of the New York Times for journalistic misdemeanors, if not high crimes. There isn't a way to do it, but that's what you would want. You should be able to fire this guy. Of course, the readers don't exactly do that, but I expect the readers can put a lot of pressure on publishers.

In your view, was the story timed for the Patriot Act vote?

Let me mention one other possibility. They also knew that James Risen was writing his book and the book was due out in January. At that point, it was going to be known that they'd sat on it for a year. So they had to scramble, first to beat Risen. In a way, I think a crucial thing in getting the Times to publish the documents on the Pentagon Papers - this is a speculation, but with some basis for it - was the fact that they had a mistaken belief that I was likely to give it to the Washington Post if they delayed. And in fact, I didn't have that plan, although in the end I did give it to the Post, but that was after they had an injunction. I think that element of competition was crucial to getting it out.

What do you think of the Judith Miller episode?

Their performance on the whole Judith Miller question from start to finish was just awful.

Now it was something I talked to you before about. Let me put it down on paper. Did you look at the Carl Bernstein piece?


Over 200 reporters, according to Bernstein, had signed secrecy agreements with the CIA. There were a number of individuals who did really work to put stories in that they wanted, to publish stuff they wanted. I believe that's what they were saying about Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop, that they were essentially assets of the CIA, which means they would put out CIA line. Not because they were literal employees, but because they were friends with people in the CIA.

But that's a thin line isn't it? I'm not sure that anybody said specifically, write a story that's very positive about X so that we look good. I think a lot of it is just an understanding of being a part of that establishment back then and they saw it as patriotism, from what Bernstein said.

Certainly that is a major aspect to the whole thing. They're not under the impression that they're working for and with the city machine or the mafia or something. This is the U.S. government, this is the CIA, this is the establishment.

But let me put a slightly different spin on it: Remember Sy Sulzberger was mentioned as one person who had a clearance. He had a column, and he denied it, but several people from the CIA said that on one occasion he called up for information, they gave him the briefing paper and he simply put the briefing in under his byline. He literally reproduced the whole briefing paper.

Now how often is that done? Remember, a lot of these people were putting out mainly opinion columns, not reporting news ... like Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop. How often did they call up their friend at the CIA who simply told them, here's what's going on. And they then go on to print, here's what's going on. They don't say, I was told by a high official. See, they say, this is the reality. This is what's really happening, here's the real news. Sometimes they would say, yes, I got this from some official, but other times they would just say, this is a result of my observations or this is they way I see it. How often was the way they saw it in their highly read column simply what Allen Dulles or Richard Helms told them and they believed it? It wasn't that they were just being servile, they're just presenting a crafted CIA line which has been given to them.

Here's the point I was really coming to: I was most struck in that by the idea of a secrecy clearance, as somebody who had had a dozen simultaneous clearances.

The relationship that that implies has a number of dimensions to it. One of them - it's just one, but it's an important one - is that you are led to believe (quite misleadingly actually) that if you violate that agreement, you will be prosecuted. You are violating a law. And even if you're not prosecuted, you will know you are violating a law if you break the terms of that agreement. They mention to you 18 USC 793 (d) and (e) and so forth - what I was charged with. And indeed, I was prosecuted.

Now the catch is, I was the first person ever prosecuted for it. No one had ever been prosecuted, but I didn't know that, and they don't know that, and most people don't know it to this day. Not one reporter in a hundred have I ever met - and I've talked to audiences of journalists - knows that I was the first person ever to be prosecuted.

However, every time you sign that agreement, you are confronted with these laws that say you are subject to prosecution, so they think they're violating a law if they put that out, that they will get prosecuted having agreed to this. A reporter who is just slipped something under the cover on one particular day or who was told something over lunch, a reporter who hasn't signed an agreement, I think, is unlikely to believe that he or she is in trouble if he puts it out. He's more likely to believe that the source will get in trouble.

A reporter who has signed that agreement is definitely led to believe that he or she is subject to prosecution if he breaks that agreement. That's the number one point.

Number two point is ... Judith Miller said, I had a security clearance. Now I think she was telling the truth. They said, no, it was just a simple non-disclosure agreement or some misunderstanding, I think that's the cover story. She had a clearance. What would that mean?

It means that she's trusted by these people as one of the team. They're not giving it to her under threat, they're giving it to her because they trust her to carry this out. Wonderful self-esteem there and the feeling of being an insider, and your fellows don't have that. It means you will now get information that people who don't have that clearance will not get. You'll get it in part because you're trusted and because you have something to lose, they'll take it away. If you violate it, you won't get that stuff anymore. You infer from that that you will get information that others don't get because you'll be trusted not to print it unless they tell you it's all right.

My guess is very strongly that Judith Miller did have such a clearance and did have a background check and it meant that she was entitled to get information authoritatively that others were not entitled to get on the understanding that she has a lot to lose - namely a clearance - and not just the one source, but from a lot of sources. It gives her entrée. Take somebody who likes Judith Miller and would tell her all these things, he would tell her various background things. He liked Miller, he's an old friend of hers. That doesn't mean he could take her into a room and tell a subordinate or tell somebody else to show her a piece of paper. He couldn't do that. He'd be putting his neck on the line.

If she has a clearance, he could take her to a meeting, to a place, to anybody, and say, "This woman is okay, she's cleared."

I thought right away: Judith Miller, Judith Miller. She's one of Bernstein's people here. And remember, he says it was one of their most carefully guarded secrets that they had, that they kept the Church Committee from putting out. They gave them stuff on assassination instead; that was less scary.

In every case, Bernstein said, where a journalist had such an agreement, it was known to their boss - to their editor or publisher or both. So I infer from that that probably Bill Keller - possibly not - or Howell Raines, but certainly the publisher, Sulzberger, did know. Now let's go one step further. Bernstein quotes somebody at the CIA as saying, "Our greatest asset is the New York Times." All right.

My guess would be that much more likely than not that Judith Miller had clearance and I would infer from that there's a good possibility, one-third (I really think it's more than half) that the current publisher has a security clearance. Now you could say, the simple reaction to that could be well, all right, you know, he's in the news business for foreign affairs it might be good for him to be able to learn some secrets. But if you know the system, even without saying, "this is absolutely outrageous and horrible and intolerable" - you don't have to go that far - there are some real problems with that. And it has to do with a formal acceptance of being on the team. It goes beyond having lunch with these people and having the same social set. It's really very like being part of the government. I'm not saying it's clearly an instrument of the government all the time, but it might be an instrument of the government part of the time.

That's one thing for radicals to say as they do that they're all on the same team. But I'm sorry, I would not be happy to have it proved that the New York Times, which is the first thing I read every morning is, after all, a government newspaper. And obviously there are limitations to that because there's no question that they do put out from time to time things that the government does not want out. I can say that I know that better than most.

But keep in mind that Nixon was not in fact unhappy to see the Pentagon Papers out, and he wanted to put more stuff out.

And in order to be an effective instrument of the government, it has to sometimes challenge the government.

It should show a certain amount of independence from time to time, yes.

But the stuff that was coming out during the first Gulf War was exactly like what was coming out in the invasion of Iraq this time. If the coverage had been coming right out of a shop in the Pentagon, controlling every aspect of the television coverage of the first Gulf War, how different would it have been? I didn't see how it could have been different.

It's still going on.

So how did they do it?

I'm putting into the pot this: The control of the war coverage was very, very effective. And these PR guys know what they're doing. They did it in Grenada. I believe they didn't allow any reporters in when the actual operation was going on. And in Panama, there was hardly any coverage and to this day there's never been any investigation of how many Panamanians had been killed in that attack on Noriega's headquarters.

Just from the outside, you look at that and you say: You know, they're acting as though it's a controlled press. So let me put into the pot just the hypothesis that to a greater extent than we are really aware, it is a controlled press. And it's not 100 percent and some of the exposes occasionally - not that many - even go beyond what is necessary to establish an appearance of independence and constitutes a real degree of independence. But I think it's just possible that when you look a flagship like the New York Times from which other papers take their cues as to what is news and what isn't, there may be a critical element of top-level people being actually on the team. It's clear that Judith Miller was on the team. I'm suggesting that that goes beyond a mere groupie-type enthusiasm for the policy. She was on the team, period. She was one of us. She's an insider, not an outsider, let's say.

Was she fooled a lot? Well, yeah, but that's what happens with insiders, especially given that level. After all, public affairs people get lied to quite a bit. They don't tell them everything. We have to think in some cases, for example, Scott McClellan knows he's just lying, he knows he's blowing smoke. But in other cases, he's probably fooled himself. They don't trust him to know the full truth and get out there and lie effectively.

Let me put it this way: Giving somebody a security clearance as a journalist, which itself has to be a big secret, because the fact that you have it ... well, on first hearing, it doesn't sound good. It raises questions, so it's a secret. Being trusted with that secret cements the sealing of collegiality, of being an insider and makes you more of something like a cleared consultant.

Judith Miller is in that role.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Management said...

The Cult of Secrecy in Government and the Undermining of Democracy

It is a commonplace that "you can't keep secrets in Washington" or "in a democracy," that "no matter how sensitive the secret, you're likely to read it the next day in the New York Times." These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn't in a fully totalitarian society. Bureaucratic rivalries, especially over budget shares, lead to leaks. Moreover, to a certain extent the ability to keep a secret for a given amount of time diminishes with the number of people who know it. As secret keepers like to say, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public. This is true even when the information withheld is well known to an enemy and when it is clearly essential to the functioning of the congressional war power and to any democratic control of foreign policy. The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.

--Daniel Ellsberg
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

This is the third of a six-part series of conversations with Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future and past postings can be found at the end of this interview.

Let's talk a bit about the role of secrets in a democratic society. Obviously, this concerns you - in fact, "Secrets" is the title of your memoir.

* ::

One thing the Pentagon Papers should have shown people but really haven't, are the limitations of our ability to know what's going on inside the national security apparatus from the outside. The notion that we really know who's on which side and who's saying what and what they're really saying to each other is very, very unreliable.

It's worth prying on things right now and really trying to get in. I think journalists should be trying to find people who are genuinely willing to talk about what's going on in this administration. It isn't easy, but it's possible. There's always a lot more dissent inside than ever gets to the outside. A major aspect of secrecy is to conceal the fact that there's authoritative dissenting opinion within. There are people who have access to the same information that the president has who totally disagree with the course of action that he's taking. And every president is extremely concerned to hide that fact and to lie about it.

To know that there are authorities inside who see the situation as reckless or as dangerous or wrong-headed as critics outside ... If that were to come out, it would have several effects. One, if it came out before the actions were taken, it exposes the whole thing to controversy. You can't stop the controversy by saying, Look, you guys just don't know ... if you knew what we knew, you'd be with us. But inside leaks tell the public right away there are people who know what they know and they don't agree with them, so you get a controversy.

At the very least, even if the president gets his way, he has to make bargains with other people. He has to concede things and make compromises and he'd have to pay a higher price for it, in effect. If you go along with this, I'll give you that. So it might even prevent him from carrying out the policy.

But there's another aspect, that if you can't say it was unanimous in favor of this, you can't plead ignorance if it goes bad. When a thing goes bad, as it has in Iraq, he would like to be able to say, no one could have foreseen this, no one did foresee this, no one gave me contrary advice.

You spent a lot of your life - obviously before the release of the Pentagon Papers - dealing with secret material. Tell me a little bit about the culture that develops around that experience.

I think the phenomenon and significance of secrecy in a society - who does it, what purpose it's used for, what functions it serves - is not nearly as much studied as it deserves to be.

Top secret is almost like toilet paper in the Pentagon. I literally just did not have time in my 12-hour days to read very much that was less than top secret. I was reading, reading, reading, and it was all top secret. That means if you live on that stuff, you really look down on the New York Times readers, along with the rest of the country. If you look at the New York Times, you look at it very rarely for information, just to see what the rubes and the yokels are thinking about and what they think is going on and what they think the policy is, which has very little to do with what's going on to an insider.

Imagine losing that access and just having to rely on the New York Times again, knowing for the rest of your life that you're just reading fantasies basically, something that isn't really related to what the insider knows. It's a very great loss.

Can that explain why people like Colin Powell and other former officials often don't criticize the administration?

