A Conversation With Dan Ellsberg On Assange And The State Of Journalism
Shadowproof and Project Censored present a conversation between Kevin Gosztola and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to mark the release of Kevin’s book, “Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange.”
The book is available today, March 7, from Censored Press and Seven Stories Press. It is a crucial and compelling guide to the United States government’s case against the WikiLeaks founder and the implications for press freedom.
“Kevin Gosztola is a rare journalist who understands the abominable threat that the case against Assange poses to press freedom,” says Daniel. “I rely on his indispensable reporting not only to stay informed about Assange, but also to follow developments in the wider war on whistleblowers.”
Daniel has spent many decades sharing not only his experiences as a Nixon-era whistleblower but also showing support for fellow whistleblowers, who have faced similar attacks. He testified at the extradition trial against Assange in the United Kingdom in September 2020. He is also a board member for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
We thank Daniel for his generosity, and all the kindness he has shown to whistleblowers and independent journalists while standing up for peace and truth-telling.
Below is the conversation between Kevin and Daniel on Guilty of Journalism.
The following is a transcript of the conversation with minor edits for clarity.
GOSZTOLA: We’re fast approaching the fourth anniversary of Julian Assange being thrown out of the Ecuador embassy and put into jail. Though we don’t have to get into all the details, especially given the life announcement you made recently, I just want to ask you about the passage of time as it applies to Julian Assange because it’s something that I think about as I follow this case.
What I wrote about in my book, we’re talking about events that unfolded 13-14 years ago. The passage of time has usually factored into criminal cases. Sometimes it is weighed against hem when you’re considering bringing a case against a person. But Julian Assange has considered figures like Michael Ratner, who is no longer with us who was a really good human rights attorney who represented him, [as a mentor]. He’s lost Gavin MacFadyen, who was a figure in some way that he looked up to. So I’d like to get your view about what you consider most alarming about the fact that this keeps marching onward and doesn’t have a resolution yet.
ELLSBERG: On the one hand, [the U.S. government] would be very happy to bring him to trial in Alexandria in particular, to extradite him and get him on trial, and with the expectation that in the post-9/11 world of law and attitude that he would be convicted. The Supreme Court has never yet ruled on the constitutionality of applying the Espionage Act to anyone other than a spy, who gives secret information to a foreign power generally with intent to harm the United States especially in wartime. That’s where it’s been used exclusively before my case in 1971.
I was the first one tried as they said for a non-espionage case under the so-called Espionage Act. That’s not it’s official name, as you know. It’s 18 U.S.C. 793, especially paragraphs (d) and (e). As a non-lawyer—I’m not a lawyer I’m a defendant—that’s the one law I can trip off my tongue easily because I was the first non-spy, and they didn’t accuse me of being a spy. People misreported that often. But the [first] person who was not being charged with espionage to be charged under the act, and both paragraphs (d) and (e).
[793(e)] is particularly for people who did not have authorized access to the material for which they were a source. I was an authorized person with the Pentagon Papers to have it, as was Chelsea Manning when she had access to the material that she gave over. That’s true in most of the cases that have been brought.
It’s never been brought before against a journalist, as you know—and despite [former New York Times executive editor] Bill Keller’s despicable, I would say, allegation that he doesn’t recognize Julian Assange as a journalist. That’s partly due to the fact that most journalists do not really regard sources as part of the process.
Journalism begins with the person I give it to, and the source is sort of, I’ve come to realize, is sort of like a policeman’s criminal informant, a snitch who disobeys the rules of his organization. If he’s in the mafia, he’s subject to death. Even if he’s not in the mafia, he’s a criminal. And he’s very, very useful to the policeman. [The police don’t] want to share him with any other police person because it’s useful information. He wants to build his career on that information, but he doesn’t really have much respect or concern.
I will say that journalists do show a great deal of concern for concealing the identity of a source, and I’m sorry if I sound cynical here. I’m talking out of a good deal of experience of talking to whistleblowers other than myself. They don’t feel that journalists in the end have shown as much concern as they expected, often in the beginning.
I actually don’t know a whistleblower who regrets what she or he has done. Even when they’ve almost all—you know them only when the law has entrapped them, not the anonymous ones. But I’ve talked to a lot of them. I’ve made it my effort to meet a lot of them because I identify with them, and I’ve been through the mill and I can give them some advice and reassurance and generally my admiration for what they’ve done. I’ve found that it’s very hard to find one who ends the process without great complaint against the journalist they’ve dealt with.
