Daniel Ellsberg: No law against leaking Pentagon Papers, nor against Wikileaks

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Real News
January 24, 2011

Transcript – PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re in Santa Clara, California. Now joining us to talk about the WikiLeaks and his latest thinking on this issue is someone who knows a lot about leaking, Daniel Ellsberg. Daniel was a former State and Defense Department official who was prosecuted for releasing the Pentagon Papers. So, Daniel, what’s your latest thinking on the WikiLeaks controversy?


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DANIEL ELLSBERG, FMR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL, LEAKER OF PENTAGON PAPERS: Every administration hates leaks that they haven’t made themselves, that haven’t actually been authorized by their own high officials, which is the greater part of leaks. Nearly all leaks to the newspapers, so-called, are actually authorized by a boss, or even by the highest officials. So unauthorized disclosures that are truly unauthorized, real leaks, are very much a minority of what we see in the newspapers of classified information or scoops or leaks, backgrounders, and whatever. Every administration, really, would like to close all of those off, and when they talk about there being too many leaks, they mean too many of the kind we didn’t want, that we didn’t make. And that’s what WikiLeaks represents. So they would like to close down WikiLeaks as a channel for information about what they’re doing.

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JAY: What WikiLeaks is doing and will do more of has set quite a precedent, and it really shakes, at the very core, a whole fabric or structure based on the ability of governments, and particularly the US government, to keep its secrets. So it can’t let this go. It–does it not, from its view of maintaining control of information, have to really punish or undo this precedent?

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ELLSBERG: Well, most countries in the world could very straightforwardly prosecute Julian Assange, just as they are prosecuting Bradley Manning–who’s military and who is subject to military law, by the way. The US is disadvantaged, from the point of view of most dictators in the world, because we don’t have an official secrets act like Britain’s that criminalizes any and all disclosure of classified information. We have some very narrowly defined official secrets act that proscribe giving out, for example, nuclear weapons data or communications intelligence or the identities of intelligence agents, covert agents, like Valerie Plame–that was wrongly and unlawfully leaked, really, by the White House. But we don’t have a law that makes it simply criminal to put out classified information as most people assume we do. Nearly everyone assumes that. And most nations do have it. The reason we don’t is we have a First Amendment. And the idea of the First Amendment, the freedom of speech and the press–which other countries don’t have in their constitution, by and large–the reason for it was precisely to assure a flow of information to the public through the newspapers and otherwise, and for citizens to be able to discuss that among themselves freely, and expose it, resist it, and whatnot, about the shortcomings of government, about incompetence, about corruption, about wrongdoing, about aggressive war, as matter of fact, like the war we waged in Iraq against Iraq, which was a clear-cut crime against the peace, or about reckless policies or hopeless policies, like our war in Afghanistan right now, or like the war in Vietnam, which I was one of those who helped expose. That was the purpose of the First Amendment.

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This article was posted: Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm







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