All these people always want to be available, almost to be channeled from the other world; that's a slight exaggeration, but it's the way they act. They do want to be available to be brought into that room for a consultation when they're 93, in the afternoon. "We know you know about this document, we want your advice on this point."

You want to be trusted to be silent about what you heard or what you're told, if it's in any way embarrassing to the president. Otherwise, if you once made that mistake, you know you will not be consulted again. You will not be made to feel you're one of the team and can be trusted with new information and you won't have the thrill of knowing what's really going on.

Yet I'd think there's also the feeling when you walk away from it, like you had to, like any whistleblower does ... there's still the knowledge that because you saw how things worked, you can interpret events that you do read in the New York Times with a little more savvy than somebody who's never had access.

Except that it may separate you from everybody else you know because you can't say you know what's going on - in fact, you know you don't know in a real sense. But there is the fact that you can guess certain things about what might be going on, and to other people it sounds crazy or paranoid or un-American. How could you suspect such a thing?

How exactly did secrecy affect this country during Vietnam?

One of the lessons of Vietnam would certainly be the danger of the secrecy system, an aspect of which is its very great effectiveness. The truth is there was what amounted a very wide conspiracy within the government that was extremely effective to get us into an enlarged war, a real war, in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. The joint chiefs had been pressing for that since 1961 and every year. But in 1964 it was understood in the Pentagon, which I entered in mid-1964, that they were going to get their way soon after the election. And it was not to be revealed before the election that the Goldwater open campaigning program of enlarged war in Vietnam was basically under planning and underway inside the Pentagon and that whoever the voters actually voted for, they were going to get an enlarged war.

Now under Goldwater, the war would have been even larger than it was, so there was a difference. But the difference was not between the status quo in which we had some 16,000 advisors, and war with hundreds of thousands of troops. That was not a real choice for the voters even though it was the number one issue of the campaign, with Johnson claiming falsely that "we seek no wider war." All of his subordinates, all of his subordinates, were planning for and expected him to direct a wider war soon after the election, which is what he did.

Indeed, Goldwater's slogan was "A Choice, Not an Echo," and many people chose in an unprecedented landslide against Goldwater without realizing that in reality they were not being offered a choice of status quo in Vietnam or possibly an exit. They were going to get an expanded war.

The number of people in the government who knew that must have been numbered in hundreds at least, and I would say thousands when you consider all the military people, possibly many thousands. There are 30,000 employees in the Pentagon. Obviously, they didn't all know this, but an awful lot of them did. And everyone I dealt with did and I was easily in the level of a hundred people.

Given the predictable attitudes of the public toward the idea of extended war in Vietnam, which hardly any voter could have found on a map ... They really weren't anxious to follow Goldwater into a big war in Vietnam or Laos. And that's why it was kept so secret and kept the voters from knowing.

That brings up the question of the role of secrecy in a democracy itself.


It seems totally inimical to democracy to expect people to vote - and that's the perfect election to choose, Goldwater-Johnson -

As the archetype of a "real choice." Exactly. The people inside of this weren't seriously believers in democracy, at least in foreign policy. They accepted the dogma that Bush is presenting right now - that it's for the president to decide foreign policy, whatever lip service they may have given to anybody. Whatever importance Johnson may have given to Congress in rhetoric or even in his consciousness, the impact has been seen very well. He was totally deceiving Congress and the public and the voters in an election year. In his behavior, he wasn't paying any respect to the merits or the necessity or the obligation to have public sovereignty.

The secrecy system, which was rationalized then as now as a protection against external enemies was, in fact, negating democratic influence even on the policy.

So what would a real democracy look like that was operating with the least level of secrecy?

There would undoubtedly be some secrets. There will always be justifiable secrets. One measure of how far the present system deviates from a minimal essential secrecy, which hasn't really been dwelt on ever, was the release of the Pentagon Papers.

In that case, I chose not to put out full writing of the negotiation process for various reasons. But I did put out over 4,000 pages, all the rest of it. I didn't select any of it because I didn't want to be open to the charge in the slightest that I had censored, that I had in effect expurgated them to my own bias.

One of the major lessons of the whole document of the Pentagon Papers was that nowhere in them was there a convincing or compelling reason for us to be involved in Vietnam And I felt if I'd taken out as much as a paragraph or a line, people would say, "Well, how do we know what he took out? Maybe that was the good reason." No, here it is, all of it, now look at it and see what you can find. And people did look at it from that point of view and no one came up with a good rationale.

But the other question would be how many of these lines or pages deserved to be secret in 1971, or in 1968 when some of them were written, let alone those from 1945. Very little was made of that, really. I made the judgment that of these more than 4,000 top secret pages I was releasing, none of that would be found convincingly to endanger national security.

Now someone could have come up with something that would convince even me that I'd missed something, but that didn't happen. A whole slew of judges looked at this and were not convinced. And really, it's been 30 years since and no one has ever come up with anything that actually harmed or had a good chance of harming our national security. People have focused just on the case, how it bore on the case, that it shouldn't have been banned by injunction or even criminal. But the larger question is, take that as what amounts to a random or representative sample of top secret material.

So there's clearly a problem with overclassification in the system.

Literally everyone will agree that there is overclassification, more stuff classified than should be. A couple of years ago, somebody during hearings on classification gave a figure that people found very shocking, that as much as 50 percent might be overclassified. People go, wow, 50 percent.

Well, let me start from the other end. A better figure would be 98 percent. I didn't pull that one out myself; that's from a classification expert, William Florence, who testified at my trial that something like 2 percent is necessary at the time of classification - any classification, not just top secret, but any classification - maybe 2 percent. But that's very timebound. Another question is how much is this classification justified one year later or two years later. Remember that nothing in the Pentagon Papers that was classified had ever been declassified, and a lot of it went back 20 years.

The extent of overclassification is vastly more than anybody who's not familiar with the system can guess. Florence said that something like half of 1 percent deserved classification a few years later.

How much of that half a percent does the public really need to know in order to make informed decisions, in order to cast an informed vote?

Most of this stuff that's overclassified is not very relevant for the public one way or the other. It's just classified routinely or for bureaucratic disputes. The public doesn't need it very much, if at all. But that's much less important an issue than the use of classification to keep from the public stuff that they really do need to know to make decisions, to avoid wars, to end wars, to determine whether the laws are being obeyed.

Again, you look at the Pentagon Papers and you say, this is not a random selection. This is the selection by the 30 or so authors of the papers of what they considered the most significant classified items. They didn't put them in because they were classified, but because they were important in understanding the policy and knowing what the policy was and in judging them. Anybody inside would say, Yes, this is, of course, what we classify, these are joint chiefs directives and recommendations, intelligence reports of various kinds, presidential decisions. Of course, there is no question, this has to be classified. That's their tradition, their ethos. It wasn't classified by mistake.

You couldn't find a page of that stuff that could be justified in democratic terms as requiring secrecy a year or two later, after it was written, even if at the time. Nothing. Nothing. We're not talking one half of 1 percent here now, we're saying 7,000 pages of selected crucial documents, and none of it looks properly withheld from the public at the time I had them published.

That should give a pretty good measurement. How big an experiment do you need here?

What legitimate secrets should be kept classified?

To start with, it's a tiny percentage of what is actually classified. You're down in the level of 2 percent or 1 percent.

Now ironically, if somebody would ask me, Are there leaks that should not have been made? Yeah, examples come to mind and they are rather ironic.

Just after 9/11 a senator revealed that we were listening to Osama bin Laden's cell phone transmissions. Here's an example of something I would say that anybody in the system would know that you shouldn't tell. I can't imagine anybody that I know, any of my whistleblower friends certainly, who would have revealed that. Certainly I would not. And if you want to say somebody should be punished for that one way or another, I'd say, yeah ... well, you know. The man who did that was Senator Shelby of Alabama. Ironically, he's the guy who a year earlier who pushed for an Official Secrets Act, a broad Official Secrets Act. He pushed for it very much in 2000. He made that leak, probably just to show how much he was in the know.

Condoleezza Rice then confirmed it, and also later revealed that we had turned a high-level agent in Al Queda, that now there's a double agent working for us.

However it came out initially, Rice confirmed that gratuitously, again to show how much on the ball they were: Yes, we are achieving things, well, we have this mole. Again, one would say, come on. You don't have to be an expert on secrecy to know that that is a very damaging thing. The report that came out later said that of course the guy's usefulness was instantly ended.

These are examples of things that I and my whistleblower friends would immediately agree should be secret, and yet when a slight political advantage is served domestically for one of these officials for revealing it, they allow themselves to do it. It's ironic that it happened to be Rice and Shelby. It would be bad if it were anybody, but it is striking.

And the third case, obviously, is Valerie Plame. Now I wouldn't say every clandestine agent actually deserves total anonymity. The people who arranged for the overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Chile ... well, let's just say it wouldn't offend me for somebody to reveal them. I would bring them up for testimony. Other examples can follow from that.

But in Plame we have a woman who, from all we know, was pursuing something very much in our national interests of investigating proliferation of nuclear materials in other countries, someone genuinely serving our national security and which clearly requires secrecy. Again, who revealed that? Certainly it's at the Rove/Libby level and there's every reason to believe that the president and Cheney were directly involved.

These are leaks, these are secrets, that should be kept. The fact is, we do have the equivalent of an official secrets act that is narrowly defined for three types of information and they happen to involve these cases. First, for nuclear weapons design and stockpiles, locations, restricted data, original data, there is a provision that covers that under the Atomic Energy Act; it's a criminal offense to leak that information that's classified, if you know it's classified, regardless of your intentions. You don't have to go into your intent that it's to help a foreign power. It's just unlawful to reveal that. I personally really go along with that.

Second, the design of code-breaking or code-making systems or machines, cipher stuff and code-breaking stuff, and to a somewhat vague extent, the information, the intercepts, that we get from our communications intelligence.

Third, you have this 1982 law, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. That comes up in the Valerie Plame case, and that one is very new.

But we don't have anything like the British Official Secrets Act for releasing it to the public. Now if you took something and gave it to an enemy -

That would be espionage. But that's giving to a foreign power, doesn't even have to be an enemy -- essentially where you're giving information to a foreign power but you're not giving it to either our public at the same time or letting our government know that it has gone. In other words, there's no way for our government to take into account the other government's knowledge of this because the transmission has been secret, the government is not aware that the information has been given. That's espionage. That makes a very big practical difference. Obviously, if you print something in the paper, you are revealing it to other foreign powers and our own government at the same time.

It seemed like after your case, that would have been the ideal time if they really thought what you had revealed was problematic, they would passed a law at that time.

What they did so was charge me under three different laws, but primarily under what's called the Espionage Act, but not charging me with espionage. It's 18 USC 793, part of what's generally called the Espionage Act - that's not its official name. They charged me with violations of several paragraphs under that law without charging me with espionage. And in effect, they set out to use those portions of the Espionage Act as if they were an official secrets act that criminalized leaking stuff to the newspapers.

The legislative history of that showed that it was Congress' intention not to pass an official secrets act and to limit it to espionage. How do we know that? Because the Wilson administration back in 1917 proposed language that amounted to an official secrets act, any giving of classified or secret information. Congress rejected that. It was put out several times. And it was proposed by other administrations later a number of times and never really got out of committee after that.

Why? Why didn't they adopt it?

In effect, they didn't want to appeal the First Amendment. Now why not?

Two things: In part to have freedom of speech. And second, you want to be a democracy and you want to have a sovereign public, not a king. And it's essential to that, as Madison put it, to have an informed public. Thomas Paine in his argument against monarchy makes a quite extreme statement - maybe a little too extreme, but it gives you the right idea - he says nations should have no secrets, for the secrets of courts, like those of individuals are their defects. Now if you want a democracy, if you want a republic without a king, the defects are what you want to know. You can change the behavior and you can change the people and make them your servants rather than your masters.

Most of the secrets are their defects, but you can't say they should have no secrets. Most of it is their embarrassment for their defects, just the sort of thing citizens need to know. So to give them the power and then to put criminal penalties on anybody who tells something embarrassing to them makes it impossible to have a democracy and deprives the public of the freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of association, that are values in themselves.