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that before as a generalization, or even as a selective case. Because they don’t fight them. They’re happy that the material got out, as certainly I am for example. But they all are, they’re happy the material got out in nearly all cases. There’s a few where they didn’t really intend it. And they generally start out with a really friendly relationship with the journalist, and in some cases, certainly mine and others, you feel you’re part of a movement, say against war or nuclear weapons or invention or [for] the Constitution.
You sort of assume that the journalist is on your side as a liberal. That’s who you’re dealing with. Or a progressive, even if their editors are not that liberal or progressive. But you sort of start out with the assumption—and they encourage this assumption—that we’re together on this somehow. We’re getting this out. It seems a very natural presumption. If people are against the war, they welcome the opportunity to put out some truth that might shorten it.
But it turns out, as these people nearly all find out, that the concern either for keeping their identity, or how they present the materials, does not really extend to the source very much. They don’t really regard them as being on the same team as the source may originally mistakenly imagine.
The Times Treated Assange In A Manner That Was Familiar
Coming back to Assange, I perceived immediately that he was treated in a way very familiar to me by the Times, even terribly [and] contemptuously. Bill Keller may be in some ways that I don’t know a very fine person and a good journalist. From what I do know of him and his treatment of Chelsea Manning and Assange and others, he’s a horse’s ass, one of the jerks of the world. [chuckles] Elon Musk is revealing himself in those terms.
When Bill Keller says I don’t recognize him as a journalist and then he prints a [New York Magazine] story introducing the world to Julian Assange, which describes him as this unkempt character looking like a bag lady—Look, we’re talking about a computer guy who lives at night on his computer, pretty much. Or around the clock. He was originally a hacker, as some of the others. This is his life. So he didn’t look like a Times reporter, which I guess has some of the standards of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI agents. And he smelled bad.
Now, when was the last time you saw that described of anyone? Have you ever heard anyone described as smelling bad? This is a source. So Julian didn’t expect that kind of treatment. He was rather dismayed by it, and I had to say Julian. I could have told you what would come here.
I haven’t ever publicized it at all. I can tell you why. But I was treated even worse than that by the New York Times Magazine section in a disastrous profile that was done of me, which was misleading in almost every paragraph. And I’ve never talked about that publicly.
Why don’t any of the leakers or sources come out like me and criticize the dealing with the papers, or the papers as they see them? Because we want to get the word out. It’s got to be through a newspaper. No one wants to antagonize media. And like any profession, they don’t like criticism, even of their colleagues. Even if they don’t like those particular colleagues. It’s like lawyers and doctors. They don’t testify against each other, and they don’t like to hear it. You may want to get something else out, as certainly I did.
I never wanted to antagonize the New York Times. As you know, I’m coming to a point here, where I don’t have to worry whether I antagonize the New York Times. So I will say, and I’m not going to go into details, my dealings with the New York Times were not less frustrating than those of Julian Assange and some of the others. I do think of that as a defect because of their craft. Because they could get an awful lot more information if they had more respect for sources, and if they probed for what’s there, which they generally don’t.
Sometimes they do. Good investigative reporters, certainly, [like] Sy Hersh, who doesn’t try to maintain to government officials by dining with them, and playing tennis with them, and being part of their club, the officials club.
“They Don’t Like Civil Disobedience”
Let me get away from the relations with the sources to a more general point. It’s the kind of thing you cover, Kevin. I’ve often been asked, how do you weigh the way the press is doing compared to 1971 when they printed the Pentagon Papers? And I got more coverage than I could have dreamed of, that is the papers did. Because of the effort by Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell, disastrous to them, of trying to enjoin the New York Times. And then, when I gave it to the Post, they enjoined the Post. So I gave it to one paper after another.
A friend of mine, Gar Alperovitz, who didn’t want to be known as a source until recently, a wonderful historian and scholar—He was very involved in this process for other reasons. I was inclined to put it all out. We didn’t have the web then, but to get it out before the FBI could make me stop it. He said no. I’ll give him credit for this. He said do it one at a time. He had worked for Congress. He says stretch it out. That will give more attention to it.
The effect was there were four injunctions, and then they stopped because they simply realized they could not stop this. It eventually got to 17 newspapers I recall. The prosecution had to say we can’t stop this with injunctions. I remember the prosecutor saying it’s like trying to herd bees. They’re just out there.
