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Daniel Ellsberg: Covert Ops ‘Provoke Our Adversaries’ To Create An Excuse For War

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 Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.

Chapter 6: US covert operations are ‘pin pricks’ that provoke larger wars

In previous chapters, Ellsberg explained the United States’ covert involvement in the conflict in Vietnam for decades prior to the official outbreak of war. In chapter 6, the whistleblower tells Menconi that would-be military analysts often look at the small scale of U.S. forces in foreign countries and wonder, “What were these pin pricks going to achieve?”

The military, Ellsberg says, knows that covert operations can’t win a war, but they can “provoke our adversaries to give us an excuse to invade them.”

This was the case with the work of the thousands of “advisors” who were on the ground in Vietnam before the military formally joined the conflict in 1965.

Daniel Ellsberg in Vietnam in 1965.

Daniel Ellsberg in Vietnam in 1965.

Ellsberg also cites U.S. operations in Cuba ahead of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when a disastrous attack on Cuba, known as the “Bay of Pigs” invasion, led to a dramatic escalation of nuclear tensions between Russia and the United States. Although U.S. officials told Congress that the paramilitary group behind the invasion was composed of independent Cuban revolutionaries, Ellsberg emphasizes that they were “100% CIA controlled” and that the Bay of Pigs was, at that time, “the largest covert operation in our history.”

Today, U.S. covert forces or advisors are found in over 100 countries, including dozens of nations in Africa. Recently, the U.S. military poured over $500 million into the effort to train “moderate” rebels to destabilize Syrian President Bashar Assad, even though U.S. military aid and weapons usually end up in the hands of al-Qaida and Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL). Many analysts believe the U.S. and its allies deliberately created Daesh to provoke profitable energy wars in the Middle East.

In chapter 6, Ellsberg and Menconi also touch on the lengths that career politicians and military officials will go to in order to maintain their positions of power. Ellsberg discusses Clark Clifford, a lawyer who advised several presidents, describing him as “a real cold warrior” — a key architect of foreign policy during the United States’ protracted proxy war with Russia.

Despite his enthusiastic support for the expansion of American empire, Clifford forecast a disaster in Vietnam, famously telling President Lyndon Johnson that he believed war would be “a catastrophe for my country” and result in 50,000 American deaths. Ultimately, the Vietnam War would kill over 58,000 American troops and over a million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.

Like Clifford, military officials close to the White House, the whistleblower explains, supported presidential policies in Vietnam, despite their knowledge that they would fail. “That’s going on today, too, of course,” Ellsberg cautioned.

Daniel Ellsberg speaks, with his hand on his heart, at a Free Chelsea Manning rally on June 1, 2013. (Flickr / Steve Rhodes)

Daniel Ellsberg speaks, with his hand on his heart, at a Free Chelsea Manning rally on June 1, 2013. (Flickr / Steve Rhodes)

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.

Left: An infamous cover of "The New Republic" magazine, showing a black woman nursing a child from a bottle while smoking a cigarette. Right: The cover to "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander.
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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and