Now here's where I have a real uncertainty about the application of the law in the case of the NSA wiretapping - if they were revealing how the NSA was intercepting this stuff or was decoding it in particular, certainly if it had to do with the process, they would certainly be violating that law.

How about just saying that the NSA is listening without revealing methods?

I'm not sure. There might be an argument as to whether that was covered.

I would think that isn't. Don't you think everybody knows that they cover foreign communications?

Yes, but they let that go by as a precedent there. It's been regarded as super-secret, but it's now been written about so much by people like James Bamford that they'd have trouble sort of retroactively prosecuting - saying, we're prosecuting you for something that's been public for a long time.

Here in this country, if you had a British official secrets act, then the treatment of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper would be absolutely standard for every leak. And of course, some of them would go to jail like Judith Miller, although her one example shows - maybe not for too long.

Some will resist. I suspect Neil Sheehan would have resisted a lot longer, or Earl Caldwell, Sy Hersh. But not everybody. And the example of a few people with long periods in jail is going to cool off a lot of the others very quickly. From then on, it's government by handout. You only make authorized disclosures, things that are really authorized at high level.

And then what's the difference between our press and any state press?

There would be no difference then. That is a kind of usual thing in the world. Most newspapers could live with that very well. What's the disadvantage, after all, of that?

Well, to the public it's a grave disadvantage.

You don't have a democracy. But you could say, well, you know, so most people live without that. But it's worth having. And if you want to be very practical about it, you have the effect of secrecy even without an official secrets act. Even without having an official secrets act, most people think you do, so you get the effect of it.

What's the solution?

For years, with no real effect, I have proposed in various forms, to Congress and to Senator Moynihan and to various people, a concrete piece of legislation by Congress. Here's the problem: every secrecy oath, every secrecy agreement, every nondisclosure agreement that is passed in the government, every time you get a new clearance at a new agency - people are always reading these agreements which misleading or falsely warn them that if they break the agreements, they're not subject to so much a contract violation as to prosecution and they will be prosecuted under 18 USC 793. So they get that piece of propaganda many times in their head and they never question it.

As a piece of legislation, we should say that there should be a paragraph added to that secrecy oath that says: I understand that signing this agreement neither obliges me or permits me to testify falsely to a body of Congress or in court.

Now why would there be resistance to that?

That would destroy the secrecy system. They would never, never allow that.

This seems like a good time, with the wiretapping and all.

Well, I think you'd get the resolution passed, but to get it signed? No way. I won't say it's literally impossible and under crisis circumstances ... well, maybe now would not be a bad time.

Right, because people are really looking at the whole issue of secrecy right now.

The proposal, of course, if it were on the paper would put in people's minds that this is not license for them to commit perjury, it is not a license to protect them from perjury prosecution, however unlikely that might be. Look for a paper called "Are Secrecy Oaths a License to Lie?". I wrote this years ago and sent it to a lot of people in Congress.

People signing these oaths don't think of it as a license to lie or a license to commit perjury. But in practice, when the issue arises, they act as if it were. When Eliot Abrams, now in the government, was charged with deceiving Congress, he said exactly what Richard Helms said in the same situation: He said: I had a secrecy oath and I understood that as obliging me to conceal this from Congress. Now I'm sure that was said in good faith. People who sign that, if they're put in front of Congress, do believe that they have agreed to keep a secret from Congress and keeping a secret effectively commonly means to lie. They don't think about that until they face the choice. And then it's clear it's not a dilemma, it seems obvious to them.

What if Congress said, well, no, we do need secrecy, secrets are necessary. But you are not authorized by us to lie to us, under oath especially. You want to make it a little narrower? You say "lie under oath," perjury. And if you want to make it a little broader, you just say it does not oblige me or permit me to deceive Congress or a court. Notice I haven't said the public or the press. That would be too much. You couldn't conduct government at all if you said that.

But how about under oath? Do we really require a system of perjury to Congress? That's what we have. It happens every time an official testifies under oath, I'd say you're probably going to get certainly misleading statements and usually lies. And no one, to my knowledge, has ever gone to a day in jail for a lie to Congress that was essentially authorized by his superiors - in other words, where they wanted him to lie. It would be very good for the democracy, for the republic, if some people went to jail for having perjured themselves.

Would that prevent all perjury? No, because if your job depends on doing what your boss wants, which is keeping his secret, many, many people will still go in there and do what their boss wants. But with my proposal, they would no longer do it under the false belief that they had made a contractual agreement to do that which can be enforced by prosecution. And if they did otherwise, they could be prosecuted for that.

There's a broader sense right now that that's going to come up very much in the NSA things we're looking. What is the legal liability of these people in NSA who knew perfectly well they were obeying an illegal order and keeping it secret?

That's covered in the military, isn't it?

The benefit of the doubt is very much given to your superior, but if it's blatantly an illegal order, you're not supposed to obey it. That's the Nuremberg principle, honored only in the breach. It's rarely obeyed.

What if the information being protected by that secrecy is blatantly illegal?

My little oath there would say, no. Well, I didn't say illegal. That would be a slightly expanded form of the oath. The oath does not oblige you to keep secret something that is blatantly illegal. I'd add that to it - it doesn't exonerate you from your obligation to tell of blatantly illegal actions. Each one of these extensions would be fought to the death, by the way.

Well, yes, but the public is probably going around assuming that of course secrecy doesn't cover illegal acts.

They do, yeah. But the people inside think otherwise.

And it seems secrecy - especially overclassification of historical documents - almost dooms you from the get-go to repeat mistakes.

When it comes to drawing lessons from Vietnam, to this day most people have been deceived by the secrecy system into not knowing enough of the reality about policy to be able to draw proper lessons, although they did learn quite a bit, thanks in part to the Pentagon Papers and some other leaks.

But we don't have the Pentagon Papers on the Nixon era, only on the previous administrations. Okay, so the price is Vietnam. Another price: Iraq. And that's a price that's going to go on being paid for a long time.

In the case of Iraq and in the case of Vietnam, and for the Soviets in Afghanistan,(another tribute to secrecy), it would have been very unlikely to be able to get into those operations if the internal dissent and knowledge, information about the situation, had been available to the public. That had to be suppressed in those cases to get us in. And it was done so effectively.

Our lack of an official secrets act and our democracy did not protect us or the Vietnamese or the Iraqis from those wars. But the anti-war movement, in particular in Vietnam, served in a way that most people don't understand: To prevent a very much larger war from occurring that would have been just as hopeless and extremely more destructive. What people don't understand is the pressure by the joint chiefs from the beginning, which Johnson to his credit did resist. It's not to his credit that he got into the war and kept going, but he did resist blowing North Vietnam to pieces and getting into a war with China, which would probably have involved nuclear weapons.

In fact, he resisted the extension into Laos and Cambodia, which Nixon did not resist. He had every intention, I think, of pursuing those aims by threatening nuclear war directly, and definitely threatening the overall destruction of North Vietnam. What kept him from doing that was the fear that the American anti-war movement would just go wild on that and keep him from going.

Very few people knew they were having this effect because they really didn't how extreme the strategy was of the joint chiefs and of Nixon, the joint chiefs under both Johnson and Kennedy. But Nixon sympathized totally and had he been in office earlier, I have no doubt he would have carried that out.

The Pentagon Papers contributed to that mood that would not allow this much escalation of the war. And right now I am - to bring it right up to the present - I am not very optimistic, although I'll work toward getting us out of Iraq. I'm honestly not very optimistic about the chances of doing that.

When it comes, however, to doing the next Iraq, namely in Iran (and I think the odds favor that happening under Bush), I think we have a real chance of making democracy work - a chance to prevent that.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Whistleblowing and Activism

Long reluctant to urge the personal risks of whistleblowing on fellow Americans, Daniel Ellsberg in September 2004 broke a self-imposed silence and issued, with 10 others (including Sibel Edmonds and Ray McGovern), a Call to Patriotic Whistleblowing, both a plea and something of a "how to" guide for those in government contemplating leaking pertinent information to Congress and the public. Out of this letter came the Truth-Telling Project, an organization founded to help encourage whistleblowers on a long-term basis. Ellsberg is also a member of Sibel Edmonds' National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, which was founded to support whistleblowers directly involved in national security issues.

Among other issues discussed below, Ellsberg points to Katharine Gun's leak of the plan to eavesdrop on UN delegates in the run-up to the Iraq war as the ideal of effective whistleblowing: current information disclosed about an issue in which lives are at stake and/or freedoms are threatened.

This is the fourth of a six-part series of conversations with Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future and past postings can be found at the end of this interview.

If you're thinking of blowing a whistle, I'd think that the first thing that you would have to go through in your mind is: Are you willing to risk your career, at least at the place you're working now?

* ::

For my part, what I'm concentrating on is to try to encourage people to take risks in face of the fact that the risks are always going to be significant. No matter how much you do in the way of whistleblower protection, it isn't going to protect you all that much administratively from punishment in any organization. If you put out the dirty laundry, if you speak out of turn about things that your boss doesn't want out, they'll find ways of punishing you. And what I want to do is to make people aware of the fact that that isn't necessarily a conclusive reason not to do it, that there are circumstances in which it's worth taking a large personal risk.

And there would be times when it wouldn't be worth it?

I would say it isn't reasonable to expect people to do it, or even ask them to do it when the stakes are not terribly high, when there isn't going to be possibly a lot gained - if it's just a question of, say, punishing someone for malfeasance that isn't a general pattern, or exposing say a cost overrun. On the whole, I wouldn't push anyone to do it. The likelihood is you're going to pay a very great price and you're not going to be saving lives in the course of that.

It seems like the bottom line should be: Is it going to stop a policy and a pattern -

That costs lives.

I would sympathize with someone who did not whistleblow even where there were enormous amounts of money at stake. There are so many cases where there are two other more vital things at stake: one, when there are a lot of lives at stake. That, I think, does raise the issue of whether you should not be prepared to take a risk of your own career.

The other thing being raised right now is the situation in which very fundamental freedoms and a form of government is at stake. We're not talking now about just ordinary corruption. We're talking about averting right now a change in our form of government to a police state. Even if you don't measure that in lives lost, that is worth, I think, people's lives. That's what you're taught, you're raised to think.

That's certainly what our soldiers are told they're fighting for.

Many of them are, yes. And what is this way of life that they're really fighting for? Is it really just apple pie and cheap gasoline?

I'm sure they don't believe that.

No, they don't. But a lot of the folks back home, if it were really put to them: It's either a lot of other people's sons and daughters have to die or you're going to have long gas lines.

I think a lot of people - if they were being honest and not being worried about what other people would think of them - their choice would be that their economic survival is more important than other people's lives. I don't think they'd say that in public.

No, and they don't even want to think it. They don't want to face that.

But the people who do whistleblow: Are they extraordinary people in any way? Or is it extraordinary circumstances that seem to bring out something in ordinary people?

This is a hard one to answer. I'll tell you why. I really have known quite a few of these people and there's no question that their behavior is extraordinary. And at a first and second and third glance at their history, they do like ordinary officeholders. The kind of people who have access to this stuff do not usually stand out as being unusual or easy to predict to do this.

I have a feeling that they do have personality characteristics or things in their background that somehow do open them to this possibility of breaking from the group and paying a cost for principles. It's not just their behavior. I don't know.

I can say for the people involved in nearly every case, they think of what they're doing as something they should have done earlier and that it's a very natural thing to do, it's what people should do They tend to think that most people in that situation, if they knew what this person knew, would have acted the same. They're clearly wrong about that. Their behavior in some respects is much more unusual than they tend to think at the beginning. They learn better. They very often assume that other people will follow their example quickly. And they discover they're all alone.

It seems like if you could do a psychological study of them, you'd find something. Maybe a loner background a little bit, that they don't mind being separated from the herd. Or a moral or religious factor.

It has to be there as a possibility. By the way, a lot of them - not all of them, but a lot of them - especially in corporate areas, when they come across safety violations and various things, they don't expect to be dumped on the way they are. They think they'll even be thanked for revealing this dangerous situation or what's going on. Invariably, they're very disappointed. They don't go into it expecting they're going to be punished as much as they actually are.