That was a glorious moment for the press, which they take almost no credit for. It was a wave of civil disobedience, which is what they were doing. Not one of them wanted to acknowledge that because they don’t like civil disobedience. They don’t get treated well; in particular, the New York Times.
For instance, Abe Rosenthal, the managing editor of the New York Times, did a wonderful job getting this through and getting the documents in despite the fact that he supported the [Vietnam War]. I don’t give him credit for that, but I give him a lot of credit as a newsman for getting this stuff out despite the fact that it contradicted policies that he had supported.
[chuckles] Okay, I’ll tell you something I’ve never said publicly. A friend of mine on the Times informed me that Abe Rosenthal hated me. What? How could that be? First, I’m an antiwar activist, and he didn’t respect any of them. He was for the war. So as an establishment person, he didn’t like the Berrigans. He didn’t like David Harris, and he didn’t like me.
But more important than that, he was furious at me—I was told very authoritatively—because by revealing my identity to Walter Cronkite and otherwise while the FBI was searching for me, I had taken the attention away from the New York Times. It had become a Daniel Ellsberg story, to a considerable extent, instead of we have a anonymous source; a reason why I think they love their sources to be anonymous. Obviously, it’s for the benefit of the source to a large extent, but it turns out also for the press. They don’t have to share attention for their revelations [with] the source.
I said to the person I was talking to that I had always made it clear to Neil Sheehan on the Times that if I was indicted, which was almost certain but not quite certain. I was not aware of any indictments, but I assumed there had been and that I just didn’t happen to be aware of them. But I assumed if there’s been so few that even I don’t know about them from being in the government for a decade, seeing a lot of leaks. They must have known the source in a number of those cases. Others they didn’t. But often they must have known who the source was, and [the Justice Department] didn’t seem to indict them, as far as I could see.
I didn’t know that that was for constitutional reason. They felt they didn’t have a British-type Official Secrets Act. And they don’t. The British who didn’t have a war of independence, a revolution. And they do have a monarch who cannot impeached. He’s above the law. So we made some advances in terms of freedom and democracy in our war of independence. And because we don’t have, as you point out in your book right at the beginning—We do not have a British-type Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes any and all release of protected information that they don’t want out. Just [basically], did you do it?
Now, that’s the way they’re using the Espionage Act since my case, and above all, by Obama, then Trump, and now Biden.
‘The Guardian As A Whole Doesn’t Look Good’
GOSZTOLA: The media is something that I deal with in the book, and we wanted to make sure that we raised that Andrew Cockburn did this fantastic feature story for Harper’s Magazine called “Alternative Facts: How the media failed Julian Assange.” And he also incorporated some details from my book into the feature. He used it as a kind of guide to help him question and account for all the misrepresentations that the media, these news organizations particularly in the US but also at the Guardian, have engaged in collectively.
A good example is David Leigh and even Nick Davies saying Julian Assange said that Afghan informants “deserve to die.” That was something that was quoted in a PBS FRONTLINE documentary. Der Spiegel journalists say he never expressed anything of that nature. It’s been used to defame Julian Assange.
ELLSBERG: Let me say since you’ve just given that anecdote. I want to take advantage of this since this is one of my last late interviews in life. You may have noticed I’m using language that I really have never used before, and I’m criticizing the media in a way I was afraid to do like other sources. I don’t want to antagonize people that I might want to share stories eventually with, but that’s not going to go on.
Okay, David Leigh and Nick Davies and the other people who said that, who with Luke Harding revealed the password that enabled these State Department cables to be released. They had done it in their book. But in their general attacks from the Guardian on this major source, I can identify David Leigh as another jerk, a real, real jerk.
The Guardian as a whole doesn’t look good. Alan Rusbridger, the editor, pretty good at printing this stuff. But the people under him have an almost campaign against Julian. It’s bizarre. I don’t know, have to go into that. Very bad performance. I started to generalize, and I didn’t say it in my monologue here. People would ask me how the press is doing.
I said there’s two ways to answer that. One is terribly but better than any other institution in our government structure. Look at the Supreme Court in recent years, Congress, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party. [chuckles] No use even talking about that now. So the press looks better than any of those. Another way of saying it is they’re better than any other institution but terribly. They’re doing terribly.
What was it? Twenty years after the Pentagon Papers for the Gulf War, and then for the Iraq War. Each case they were as misled by the executive as willingly, as easily as Vietnam. There was no improvement there. Rightly so, the government has even found new ways to suppress truth in the press. But they go along with it pretty easily.
