Published in partnership with MintPress News.
MINNEAPOLIS — MintPress News is proud to host “Lied to Death,” a 13-part audio conversation between famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and social justice activist Arn Menconi.
Menconi wrote that these interviews are a “mixture of historical, political science and Dan’s sixty-year scholarly analysis as a former nuclear planner for Rand Corporation.”
For more information on the interview and Daniel Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.
Chapter 1: Ellsberg on the the origins of empire and the nuclear danger to humanity
In the first full chapter of “Lied to Death,” Ellsberg discusses the origins of American empire, telling Menconi that empire building goes all the way back to Sargon, the ruler of ancient Mesopotamia and history’s first emperor.
However, unlike the emperors of old, the U.S. government publicly espouses democracy while simultaneously carrying out many of the same forms of repression and manipulation that historic rulers used to gain global power, he says.
For Ellsberg, that’s where the CIA and similar forces become essential. While he believes that covert actions may be necessary for any nation to protect itself during times of war, Ellsberg tells Menconi that only an empire needs covert agencies during times of peace because those agencies help maintain the image of freedom and transparency.
“The United States is not a government with a covert operations agency named the CIA, it’s a government which has a covert foreign policy,” Ellsberg explains.
Ellsberg argues that the CIA allows the U.S. to enact this covert foreign policy, which is not meant to ensure the independence of other nations, but to “buy their dependence.” When something goes wrong, the agency protects the White House from accountability. Even when the government’s cover story for its actions is revealed to be false by the media or a whistleblower, he says “there are other cover stories and cover stories within cover stories” — all of which misdirect attention. “The president is not held accountable … and he will not be held [accountable] before history.”
Apart from the pretense of democracy, Ellsberg argues that the United States is “unremarkable” as an empire, except for a few key points, most notably its ability to use the threat of nuclear weapons.
“The danger of all-out war leading to the extinction of the human species is significant right now and always has been larger than people thought,” he tells Menconi.
He does not believe that government officials actively seek out nuclear war, understanding that it would be devastating for humanity. But Ellsberg claims the U.S. has used the threat of nuclear conflict far more frequently than the public realizes, and that government leaders consider the potential for actual nuclear war to be an “acceptable risk” in return for the power the threat confers over other nations.
The U.S. and a handful of its allies, including the United Kingdom and France, also act as nuclear kingmakers, choosing which countries will be allowed to have nuclear weapons and which will not. Unfortunately, this behavior has brought us closer to human extinction by promoting a global buildup of nuclear weapons which could be deployed at any time. Specifically, Ellsberg says U.S. foreign policy is directly responsible for the buildup of Russian nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
About Daniel Ellsberg
As sites like WikiLeaks and figures such as Edward Snowden continue to reveal uncomfortable truths about America’s endless wars for power and oil, one important figure stands apart as an inspiration to the whistleblowers of today: Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” over 7,000 pages of top secret documents, in 1971.
A military veteran, Ellsberg began his career as a strategic analyst for the RAND Corporation, a massive U.S.-backed nonprofit, and worked directly for the government helping to craft policies around the potential use of nuclear weapons. In in the 1960s, he faced a crisis of conscience while working for the Department of Defense as an assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton, where his primary duty was to find a pretext to escalate the war in Vietnam.
Inspired by the example of anti-war activists and great thinkers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., he realized he was willing to risk arrest in order to prevent more war. Lacking the technology of today’s whistleblowers, who can carry gigabytes of data in their pockets, he painstakingly photocopied some 7,000 pages of top secret documents which became the “Pentagon Papers,” first excerpted by The New York Times in June 1971.
Ellsberg’s leaks exposed the corruption behind the war in Vietnam and had widespread ramifications for American foreign policy. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state at the time, famously referred to Ellsberg as “the most dangerous man in America.”
Ellsberg remains a sought-after expert on military and world affairs, and an outspoken supporter of whistleblowers from Edward Snowden to Chelsea Manning. In 2011, he told the Chelsea Manning Support Network that Manning was a “hero,” and added:
I wish I could say that our government has improved its treatment of whistleblowers in the 40 years since the Pentagon Papers. Instead we’re seeing an unprecedented campaign to crack down on public servants who reveal information that Congress and American citizens have a need to know.