But before they go very long, and well before they become public revealers and whistleblowers, they realize that they are going uphill on this one and that they're pretty much alone, yet they go ahead. The ones who don't go ahead, you don't hear about. They don't finish the job. But the ones who do have all learned what a hard road it is well before they're finished with it. There's a kind of stubbornness or clinging to principle that makes them willing to separate from the group, from their team, from their organization, that may or may not have shown itself at all earlier.

It could be the first incident of their lives when it really takes hold, I would think, Even they were unaware they had that capability. I also wonder how many people, instead of whistleblowing, get so morally upset at something that they quit, but they don't necessarily blow the whistle.

That's a much larger group. Either they quit or they move into some other line within the organization. That's very common.

What I'm focusing on in particular is people who understand that what the organization is doing is very, very wrong. It's either against the organization's goals, against the laws of the country, or deadly to other humans. The people, for example, who know that to let the Pinto explode X number of times, how Ford thinks it's cheaper to deal with the lawsuits than to modify the gas tank. The people who know that tobacco is killing people, or asbestos. Or the war. Just dealing with those people who know that, which is usually a large fraction of the people in the organization - of those people, a lot of them live with it very well. They go home at the end of the day and they don't worry about it.

But the number who take some action to distance themselves from it is very, very much larger than the number who act to expose it.

I'd think people's first intention usually is to try to handle the problem internally, thinking if they bring this to somebody's attention, people will say: Oh, my gosh, this is horrible. We must stop it.

That's right. And it doesn't happen. The real question is what happens then.

Of course, there is a problem. If you start that way, you have now put your superiors on notice that you're somebody who knows this and thinks that it's a problem and thinks something should be done about it. If there's a later leak, by you or anybody else, you're going to be a suspect right away. So it's not entirely advantageous, if you're going to ring the bell, to go to your superiors first if you have reason to think by some kind of experience that it's going to be bottled up.

What is it reasonable to hope that people will do in way of whistleblowing?

Well, certainly you will not get everybody who knows something to pay a personal price of losing clearance, access, career, job, friends, income, to expose that. You will not get a majority to do it. You will not get a very large proportion to do it, unfortunately.

Keep in mind that the number of whistleblowers you get on some things where the public needs desperately to know this information is extremely small. You're talking about handfuls of people in a given subject.

I believe it would very helpful if you doubled that, tripled that, made that ten times more. You're still talking still very small numbers, a hundred instead of five. That could make a vast difference in a lot of different areas, especially if they did it - and this is important - in a timely way, which is even rarer, much rarer. Doesn't apply to me, by the way.

And that's one of the regrets you express in your book.

Right. Katharine Gun is one of the very few examples of somebody who actually put something out in time for it to make a big difference, even though it didn't.

She worked at the British equivalent of NSA, GCHQ, Government Communications Headquarters. She gave to a journalist friend who gave it to the Observer, the text of an NSA message to Britain asking them to cooperate in the bugging and wiretapping of all members of the UN Security Council. She, of course, was violating the British Official Secrets Act.

It was an NSA operational message talking about who they're tapping and who is to do the tapping. It's an operational list. As soon as I saw that, I knew, having had various clearances, that takes a clearance that even I didn't have. Very high classification, much higher than top secret and higher than most compartmented clearances. So I knew on the one hand, that's a major leak. Second, it's on a very, very critical matter. As she put it, they were using illegal means to pursue an illegal war. Specifically, they were trying to make the war look legal by getting a vote in the UN that would support it. The reason they had to listen in on people and to try to intimidate them or extort from them, blackmail them, was that obviously the war did not deserve to be made legal.

Her revelation was, I believe, a significant factor in the failure of the UN to support it. The U.S. had to withdraw its proposal to vote on that. And she had reason to believe that that might stop Britain from participating, if you couldn't get a UN vote, because Blair had repeatedly said he wouldn't go without a UN vote, it was essential. Or at least very desirable, let's put it that way.

If the UK didn't go, it was reasonable to hope that the US might not go. So she had a chance of preventing that war and certainly in preventing UK participation, for which she expected to go to prison.

I would think it takes a long time to work yourself up to the act of whistleblowing.

Unfortunately. I think it's very common for people who do that to feel that they have failed to do it on earlier occasions. That doesn't seem to be always true. Katharine Gun amazes me, she's an enigma to me. She was 28 when she did this. She'd been around for a couple years so she wasn't a total novice at GCHQ, but she says that the thought of leaking anything had just never occurred to her, any more than it had occurred to me before 1968.

And there might be people right now that are at this stage, where they knew something is wrong and they've kept a record of it.

The thing I would like to get out to people is what is really rare is to put out a document on a current administration while it is still very timely and can affect an ongoing process or to prevent a decision that hasn't yet been made.

The price you pay is going to be very significant in career terms, whether or not the stakes are very high.

Even if the number is proportionately still very small, a very significantly more number of people are capable of doing this if they face how much difference that it can make. And if they oppose an obligation to do this to the obligations they recognize to be loyal to their boss, loyal to their team, to keep their promises, to stand by and do right by their families and their children, their college, all that. All these things are in play, things they feel as matters of principle to some extent, not just careerism, ambition - their identity as somebody who can be trusted with secrets. And to jump out of that is like jumping out of their skin. I know it was for me.

I think also your appeal is tempered by your emphasis on "only do it when there are these vital things at stake."

Well, if the costs weren't so great, I'd encourage people to tell the truth. It is rather broadly believed that of course people ought to tell the truth to Congress or whatever and they're shocked when they don't. The fact is, they don't. And you - the generic you here - wouldn't do it. That's not what people do. The costs are great and people don't want to pay those costs.

But the message I'm trying to get out is that a lot more people than do it are capable of paying that price. And people need to stop regarding the government as the highest authority on these matters. It's a tremendous change for somebody who thinks of himself, for example, as a president's man.

Well, the timing of the NSA leak right before the Patriot Act fits somewhat into your "timeliness" criteria.

The timing was good, and by the way, before the election would have been better. Every time something like that comes out, I would love to see both newspapers and the people involved say: Should I have done that and should I have done it earlier? And what should I be putting out now, like that?

For a long time I didn't appeal to people to be whistleblowers or leakers because it seemed to me that I would be heard as being defensive about myself or apologetic or self-congratulatory. You know, do what I did. What I did was right and you should do it. And I didn't want to be heard that way.

And then I realized it really was important to encourage people to do this. For 30 years I've encouraged people to do civil disobedience in general. Yet I didn't talk much to audiences about whistleblowing on the assumption that really they weren't in a position to do what I'd done anyway.

If I'd been talking to State Department people or the Defense Department - but that's a reason they're damned careful not to let me speak there - if I could talk to such an audience, I would have talked about doing what I did.

So I didn't bother to talk about whistleblowing to outsiders. And then I realized, you know, whistleblowing really is very important. I should be talking about it, I've been wrong not to talk about it. I realized that a way of talking about it which didn't have this "do what I did" aspect was to say, "Don't do what I did. Don't wait years like I did. Do it currently." You know, make it clear that I'm not saying that I acted absolutely rightly or that I didn't delay longer than I should have. But that it can be done better than I did. It really has to be done better than I did.

Don't wait until the bombs are falling. Don't wait until thousands more have died, years into the war, before going to Congress and the press with documents that you know would reveal lies to the public, threats to the Constitution and to our democracy, information that could avert a war or shorten a war, which is being wrongly withheld.

Now I know that this can't be done lightly. I certainly don't criticize people for leaking anonymously. Quite the contrary.

And I would say that documents generally do make a very big difference. The Abu Ghraib scandal certainly has not led to a clear-cut stopping of the practice even after the president signed that bill. But it has gotten a lot of attention and activity, which would not have happened without two types of documents. They needed both. They needed the photos to make the thing concrete and dramatic and they needed the Taguba Report which was leaked to Sy Hersh to show that it wasn't just a practice of a few people but it was a widespread, systematic practice, authorized at some higher level which they managed to cover up pretty effectively.

But both those documents were essential and they were timely. That's an example of the kind of stuff we need.

And like the NSA leaks.

Yes, I would like the public to see that these were people - as James Risen has reported - who were doing this conscientiously, that this was the right thing for them to do, they did it because the public needed it. I would like their example to be followed. Now obviously, if they're all put in prison for life or one year or for ten years, the example will discourage a lot of people as well as still encouraging some. It could have a cooling effect.

Above all, ideally I'd like to see them come out, take responsibility for it, even if they're outed. But a number of these people, according to Risen - he said I've never in my years as a reporter seen such clear-cut examples of conscientious behavior.

I want that example to be out there. There has to be more of it. I think there are dozens of people who could have prevented this Iraq catastrophe if they had chosen to risk their career and probably paid for it. If Richard Clarke had put out documents, I think he might well have gone to prison for that. And saved how many Iraqi and American lives? And it would have been worth it for him, I believe. But there were dozens of other people. Not only Powell, but people who worked for Powell, people like Wilkerson, or Wilkerson's secretary. There are so many people who could do this.

You think Clarke could have prevented the war?

I wish Clarke had told us - and the press and Congress - in 2001 or in any month of 2002, what he did tell us in his book in 2004, with the documents in his safe. Had there been a study of that like the Pentagon Papers? No. What he had in his safe was the kind of stuff I had in my safe in 1964. All the raw material. But not just raw cables and memos, I'm sure, but studies, briefs, here's where we are, here's what's going to happen. Summaries, in other words. He could have prevented the war.

This is a guy who deserves great credit for telling us in 2004, but at the same time, faces the challenge that it was too late to stop the war at that point. Sorry to say, it didn't even affect the election that much. But he was talking about things three years old, and he wasn't doing it with documents.

But how about the ones who know that it's not only unconstitutional and illegal, but dangerous, disastrous, catastrophic, which is what Clarke saw? Undoubtedly, Wilkerson saw that and his boss, Powell.

I would say, hundreds and hundreds of people, in the joint staff, in the services, in intelligence, in the State Department - it could easily be thousands of people who thought this was illegal and disastrous. But none of them put out a document.

Putting out documents is of primary importance, then?

In many ways, yes. One of the effects you can really look for - it may destroy you in the process personally - but one of the effects you can begin to anticipate when you do something like that is that they will take action that put them at some legal risk. And they lose. That's what happened in my case. They took illegal actions to intimidate me, to blackmail me, from putting out more stuff. If I had only copied the Pentagon Papers, or if I'd copied more but they didn't know it, Nixon would have stayed in office, in my opinion.

But knowing that I had stuff on him and that I was not to be intimidated just by the threat of prison I was already facing, they had to find other ways, and there were no legal ways to try to stop me. They had to try illegal ways to stop me, just as they were doing with Joseph Wilson.

Yes, if they'd totally ignored his op-ed, I doubt anything would have come of it.

I'll make a speculation. Now, these guys are very good at PR.

I'm sure they knew - although they claim they didn't - that that they were breaking the law. They were taking a chance with this Valerie Plame stuff. I am led by the analogy to my case to guess that they had worries about Wilson that went far beyond what he had yet revealed. If he was just saying I went over there and this is what I found - it's too easy to answer that. You say, oh, big deal, so what? I'm guessing that they had the same kind of worry about him that they had about me. And that was that he might have other cards up his sleeve here that we haven't seen yet. And he's obviously willing to talk and it's not easy to intimidate him. So I think they had a Wilson problem there and it was much more specific and bigger than we've learned. It was not just to silence this gnat who was buzzing about that particular thing.

They brought out the big guns by outing his wife.

You know, various false analogies are often made between Wilson and me in terms of what they did, the two plumber's operations, on the grounds that they thought they were just trying to discredit me and they were trying to discredit Wilson. I'm saying, that was certainly not true in my case. They had put me on trial already, they called me a traitor, they'd done what they could to discredit me. As far as the Pentagon Papers were concerned, my credibility wasn't an issue. It was a document.

In his case, his credibility was at issue to some extent because he didn't have documents, he was speaking on his own. To discredit him did serve a purpose more than in my case. But I still question, without knowing, whether their sole impulse through this whole thing was either to discredit him or to punish him. I don't think others would be that intimidated by the fact, this very peculiar fact, that they put out Valerie Plame's name. It's an odd punishment, you know, to out the guy's wife.