How Do We Know They’ll Print It?
GOSZTOLA: One of my favorite movies of all time, which is from the era of film-watching that you were doing. I remember in your Secrets book that you mention seeing “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid“ with Howard Zinn. But another Robert Redford film that is quintessential to a conversation —
ELLSBERG: Day of the Condor!
GOSZTOLA: “Three Days of the Condor,” yes. And I want to say that question at the end, where we see the New York Times and the CIA company man asks, how do you know they’ll print it? I think that’s something that should enter our conversation here.
ELLSBERG: How did he say it?
GOSZTOLA: How do you know they’ll print it? That’s what the CIA man says to Robert Redford at the end. Because Robert Redford’s character Joe Turner says that he’s just blown the whistle on the underground assassination network inside the CIA, and he’s gone inside the New York Times building and he’s given [them] the allegations. And as he’s walking away, the CIA man—this is the Cliff Robertson character—looks at Robert Redford’s character and says—
This is kind of him saying that you didn’t necessarily beat us because how do you know that the news media is going to publish your claims about our underground assassination network. We’ve talked about how the media demeans sources. They don’t want to share ownership. But we have countless examples in the last 20 years of journalists flat out not publishing material that was brought to their attention. And I think that’s something that we have to contemplate too in this case with Julian Assange and the way that the government has been able to go to war with WikiLeaks.
Because what WikiLeaks did was publish material that probably the New York Times and the Washington Post would not have published, and it put them in the position where they had to deal with the fact that material they wouldn’t publish was now being shared by all of us and they didn’t want to have to deal with it in their newspapers.
ELLSBERG: Good question. It brings me back to someone I was discussing a little earlier.
I remember “Three Days of the Condor.” My memory of the ending is that he looks up at the triangular building, the New York Times building, with the crawl that goes underneath. Isn’t that right? But I didn’t remember the question that you just mentioned, which is, how do you know they’re going to publish it?
Well, they had just shown definite courage [it was 1975], as did the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers, who each of them defied the attorney general. He didn’t use the word treason, but he implied it. This is against the national security right at this moment. And the president was saying it. They said we’ve looked at it, not very long in some cases. They went with the New York Times example, which is why the New York Times is such an important place to put this. And they decided the attorney general was wrong. They didn’t agree that it endangered national security.
Of course, I’m the good whistleblower now because 50 years later no one has ever found any way in which it endangered national security. By the way, Irwin Griswold, who represented the government in the civil case to enjoin the New York Times and the others, had said at the time it endangers national security. Years later, at a conference and in an op-ed in the Washington Post said I never saw any reason to believe that this endangered national security. It contradicted what he said before the Supreme Court, but then again he’s a lawyer and not a defense lawyer.
‘Let Me Tell You A Secret That I’ve Never Told’
Can you be sure that they’ll print this stuff? Let me tell you a secret that I’ve never told. Why not? I’m not holding anything back now, and you’ll see why I was reluctant before.
A year ago, just about exactly a year ago, I gave the New York Times and Charlie Savage a 350-page study by my old colleague Morton Halperin, who had done a top secret study for the Rand Corporation. Two-thirds of it had been declassified, but a third of it was still classified. And it had to do with the nuclear threats we had made and were ready to carry out to protect Taiwan from Chinese assault and even the offshore islands, a mile and a half from the mainland, which they regarded as part of the defense of Taiwan.
The Economist had just had a piece on the cover showing Taiwan with cross-hairs on it. It said it’s the most dangerous place in the world. So I wanted to reveal to the American public—I think it the study was done in 1964, 1966, more than half a century ago. It’s time for people to know that we thought it then. Taiwan was worth blowing up the world, starting a nuclear event.
Eisenhower expected, he said, in secret communications, the part that he had not declassified—He expected the Russians to respond with nuclear attacks. Which would mean, as I knew having worked on the war plans in 1961, in the Eisenhower period, even a non-nuclear attack on American forces, and we had American forces in Taiwan. Any attack would call for an all-out attack on Russia or the Soviet Union and China.
What he was saying was if this blockade on the offshore islands and we can’t break it just by going through it if they’re shelling our ships, we’re going to do something that begins the process of destroying the northern hemisphere. They didn’t know about nuclear winter then, which would also take out the southern hemisphere. Okay, so I release that to the New York Times, and of course, revealed myself as the source. Charlie Savage did a good story on this.