The CIA and the U.S. interest pays a price. I don't think punishment was the deal here. That was his first guess, that they were punishing him. I think he may have missed what I missed at the time, which was: How much are these guys worried about how much else I knew? Remember, I didn't know how much else there was to know. They knew.

They didn't know what I had. I think the situation is very similar there. He doesn't know all their secrets, but they have to worry about it, they have to worry that he knows more than he does. You know, he might know a lot. With Wilson, I think these guys again are smart enough not to take risks like that for no reason or just to punish or just out of pique, which is what people say: "They were mad." People still think to this day that Nixon did what he did against me because of his impetuous pique, rage, revenge. No. The putting on trial, yes. But the plumbers, no. That was for the very instrumental reason, to protect the lies that protected his plans on the war, which were to keep the war going and to expand it. They wanted information to blackmail me into silence about what else I might have on their own administration.

In Wilson's case, it's almost as if they've fired the biggest shot you could fire. I can't imagine what else they could do, once they outed Plame.

Oh, you can be sure there's more they can do.

It didn't shut him up and if he did have more information, the way he won't shut up, it seems you would be even more worried now. What do you have left to bludgeon him with?

Well, remember, when it really came to the point with me, of bombing Haiphong and they were thinking of nuclear threats, they brought people to stop me from talking, to kill me. Or to put me in the hospital, to shut me up. You say they've done everything they could do? No.

You touched on in your book something I've rarely seen when you discussed making your decision to join a peace march and doing your first leafleting. You discussed the fear of feeling absurd:

Something very important had happened to me. I felt liberated. I doubt I could have explained that at the time. But by now I have seen his exhilaration often enough in others, in particular people who have just gone through their first action of civil disobedience, whether or not they have been taken to jail. This simple vigil, my first public action, had freed me from a nearly universal fear whose inhibiting force, I think is very widely underestimated. I had become free of the fear of appearing absurd, of looking foolish, for stepping out of line.

How do you help people to get over that fear of looking foolish?

Well, what does foolish mean? It means behaving in a way very differently, oddly, strangely. And it would appear, ineffectively. After all, most people don't flatter themselves that what they're doing is extremely important or effective, but they're usually working within a structure - government or a corporation or university that's very powerful and prestigious and important, even if they're individual employees.

If you step out alone, if you stand on a sidewalk naked of any institutional affiliation, just saying, "I think this, here's what I think we should do," or "I'm against that," you're all out there alone, meaning you're acting very differently from everybody else. And that in itself looks odd and threatening; it looks crazy while you're doing it. How could acting all by yourself, little you, or with a few other losers, possibly have any effect on anything? Whatever you know of your own rationality, you know you're going to face a question that you don't ordinarily face: Is this person crazy? Are they a homeless psychopath of some kind? Have they lost their marbles? People asked that about me all the time, my old RAND colleagues, Has Dan gone crazy?

And there's the fear of being laughed at.

Being laughed at, yes. It's very important to get over that if you can. That's a major reason for doing civil disobedience: It frees you, you suddenly discover that you're not made of sugar, you don't just melt if you're faced with questioning and even contempt.

When I read that passage, I thought about Cindy Sheehan, how she did something that has been ridiculed, standing in that ditch, but it was such a powerful statement.

She didn't just in that case come out of nowhere. For at least a year she had been doing things which were worthwhile but they were much more dignified.

It's that willingness to stand out from a crowd so that you are noticed and dramatic. Everything she'd been doing earlier was right for her to do and was worth doing, but it didn't threaten her dignity. And this, standing out there, really did threaten the possibility that she would just be seen as having become unbalanced. Yet here is one of those cases where it just worked.

Since I've been activist and very rarely with even the remotest hint of effect, I've felt for a long time you have to push on every door. It's very hard to predict when these very long-shot things in fighting the government will work. It depends on chance or things beyond your control very often, timing and what else is going on.

For example, I don't think that she or anyone had really thought it through, the circumstances that taking an action like that in Crawford had the peculiar effect that you had a lot of press there with nothing to do and no news except that the president had cut some brush today. And that they therefore would have time and interest in going over and taking a look at what was going on.

What I hear you saying is that because you don't know beforehand what will work, you just keep trying different things.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying. What I did during Vietnam was what people should be doing now, and that is: Everything they can think of that may contribute to ending one of three extreme dangers: one, a more or less endless prolongation of the Iraq war. That's going to be very hard to change, but obviously we should be working on it.

Two, averting an attack on Iran, and especially the use of nuclear weapons on Iran.

Three, trying to avert the institution of a police state here under George Bush as dictator.

All of these things are in a crisis phase, although frankly Iraq is going to be with us for a long time. It's appropriate for a lot of people to be doing an awful lot more than they are doing to avert those.

The message to be heard is: This is a situation that justifies risking your career and your associations and your freedom and your life. It justifies the kind of courageous action that we are asking of every person in Iraq every hour of the day and night. There's nobody over there - unlike Vietnam - who's safe in their beds from a mortar attack. It's certainly not safe when they go outside the Green Zone. And we're regarding that as being a routine thing to be asking of them. Oh, they're our brave soldiers and we're very grateful for it, but we're not surprised they're being so brave. And they are very ordinary people, that's for sure, all these terribly brave people. They did not sign up because they were terribly brave, the situation demands that they be brave and they're living up to it, they're being very brave physically.

It's time for people in this country, civilians, to start looking into themselves for the ability to be brave like that. And not physically, but to have what the Germans term "civil courage." Bismarck said at one point, courage on the battlefield is not rare, but civil courage is rare. We need that concept over here. People talk of moral courage but it's rarely defined what that means exactly.

Civil courage means standing up for principle in the face of the state, risking career, risking the good opinion of other people for the good of the community and the society.

This notion of civil courage seems separate from that of physical courage to me.

Right. Physical courage doesn't do it. I always felt that I would be very calm under fire, I thought I would be when I was a Marine. And when I was in Vietnam I was interested to see if that turned out to be true, and it was true. But that was true of everybody around me. That's very common in the field, as Bismarck said.

But people who are physically courageous, it's not a tip-off as to whether they'll really be able to have civil courage. They're doing that under orders or to fulfill the mission. To risk doing what you think you should against the will of your superiors or your team, that seems to take some other kind of characteristic and I don't know what it is.

What can ordinary citizens do, people who don't have access to documents?

One suggestion I would make right now about what's called for in the way of action is that there should be now a major public debate, in effect town hall meetings. Or teach-ins, a very neglected happening. At the beginning of the Vietnam War, teach-ins were a very good institution. At the beginning they encouraged administration spokesman to come and represent the government point of view. And at the beginning the government was stupid enough to do that. They got wise in about six months and no longer provided anybody. But for that time, that was good because people got a real debate, adversarial proceedings. The upshot of that was that within a year of the start of teach-ins, that generation of college students knew more about the history of Vietnam and the illegitimacy of our role than anyone in the government except a handful of people who'd been around for 30 years. People like me, who were new to the subject, didn't know nearly as much as somebody who'd sat in a college gym or auditorium for several hours and really heard about this history.

This is a very good time for that. Why is the Constitution written as it is? We should be discussing the separation of powers, which the president obviously has contempt for. It's time to educate ourselves and administration officials on what we gain out of that. Other issues are the dangers of the secrecy system, and the question of surveillance. The question of empire should really be looked at and debated now as well.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Iraq/Vietnam Parallels and Other Foreign Policy Fiascos

This is the fifth of a six-part series of conversations with Daniel Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future and past postings can be found at the end of this interview.

Based on your knowledge of history - and particularly Vietnam - what parallels do you see now with the war in Iraq?

There were certain aspects of what was going on with Hussein that seemed obvious to me were lies right from the beginning. Even so, I did assume he had some WMD's. It seemed plausible enough that they would have kept some; we knew they had them before - not nuclear but chemical and biological. Saddam seemed to be acting in an evasive way, at least the way it was reported, not cooperating fully with Blix and the others. And our government seemed so sure and so precise about that, that I didn't think they'd stick their necks out to be that positive on the WMD's that they didn't have some fairly solid evidence. So I was assuming they did have that.

What seemed absurd from the very beginning was to say that that constituted an immediate danger to the United States. If they retained even a large quantity of chemical weapons and biological weapons, there seemed no reason to think that they would use those weapons unless they were attacked. By the same token, if they were attacked, it seemed all too plausible that they would use them - in fact, almost certain. It made the decision look, in that respect, terribly reckless to me, almost insane.

* ::

Meanwhile, for Powell to say, as he ended up doing, but as they all were saying from early on, that Saddam Hussein was the number one danger to the United States seemed bizarre, clearly untrue. I was sure then that Powell did not, could not, believe that. I didn't know what Bush or some of the others might have persuaded themselves to believe. And I don't, to this day, understand Bush's mind very well, but it seemed to me that Powell could not believe that Saddam Hussein was the number one danger, or was even a major danger.

Moreover, the idea that there was a connection with Al Qaeda ... well, that I didn't have an independent judgment on, but everything I was reading suggested that that was very implausible.

Those two judgments both seemed to me to just totally undermine the idea that it would serve our security interests to be attacking Saddam, and that there was any immediate, compelling reason to do it.

Where India and Pakistan and North Korea had nuclear weapons, where Russia had tens of thousands of poorly guarded nuclear weapons and other material, this was indeed a very dangerous world and I couldn't see Saddam Hussein on the list of major dangers-- especially when it came to Al Qaeda's getting WMD's - certainly not at the head of the list.

It seemed to me we were being lied into war. Again. And the parts of my book that dealt with the Tonkin Gulf and the entry into the Vietnam war seemed so timely, I asked my publisher permission to put several chapters of my book on the web before the Senate vote. So I put the first chapter and part of the second and third on the web at the same time so that we could say: People, look at the Tonkin Gulf resolution.

I thought that their case for going to war was so thin and implausible that Bush was unlikely to do it unless he ginned up a more immediate attack of some kind. I was very apprehensive at that point, that there would be a Tonkin Gulf-like incident. I was very worried that Hussein's anti-aircraft gunners would actually succeed in shooting down one of our planes and that we'd use that as an excuse to invade.

We were doing flyovers there that were quite provoking.

You're right. We have heard more that they had a full campaign going on. We were virtually at war at that time. I was afraid that Bush would do whatever it took to get one of those planes shot down. Meaning, you realize, that I believe that our president was capable of putting our people in harm's way and getting some of them killed in order to get us into war, like the president I served Lyndon Johnson,. It turned out that this president was, contrary to my belief, willing to go in there even without a Tonkin Gulf-type incident, just on this crazy claim that he was authorized by previous resolutions.

What were your primary concerns at the beginning of the Iraq war?

I was very worried about two things: That there would be a big stand in Baghdad, which didn't occur, and that that would lead us to just level the city - what we did to Fallujah later, I thought that would happen to Baghdad, so I was worried about that.

Second, that they would turn up at some point with gas against our troops and I was very worried that that would lead us to use nuclear weapons. Bill Arkin in the LA Times said that there was a group reporting to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon that was tasked with picking out targets for nuclear response to their use of biological and chemical weapons against us. It seemed to me if they had them, they were bound to use them. I was very worried at that point that they might use them against our troops or against Israel - and we'd get a first use of nuclear weapons against that, by us or Israel. That's one of my worries that didn't come about. Why not? Of course, because they didn't have any WMD'S at all. Had they had any (which, of course, we claimed to believe that they did - and I suspect, by the way, that the top people did believe that they did even though they weren't getting much evidence of that), they would have used them.

We seem to have problems learning from history, don't we?

A very sad thing, and it isn't just Americans. When I try to draw lessons from history and pre-history, I've reached some unhappy conclusions about the nature of our species. Not just about Americans or capitalists. And part of it is that our concern for other people is very selective and very easily manipulated by leaders and by propaganda. And people are capable of being very little concerned about masses of deaths and suffering of other people - foreigners, far-away, invisible, not related, different languages, different religions.

They can be led by leaders to be concerned about that, but it's also very easy to distract them from it, into not being very concerned about it at all.

And it's very hard for Republicans to learn from Democrats. And the Vietnamese, I think, didn't learn all that much from having been invaded. They went into Cambodia and didn't really do very well. The Chinese went into Vietnam and got a bloody nose.

The Soviets really reproduced our Vietnam experience in Afghanistan. The only difference is the weather. I must say, that was one case where I wasn't wrong. I looked at that situation very early on when a lot of people were saying the Soviets would not have their one hand tied behind their back. They won't have problems with the press and the public, so now they're going to do it tough, the way the Israelis would do it.

So even despite the fact that they didn't have any of those domestic factors that we did, they didn't do any better and they were just as brutal as we are in Iraq.

Here's another one that didn't turn out as costly for us as I thought it would: our own invasion of Afghanistan. I thought we'd have the same trouble as the Soviets. That really didn't work out, but why not? First of all, the U.S. very much limited its penetration of Afghanistan. It's left almost the whole country, except for Kabul and Kandahar, to the warlords. It hasn't been ambitious at all about controlling most of the country. I didn't expect them to leave it at that. In retrospect, why did they? Because they were preparing for Iraq, which I have to say is another one I didn't foresee particularly. I didn't know about the Project for a New American Century. I didn't know the neo-cons at that point. I don't recall looking at Iraq particularly at all in 2001 or early 2002.

People say, Of course, we don't plan to stay in Iraq. We just plan to stay until there's a democratic government, a democratic government that will ask us to stay in our bases there and which will be friendly to Israel, and assure US that women's rights will be observed and so forth, but above all that the contracts will be recognized that we're signing now for all the deals about oil. We don't have to be there indefinitely, all we need is a government that is friendly in all these respects, as Chalabi promised us.

Well, that's a recipe for staying forever. Even if this administration lets go of all the other conditions, I don't believe they'll give up on the bases and the oil. Nor will its successors, Republican or Democrat. So I think that's what we will be doing, staying forever. Unless the rest of us, outside the government, force change on the leadership of the Democrats as well as the Republicans, which will be difficult and take a long time.

And that's why there's such a resistance to naming a timetable and calling everybody traitors who want a timetable.

Absolutely. Those same words were used to Nixon throughout his time on Vietnam. People were asking him to set a timetable. The weeks that I was copying the Pentagon Papers in October of 1969, a bunch of us at RAND were also putting forth a proposal to get out in one year, by 1970. Nixon was saying, no, no, no, no, that way they'll be able to wait for us to leave and then move in. We can't do that. And he was giving all the arguments that Bush is giving now. In fact, I wonder if Bush has actually opened the old drawers or brought down one of Nixon's memoirs from the shelf or something and simply copied the speeches, because that's what he's saying.

I'm still convinced - though most people aren't - that Nixon didn't mean at all for Saigon to be Communist in 1975 or 1978 or 1980. The reason he was rejecting the notion of having all American troops out by setting a deadline, setting a timetable, was not because he objected to that particular timetable or to having a timetable, but because he had no intention of giving up American presence altogether. Ever.

And that's where I think we are today. What are the secret intentions or plans of the White House, specifically of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld? I think it is not their intention or expectation or willingness to see a total removal of U.S. influence and presence in Iraq. Ever. In light of that, I don't think what people need to face up to is what I regard as a likelihood that this war is going to go on much longer than two years or four years or eight years. I think that figures like 30 and 40 and 50 years should be considered. That's what they have in mind. When I say that, I'm not talking just about their hopes or expectations, because of course Nixon had hopeful expectations that were frustrated. I'm talking about intentions that I think may very well be fulfilled by Democrats as well as Republicans, intentions to hold on to bases and oil at all costs. I'm not at all confident that Democrats will be willing to give up those bases.

But the point is people need to start facing up to the fact that when Bush talks about being out of there, he's either lying or being incredibly wishful. Again, we come back to the question, can Bush possibly be persuaded that he really is going to get all he wants and that Chalabi is going to be vindicated in the end? I don't know. I can't figure Bush out, when it comes to his expectations. But I think he is determined to get what he wants, and realistically that won't let him reduce our troops all that much while he's in office.

You honestly think we'll be there for 50 years?

The oil in the region won't run out much before that. This administration wants to run the world, and controlling the Middle East oil spigot is crucial to their hopes. And I don't think later administrations will be eager to be seen as having given up on strategic assets we've just acquired by conquest.

The game here is empire and that's been going on for a long time, about 5,000 years probably, with not much difference. I've read the Nuremberg documents at RAND. I had on my shelf the ten-volume set of the trial of the major Nazi war criminals. We got those because Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia were overrun by the Soviets and had all these amazing documents you normally never get. Very, very unusual. I suspect that the documents of the Sumerian empire or the Egyptian empire or the Assyrian empire would look very, very much like these. But we don't have them. We don't have documentation like this, except for the Pentagon Papers.

My long-run hope for the Pentagon Papers was that they would give people a picture of how empire is run, the kind of decision-making that goes into it, with all its limitations and vulgarities and ruthlessness, and that might wake us up from wanting to be an empire. That was not achieved.

A good example of not learning from history seems to me to be Bremer's recent claim that the U.S. didn't foresee the insurgency.

When Shinseki was calling for hundreds of thousands of troops long before the war. What was that for? It wasn't necessary for our blitzkrieg, it was to prevent or deal with an insurgency.

I think it's clear that Powell was worried at the time about the scenario that has happened now, with his reference to the Pottery Barn rule and all. It appears there was some dissent from him and his number two, Lawrence Wilkerson.

I cannot believe that Wilkerson is saying things that Powell disagrees with. See, Powell says, Oh, I love Lawrence Wilkerson, but I don't agree with him. Bullshit. Larry Wilkerson totally carried the ball on this one. He's voicing both of their thinking. But Powell is not willing to cut his ties at all with the administration, he's backing them up. Not on the torture so much, but he's backing them up on the NSA taps.

Reminiscent of McNamara to a certain extent on Vietnam.

From 1966 on, I think that McNamara felt that it was totally a losing proposition and that we ought to get out. But looking at their unwillingness to criticize their bosses, to take issue with the president, or even with their colleagues at high level on the whole. I got the feeling, as I said before, that these people really want to be channeled from the after life as advisors, as consultants.

If, as you've said before, you fear us going into Iran, won't we have to have a draft? Won't that create so much protest they can't move forward with their plans?

No. First of all, the draft didn't stop Vietnam. It went on and on and could have gone on longer. I think we were very lucky in a number of ways that it didn't go on a lot longer. Anyway, it wasn't the draft, it was the large casualties and that was a result of Westmoreland's search-and-destroy missions and attrition strategy. That was known by many of the generals and they weren't willing to take a stand and take responsibility for reining him in on that. They were very critical of his strategy and the great American losses that we were suffering, but they wouldn't tell him not to do it.

If they had stopped that and really changed the strategy and gotten the U.S. casualties down greatly, they could have stayed in Vietnam and they would not have been forced out of it, because Americans are very tolerant of bombing and they're very tolerant of foreigners dying.

And that appears to be Bush's strategy for the next year.

That's what he hopes for.

He's going to go to air power and pull some troops out.

And Americans will go along with that.

Yes, they will.

The American people ... I have to say, I've been very dismayed at the degree of acceptance there has been of the torture. An encouraging sign is of McCain and the other 96 or so who went against it, that was good. But you know, will we or will we not let Bush get away with his signing statement, that he's not really bound by the bill? How much of the torture will now be outsourced to Iraqis? And will Americans get very upset by that?

And the torture is clearly inflammatory and self-defeating, feeding the hatred of America. Why is that so hard to understand?

We're talking about a species thing, a resistance to foreseeing that violence has dangerous consequences, that it leads to reciprocation. The "cycle of violence" is not just a cliché. The idea that violence breeds violence, that violence breeds hatred, rage and revenge, some kinds of violence more than others - that terrorism against civilians, and torture, breeds rage and hatred. And that makes people suicidally angry. They're ready to die in order to take other people with them. Humans - especially males in power - resist knowing all that, or learning it, when they turn to terrorism and torture.

I think that's one of the great dangers on this torture. For example, my understanding of the fall of the shah in Iran in 1979 was that you had a system in Iran - which was, of course, a great ally of the U.S. - using torture very, very extensively. Their secret police were torturing everybody who came into their grip, advised by both literal Gestapo people - old Nazis who were hiring out to teach torture methods - and they had CIA advisors who were major in building up the shah.

The shah looked very bad to me and he was one of our dictators, he was our Saddam Hussein. They were two links in a chain. The shah falls and now we have to have a shah-like person in Iraq to fight Iran. So Saddam Hussein was a successor to the shah in the region, as our base to fight Iran.

What made the shah unviable in the end was that he had tortured so many people over there that they were just enraged. They wanted a different system. His torture was a crucial thing in his downfall[:] at the hands, by the way, of a non-violent movement. As the Iranians kept pointing out to me in public meetings, we're not pacifists, we're not non-violent ...we just don't have any guns.

My attitude at the time - because I'd been impressed by the practical aspects of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. - I felt yeah, and if you did have guns, I think the shah or his successors would still be there. The army would have had no compunction about shooting as many people as it took to stay in power, if people were shooting at them. But the Iranian Army sickened finally of shooting their own unarmed brothers and huge crowds of women and children. We don't know how many they killed, certainly more than 10,000 and possibly as many as 100,000. But eventually they got to the point where they said, "We aren't going to shoot these people anymore," and the shah was brought down by that.

What led to that was not just wonderful organization by Khomeini, but a tremendous revulsion at the shah's regime for the torture that he'd been carrying out.

Again, why can't we learn from that?

In the minds of the people in the Pentagon, they all looked at this movie, "The Battle of Algiers," and apparently they look at that as a kind of textbook for how to defeat terrorists. Except that what a "successful" campaign against the terrorists in Algiers did, based on torture, was to totally alienate the many, many Algerians who would have been glad to stay in the French system and thought of themselves as French - they spoke French, liked French culture. But you could not side with the French after the atrocities of the Battle of Algiers. So the French won the battle and they lost the war.

Yet Bush is now talking about drawing down troops.

Nixon was doing what Bush is doing now: He was using the word, "withdrawal," "I'm withdrawing." Meaning, really, "I'm reducing." We haven't done much reduction yet in Iraq, but I do expect some reduction to happen.

Bush's strategy, I'm sure, will be to fool people to say yes, we're on our way out, we're going down and everybody wants to think we're going down to zero when he doesn't have that in mind any more than Nixon had it in mind in 1969 or 1970. Nixon had no thought of going down to zero. A combination of events brought him to that, finally, by 1973. But it was against his will and it was against his expectations.

Well, I don't think Bush has any idea that we'll ever be out of those bases and he would regard that as a total failure, a failure he does not intend or expect to preside over. And I'll go further: I don't expect him to either. I don't expect his successor to do it.

I'm working. I'm hoping that among other things we'll get out of Iraq, but I don't have much confidence. I think there's a chance or I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I want to enlarge that chance, and I think enlarging that chance can be done. But I admit I think it's much less than an even chance. The odds are, I think we will one way or another hang onto the bases in that oil-rich country indefinitely, for a very long time. We'll let go of New Jersey before we let go of Iraq. Because the oil's pretty exhausted in New Jersey.

What is happening in Iraq is very like Vietnam, with the difference of the oil there and the strategic location and relation to Israel.

And that's what will stop us from getting out, whereas in Vietnam there were no resources?

We had virtually no strategic stake in Vietnam and there was nothing to keep us there except the fears of our politicians of being called losers, unmanly, weak. After ten years of resistance in Vietnam and at home, it was possible to get us out. In Iraq - where those same fears will apply again - the stakes of other kinds are very large - profits, and above all, I think, control of oil as a lever for world power, leverage over the world, control of the energy sources in general.

What would your recommended response to 9/11 have been?

Well, the only reason for calling it a "war" was a very bad one, and that was to justify unconstitutional actions - illegal actions - which the president tells himself are justified in war, when even he can't convince himself they're justified otherwise.

It was a terrorist attack, which obviously called for coordinated, worldwide international and domestic police measures, going along with calling that a war very implausibly, against a very amorphous opponent and non-state opponent, literally stateless with no fixed address - going along with that was dubious right from the beginning and has turned out to have very negative consequences since he seems to believe wrongly that the commander in chief in wartime of the armed forces is literally a dictator.

It was a major, dangerous terrorist attack, by an amorphous, non-state collection of adversaries with no fixed address. It called for coordinated, worldwide international and domestic police and intelligence measures, with our department of defense and its military measures playing some role but not at all the leading, major role implied by "war."

Of course, we now know that Bush intended from the beginning to use 9/11 as an excuse for a real war in Iraq run by the DOD, which was probably his main reason for invoking the image of "war" right after 9/11. But the fact that everyone went along with that dubious description of our terrorist danger turns out to have had some other very ominous consequences, since Bush seems to believe that the U.S. commander of chief of the armed forces, in an endless "war against terror," is literally a dictator.

Within days of 9/11, we've just learned, he secretly suspended indefinitely the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution by authorizing unlimited warrantless wiretaps, against explicit legislation forbidding this. He thinks, and his shameless (or fascist) house lawyers tell him, that he got authority to do this when Congress - except for Barbara Lee - delegated to him the decision to make himself a wartime commander in chief.

Also, it's not a properly declared war.

Yes, but he could say that he did manipulate without too much trouble something like an undated declaration of war from Congress. That's to the shame of Congress, but they carry responsibility for that. It's not as though he didn't get any vote of confidence on this. Unfortunately, I think he's not off base when he says that Congress did effectively authorize a war with Afghanistan and Iraq. They used language that could certainly be extended to say we're in a state of war. He was appealing rhetorically to the notion that to say that the effort against terrorism was anything but a war was to exhibit some kind of weakness or lack of will to deal with the problem. But in fact terrorism isn't a problem that can be mainly solved by military means. If this was looked at appropriately, military means would probably be part of the solution, but a relatively minor part of it.

To call it a war immediately has several very concrete effects. Institutionally, it puts the Defense Department at the center of decision-making and implementation and that was very inappropriate, downplaying State, CIA and the FBI. Second, when we go to war, we bomb. What we did to Fallujah and what we're doing routinely all the time now is very much the American way of war, and that means trying to maximize the use of air power relative to the use of ground troops.

That's what we were doing in Vietnam under Nixon and that could have had a good deal of effect on prolonging war if Congress had let them keep that up. I think if our air power had persisted in supporting the ARVN, the Saigon forces, the war could have been kept going, could have killed a lot more people there, and Saigon wouldn't have been Ho Chi Minh City until several years later if we'd done that.

I think they're thinking of that exact example in Iraq, but it's very different situation now. We don't have ARVN. The heart of ARVN, the office corps in Vietnam, was a quite large, coherent officer structure trained by the French when the French ruled there. These were people who were committed to a persistent rule by foreigners. It was very hard for them to pose as patriots; they had a long record of collaboration there. They were a coherent colonial fighting force, fighting against the independence of their country. They didn't have a lot of future by defecting to the communists.

You had an army there that was trained. The troops were younger and they hadn't on the whole fought for the French, but they were people who chose to get a very small salary and sleep in beds and with their families nearby rather than their alternative, to live in the tunnels under our bombing.

In Iraq, we don't have a generations-old colonial army to turn to, to support with air power.

The question that really arises in this case is, who is it exactly we are training and what are we training them for? Whose side will they end up being on when they're trained? There's reason to think that Shia and Sunni militias are going to the army not just for the economic incentives, but to get training and to get weapons so they can organize, after which they'll fight for whoever they choose to fight for, based on various incentives.

I'm thinking of the example of trained people in the police in Fallujah who just deserted en masse. There's every indication now that people that we have trained and are paying are forming death squads against the Sunni resistance, the Sunni who we want to compete with them and to be part of the government. The Sunni likewise. Who knows what training they're getting?

When we add up the number of people we've trained, you don't end up with a number who are prepared to fight for American control of their country or against people who are resisting it. We don't actually have a clue who we're training. It's as if the Viet Cong had all enlisted in the ARVN in order to get weapons. But instead of doing that, they simply captured or bought the weapons from ARVN. They didn't bother to get American training, which they didn't feel was really relevant to their needs, the guerilla army. We weren't really good at training a guerilla army and theViet Cong were the best in the world, their trainers were the best so they didn't need it.

Twenty years from now the resistance to the American bases will not have to join our payroll to get trained.

Because we're training their trainers?

Well, we're training them now and they'll have 20 years of guerilla war behind them. On the contrary, people will go from all over the world to get trained by the Iraqi resistance, as they are doing now, and that does not mean going to people on the U.S. payroll. They'll have very experienced guerilla war terrorist operators by then, they'll be as good as the Viet Cong. It takes a while, you know. The VC had been at it since 1945. By the time we got there in 1965, they didn't need training from us.

In fact, we could have used some of their training.

Absolutely. If we wanted to win the war, join their side.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Bush, the Next 9/11 and the Approaching Police State

[From a Walter Cronkite interview conducted June 23, 1971, while Ellsberg was in hiding after releasing the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was moving around Boston in safe houses until he could get the entirety of the document published. Once they were wholly published - in 19 newspapers - he surrendered to authorities.]

Cronkite: What about the immediate effect [of these revelations] on the war as of these days in June, 1971?

Ellsberg: Yes, the war is going on.... I hope the Senate will go much further. I hope that they discover that their responsibilities to their citizens, the citizens of this country and to the voters, do go beyond getting re-elected, and that they're men, they're free men who can accept the responsibility of ending this war.

My father had a favorite line from the Bible, which I used to hear a great deal when I was a kid: "The truth shall make you free." And I hope that the truth that's out now--it's out in the press, it's out in homes, where it should be, where voters can discuss it--it's out of the safes, and there is no way, no way to get it back into the safes--I hope that truth will free us of this war. I hope that we will put this war behind us.... In such a way that the history of the next 20 years will read nothing like the history of the last 20 years.
--Daniel Ellsberg
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

This is the final installment of a six-part series of conversations with Ellsberg that were conducted earlier this month. My questions are in boldface, Ellsberg's responses are in lightface. Topics and dates of future and past postings can be found at the end of this interview.

One of the more poignant parts of your book is your interview with Cronkite, in which you say you hope that what you did in releasing the Pentagon Papers was to ensure that the next 20 years of history would read nothing like the past 20 years. Now maybe your 20 years was off ....

What I said at the time was that I hope the history will be very different. I don't recall having any great confidence. There is no question in my mind that our problems are very systemic. The degree to which it's working out now as a replay of Vietnam - and of course, there are differences - is kind of uncanny.

* ::

I think on a broader scale, I have much less confidence or hope - though I still do have some hope, but much less confidence - than I used to that people or systems or societies really learn from history in a useful way. In other words, I think the whole idea of learning from history ... well, that's not what humans do very much. I don't think there are a lot of examples of people learning, especially from other people's experience.

One thing I think we should be asking right now is: Could this happen again? Can Iraq happen again? I'm thinking Iran right now. I mean an air attack, not an invasion.

I don't think they can do much about invading Iran without a draft.

They can't invade anybody without a draft.

I'm made really uneasy by a line that I'm seeing from a lot of liberals and even from critics of the war, and that is the emphasis on the unfairness of the volunteer army and the fact that gee, isn't this a terrible situation where a few people are paying enormous risks and an enormous price, and the rest of us are paying no price.

I'll tell you why that makes me very nervous. I think that a case is being made for a draft, and I think it will happen with the approval of our Democratic leaders and many liberal columnists because of this unfairness issue. But it will not happen until there's been a major crisis, another 9/11. Or conceivably a war that came out of our air attack on Iran. So when I talk a short-term attack, an attack on Iran before a 9/11, it would be an air attack.

If we have another 9/11, then I think you do get a draft. I seem to be the only person saying this at this point.

But if you want to put 200,000 or 300,000 more in Iraq- which I believe he would do if he could- he has to wait until he has a draft. So we've got to stop that draft. And people who think that the draft would be a good thing because it will spread the burden and so forth, really have their heads up their ass. You can quote me on that.

It's terribly misguided and that's another thing we might be able to stop. I hope we can stop an attack on Iran - that will be very hard - and I would hope we can build a backfire where even under a 9/11, people will balk at a draft and say that isn't what we need. Because if they give him the draft, not in their minds in order to send more troops over - nobody wants to do that in large numbers - but because they think it will be more fair, what they'd be giving him is a blank check to send hundreds of thousands of troops within a year or two into Iraq and Iran and maybe Syria and North Korea.

If and when there's another 9/11 while Bush is in office, I think he'll get what he wants. And what he wants is - I have a sort of litany of what I think you'd get. Maybe I should just say the list right now.

First, I think you get a new Patriot Act, probably drafted already, that makes the old one look like the Bill of Rights. And the Bill of Rights is gone. Obviously, it hasn't had any reality in the minds of the White House, the administration, as a desideratum, as something to hang onto, since they got in, or since 9/11 anyway.

Second, total surveillance, which apparently we may have right now. When I was saying this a month ago, it wasn't on the assumption that they'd gone as far as it turns out they have. But I did see that happening in the future, as I started thinking 40 years ago, when I had clearances. I knew then that there was no great technical problem in simply turning on the NSA domestically, to listen to the American public the same way they listened to foreign countries. There was just a political problem, you could say a constitutional problem. And the day that they flipped that switch, for whatever reason, we would become a total surveillance society. I would say that switch was flipped, secretly, just after 9/11 (if not before).

I think that what the NSA is probably doing is a massive, massive vacuum cleaner operation here within America as well as in and out, and that we're talking about millions and millions of intercepts. I suspect what we're going to find out is in effect what Admiral Poindexter called Total Information Awareness, that's what was turned on. And the targeted wiretaps--the individual ones that they should have asked the FISA court for warrants on but didn't--are probably illegal for two other reasons as well: They're based on the illegal mass data-mining program, and some of them, probably a lot of them, target journalists, politicians and antiwar activists with no relation to terrorism. I'm guessing that they didn't apply for warrants--or for changing the law--because even the FISA court wouldn't give warrants in these cases, or for data-mining, nor would even a Republican Congress make these legal.

Even before the investigations we need of all this, given the overwhelming prima facie appearance of illegality, there should be senators saying right now, "stop." A lot of them, even Republicans, have uttered the words "illegal," "unconstitutional," "impeachable" about the secret NS programs. but I don't know of one who has gone on to say, "This must be stopped. Right now."
now: This should stop. Right now. While it's being investigated.

Suspend it until we decide it's legal.

Oh, it's illegal. You can't make it legal without changing both existing laws and the Constitution. When it comes to the will and determination of this executive branch to conduct unconstitutional surveillance, the die has been cast, the shift has been made. The question before us now is whether the public and the rest of the government--Congress, courts, the fifth estate--will act to roll that back, fast, or will they sign on? That remains to be seen, soon.

Third, with a big 9/11, I think there will be martial law in large parts of the country if not all of it. Fourth, a broad official secrets act. Add to that an overall surveillance society, and we have a country in which the government has total privacy in terms of secrecy and the public has zero privacy from the government. That is not a democracy. Then the world has the chance to find out what it means to have a superpower not only out of control but one that is totalitarian, a dictatorship.

What's the lesson of the Vietnam War? You don't want a king. And a king in foreign policy is what Nixon thought he was and for practical purposes was acting like. A king is what Bush thinks he is. If you don't like the word, "king," dictator is another word. He said to a questioner recently, "I am not a dictator." Like Nixon's, "I am not a crook."

All this from another 9/11?

And more. Fifth, on a large scale I think we'll see from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands - and I mean plural, hundreds of thousands - of Middle Easterners, Muslims and sympathizers, some non-Muslim dissenters but mostly young Muslim males, in camps or deported. And that will happen without a whole lot of resistance by the public after another 9/11.

Six, a quick renewal of nuclear testing. Not because it has any relevance to any of this but because Bush wants it, the Republicans want it, and he'll get what he wants after that. And the rationale will be: It's a dangerous world, we have to be prepared to hit terrorist underground nuclear storage sites or whatever. It will be a very thin reason, but he'll get it. Nuclear testing. That starts nuclear testing all over the world.

Basically, a police state is what we're talking about. And that's what I'm really afraid of with another 9/11. And then I'll add ... Iran. If Iran hasn't already been hit, it gets hit. And then after you've had the draft for a year or so, invasion of the southern oil fields of Iran, which apparently we were close to doing a couple times in the last 20 years with earlier oil crises. That came up under Kissinger with the oil crisis in 1973, possibly taking the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia; later, Iran, after the shah had left.

I think an attack on Iran is fairly likely, and almost sure to have disastrous effects in the Middle East, especially if nuclear weapons are used, above all. But even without that. In Iraq itself I don't think we're facing imminent escalation, unless there's an attack on Iran, which may be imminent. And the police state ... that's as imminent as a new attack Al Queda, I'm afraid.

For that matter, an attack on Iran is a way to get more 9/11's. It's a provocation.

I could even conjecture that that's why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being so provocative about his nuclear program and Israel. I'm not sure he's totally averse to an attack. It would almost surely strengthen him politically.

Well, it did Bush here, didn't it, with 9/11?

Good point. Instead of saying, My god, how could this man let this happen ... You know, that's a good comparison. The way that the administration reasons about attacks on other countries, 9/11 here should have brought about regime change in the U.S., rather than greater popularity for Bush.

Yet it doesn't work that way.

If we had better free press in this country, it would have been known, either beforehand or right after 9/11, how badly he had protected us from that. A totally, incompetent, terrible job as Richard Clarke pointed out. But instead he suffered nothing from that. He won the election three years later and he hadn't protected us. Now, can you protect from terrorism? Total protection, yeah, it's impossible. But could you have done better than Bush did? It's hard to do as badly as that, you know. You really have to work at it, so much so that conspiracy theories have a lot to work with. Can he really be that incompetent and that unaware?

And then, as Clarke points out, when they did finally get his attention with 9/11, he made matters worse by going in exactly the wrong direction, by attacking Iraq. So Clarke's line is, here we have a president who for the first nine months you cannot get his attention for the terrorism problem. He's totally inattentive to it. And then when it got his attention, he made things worse by going into Iraq.

And of course, claiming that no one could have foreseen 9/11.

Interestingly, this president is unusual not only institutionally, but humanly. He'll say anything. "No one foresaw that the levees might breach."

What concerns me is his remark to Woodward at one point that he doesn't care what history says about him because we'll all be dead. I finally reflected that what really bothers me about that besides the stupidity of not learning from history is that he's not afraid of the judgment of history once he's dead. Other presidents at least have had some concern about their legacy and how they will be viewed. I honestly think he doesn't care at all.

Well, let me give you a possible reason for that. We don't know exactly what he believes of Christian fundamentalism. How different are his beliefs, let's say, from Pat Robertson or Billy Graham or James Dobson? I suspect they may be very close. In that case, what he may be thinking is that we, the unsaved, will be dead--in fact, we'll be in hell--before long, but he and the other born-again Christians (only) will not be dead, ever. He and they will be raptured to heaven before he dies, or at least before his children die, within the next 20 to 30 years. So there won't be any history for him to worry about. Any possibly hostile historians will be in eternal hellfire. If this sounds like crazy speculation about his beliefs, google Christian fundamentalism or pre-millenial dispensationalism.

One peculiar thing in Bush's case - it doesn't apply to all dictators - is that he thinks his authority, like that of kinds, is a divine right. That's what he virtually says and I tend to think he does believe it. God put him there. And our rights come from God, Only, they don't come from the Bill of Rights, they don't come from the Revolution, they don't come from court cases or struggle. Our rights come from God and from the Bible, he says. Actually, I wasn't aware of the Bible giving a lot of examples of democracy.

Romans 13. Your rulers are given you by God and you should obey them. It's what he thinks. And when he says that, this is a distinct, peculiar problem we have right now: a president who actually believes that his authority comes to him from someone other than the electorate, whether they voted for him or not, or an election. In fact, a lot of his religious constituency are told by General Boykin, by his high level general in the Defense Department - "My god is a real god, Theirs is an idol."

I think Boykin is still there. One of the things he was saying in uniform to religious constituents was that the election of Bush in the first instance, in the year 2000, without a majority of the voters, was already a measure of God's grace, a miracle. It meant God wanted him there: Look, he didn't even get a majority vote and he's there. They're actually pointing to that as a sign of divine favor.

That is widely believed by the fundamentalists. Now that's pretty dangerous. He's already saying Congress doesn't have a right to rule me as commander in chief, but he clearly goes beyond that. Courts don't. The electorate doesn't. What does that tell us? Nobody does. The UN Charter obviously does not, in his view. Anything else ... treaties mean nothing, no constraints, he's answerable only to God.

How reliable is his channel to God? A God, by the way, who made George Bush our president. (What would that say, to the rest of us, about God?)

He has said on more than one occasion that God told me to attack Saddam Hussein and I did. And I've said to audiences, he was wrong. He was mistaken. That was not God. I feel very sure about this.

I've discovered that I do have some theological preconceptions, more than I would have thought. That's one of them. When you hear a voice you take to be God that tells you to invade a country that has not attacked and is no threat to us, get a second opinion. In this country, from Congress.

I think we should ask that of our president. That principle is in our Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, which if you want a lesson from Vietnam, I would put this one right at the top: it's the war powers clause. And it's Congress shall declare war, not in consultation with the president, not the president with the consent of the Congress. Congress shall declare war.

There are ambiguities there that can be exploited. And it's generally accepted that if it's a question of an ongoing attack or an imminent attack on our forces the president has the right as commander in chief to repel that attack while waiting for approval of Congress and if necessary, the UN. He can claim an immediate self-defense issue and presidents have very often acted on that. But if it's a question of a war, not repelling an attack, then the claim of various presidents - that declaration of war is obsolete and the Congress is no longer the critical decision-maker - should be rejected. That's the lesson I draw now.

That article was put in to keep the president from acting on his own, whoever his advisor is. Going to war on his own, whether his advisor is his wife or Robert McNamara or Karl Rove or God, is not adequate. It's Congress that should make that decision.

I've now come to understand as a former executive official, that was a very wise constitutional provision. The decision to be at war should be in the hands of a large number of people from all over the country who are subject to reelection every two years.

And that the public is aware of debate on it.

There should be public debate. Barbara Lee was exactly right in her lone vote against the initial authorization to attack Afghanistan on the grounds not that it was necessarily wrong to attack the Taliban in that case or Afghanistan, but that it should not be made as a blank check by Congress to the president without hearings and without debate. She was the single person who was right-minded on that. Why was she the one? She has some very interesting answers in the case of her own life history.

But can't we aspire to having more than one? Strictly speaking, she and Dennis Kuchinich the next year did organize 123 to vote against a blank check for war on Iraq. Not enough, but better than one. And 23 Senators in the case of Iraq versus zero the year before. So you can do better.

Can we aspire right now for some Republicans to join Democrats in bill of impeachment? Is that easy? No. Is it impossible? I'm not ready to say that yet. I don't think it's impossible. Could you get a majority or enough of them if the Democrats were all united? That's not impossible. Obviously, very unlikely. But that's what we have to aim at.

I saw an article that said that people as an experiment went to college campuses with some of the Bill of Rights and said will you sign this, saying that you think that this should be the law of the land, and a majority of college students said it was too radical. I think the one they were focusing on was free speech.

A lot of people take these things for granted and assume that we're all committed to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, which is certainly wrong. And rather than say, well, if we discuss this too much and we put it up for a vote - and I would agree, I don't want a constitutional convention on this one - if we put it up for a vote, if we even debate it, you'll get opposition, you know: It will make things worse. Let's just let sleeping dogs lie. Well, this dog ain't sleeping. So I think people should take the president on, on his challenge, on the question of whether 9/11 calls for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Practically speaking, Congress has long accepted that the Cold War and everything since then, the nuclear age, essentially invalidates Article 1, Section 8, the role of Congress on war and foreign policy. They've accepted that and I think they were terribly wrong to do that. A guy that I despised at the time for the Taft-Hartley Bill, Robert Taft, said in 1950, you are setting a terrible precedent here by going into Korea without a declaration from Congress. And I thought, oh, Taft, the isolationist, you know. But he was absolutely right. There's no question in my mind that what I thought was fine at the time was wrong, going in there without a declaration of war. That was a very bad precedent and presidents have relied on it ever since.

You've expressed to me before that you think an official secrets act would be one of the results of another 9/11. How would that affect us?

Here's the difference it would make if we did pass an official secrets act and it was signed. I found in audiences that almost no journalists or lawyers know the following points: (a) that we don't have an official secrets act; (b) that an official secrets act was passed in late October of 2000; and (c) that although it was supported by attorney general Janet Reno in its final form and so was expected to be signed by Clinton in fact, after protesting editorials in just the week after it was passed, he vetoed it. And that's why we don't have an official secrets act. That was the first time it had ever gone to a vote, first time it had been passed, but it wasn't signed. Obviously, Bush would sign now.

The difference that will make is that the treatment of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper and the others who were brought before the grand jury, that will be standard, daily, until reporters just stop reporting classified information, anything but handouts. What I mean is, in Miller's and Cooper's case, the prosecutor had a clear-cut law, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is a narrowly defined official secrets act. Why has Congress legislated that, and two other narrow secrets acts relating to nuclear weapons data and communications intelligence? On the grounds that they deal with a relatively definable, narrow amount of information which generally the public doesn't need to know and which involve a high percentage of cases in which revelation would be damaging to national security. So they say, okay, in these cases we can live with what amounts to that degree of abridgement of the First Amendment. The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press. Well, these are slight departures from that, compromises - which I generally accept - but no president has yet signed a bill saying that any and every revelation of anything marked classified is criminal.

If they say - as in England and most other coutries - that to leak anything that is classified is a crime, then you have a perfect legal basis for pulling reporters with their byline over that information in front of a grand jury and say, we're not going after you, but a crime has been committed. Just tell us who committed it.

When a broad official secrets act like that gets signed after the next 9/11, then any time there is a leak of classified information or just information that they have all these new categories for, sensitive information, anything, just anything ... it'll be like China, you know. They would like to be like China, where everything is secret. You can't put out anything that's not from official sources essentially. There are people in prison for publishing in Hong Kong an official speech days before it was to be delivered. Well, they would like to have that here.

Well, what can we do? What can we as citizens do?

It occurred to me today that this is a time when you should be having a debate on the republican - small "r" - principles[,] on the requirements of a republic, how we should operate, the way there was a debate from about the 1760's, about 10 years before the revolution. You had this debate that continued not just through 1789 but it continued until at least you had the Bill of Rights ratified. So you had about a 20-year or 30-year period when the country was really saying, What are our rights? What rights do we want? What kind of country do we want? After all, when they started they thought they might have a monarchy.

I have to say with the country as it is today, in the actually existing democracy ... you know the phrase, "actually existing socialism?" Think of the phrase, "actually existing democracy." Well, that's without Article 1, Section 8, for example. That's without Congressional war powers. That's with an awful lot of surveillance going on right now, that's with virtually one party controlling the Congress and the president, that's where we actually are.

How can we prevent this country being turned into a police state by this administration in the next three years? That's what I think is facing us and I have not talked in those terms at any other time in my life. We've already seen that the hope for tying up this administration in various ways prior to another 9/11 has been given us essentially by leaks. The Abu Ghraib leak, the secret prisons, NSA. Plus a demonstration of incompetence and corruption in Katrina. That's a major factor there.

I would say that with actually existing democracy, as it is right now, if there's a big terrorist attack, our actually existing democracy will not protect us against a transition to a police state. I don't believe we will be able to avoid that. I hope I'm wrong. even when I'm certain about something, I'm often wrong. Right now, I'm working with others in hopes of making that prediction wrong.

I think before a police state happens we do have enough to work with that we can have some effect on these other things. Really, I'm a hell of a lot more hopeful than I was four months ago. And the crucial aspect of that has been determined by leaks, and the public's response to them, limited and inconclusive as that has been so far.

We need more leaks, and public pressure for democrats to respond to them as if they were an opposition party--and for some Republicans to respond like Americans more than partisans. That can give us a real chance--which I hardly imagined six months ago--for a Democratic congress in 2006, followed by investigations, impeachment proceedings, new Democratic leaders (not the current ones) in 2008 ... altogether, movement away from an abyss.

1:30 PM  

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