I said I would welcome, and I was younger then but not a lot younger, a year younger. I was 91. So I said I would be glad to prosecuted on this because I’m not going to bargain plea. The others have pled bargains in almost every case to get only 30 or 40 months in prisons or 55 or something like that. Rather than a life sentence, and I’d been charged with what amounted to a life sentence, 115 years. Julian is facing 175 years, but in both cases, that’s basically a life sentence.
But I said a life sentence to me doesn’t mean what it used to mean 50 years ago. I wasn’t ready to face that then, but a life sentence isn’t going to weigh on me too heavily. I’m 91. No prosecution for this.
Alright, so what I hadn’t told Charlie. I’ll now reveal it. I hope he doesn’t mind too much. I hadn’t told him because I thought it might deter him from this scoop—That I had given this study when it was all top secret to Tom Wicker of the New York Times, a friend of mine, wonderful journalist. I think he’s probably a Pulitzer Prize winner. I think he was head then of the Washington office. I’m not sure. But I gave it to him on my way to give to Japanese political parties.
I put it out in Japan. I had a press conference. Never talked about this publicly. Every party was represented except the main party. The liberals control them. It’s essentially a one-party state but has a lot of other parties under it. So they were all there, and I put this on the table. I said you should know that Japan was very explicitly in this study a hostage, would be treated as a nuclear target if we started a nuclear war—for one thing because all of our warships had nuclear weapons in Japanese harbor, which the public didn’t know and their government denied.
We had American bases there. Planes would be coming off from Japan. So I thought the Japanese public deserved to know that the president was secretly endangering them at this time.
Then, on my way to Japan I thought, better if I make sure that the Americans have this before I give it to foreigners. So, on my way to Japan, I duck in to Washington, and I give this Tom Wicker. None of it ever appeared. So what Charlie Savage revealed last year had been in the hands of the New York Times—this would have been something like ’82. That’s 40 years ago.
I thought if I mentioned that they had it and chose not to run it then that might discourage him. He might look a little deeper into whether he should run it now. I can understand that. So I didn’t mention it to him. I didn’t lie, but I didn’t reveal that particular part of the past.
I also thought it’s going to be hard for them. Frankly, they can prosecute me. But I’ve got a pretty good case here because they know perfectly well that I gave this to these parties in Japan, and the Japanese have an ability—It was in a parliament building, the Diet Building. They use their regular Diet stenographers, or translators. They translate it into Japanese almost overnight. It’s like the congressional record. So it was available in Japan. This top secret study.
An International Herald Tribune reporter was at this press conference, and I’ve forgotten his name. He writes a long story about what I said to the press, which had a lot to do with Taiwan, other things about our relations to Japan. I told them a lot of things. And he didn’t mention that I put an explicitly top secret study on the table in front of these people, who immediately copied it. It’s not in the story, and it’s a long story.
There could only have been a phone call from somebody who said that’s top secret. Don’t run it. Must have checked it with somebody. It’s not mentioned. It was never mentioned in the press in the U.S. that I had done this. So I didn’t get prosecuted that time. This was after the Pentagon Papers.
Criminalizing Journalists For Protecting Their Sources
GOSZTOLA: One last question and then we will end this interview. I want to first bring up the fact that since you mentioned Edward Snowden we should raise the matter of how the third indictment against Julian Assange incorporated the support that WikiLeaks provided to Edward Snowden as a source—
ELLSBERG: Oh, I’m not sure I knew that. Hmm.
GOSZTOLA: Yes, it’s in there. In June 2020, they criminalized WikiLeaks for sending Sarah Harrison to Hong Kong to help Edward Snowden. And of course, we know the story. He gets stuck in the Moscow airport because his passport revoked. I wonder if you could draw a parallel to Pentagon Papers. You disclose them to journalists, and if any journalists had been accused of helping you evade the FBI, would they have been legally liable if we’re going to apply the way the Justice Department is pursuing Assange now?
ELLSBERG: As I discussed with Charlie Savage at the time, just to make sure this is all clear, there is no question that he and the Times editors, who approve this, and the secretaries who dealt with it on the Times, were as indictable as I was under the plain language of the act, which needs to be amended in various ways. Which has been proposed by the way by Rashida Tlaib, a different version from Tulsi Gabbard’s earlier.
Savage is as indictable. That’s the way it is, and the publisher, yes. [DOJ] have until now refrained naturally from taking on the New York Times, and for a lot of reasons. I’ll just mention one. Carl Bernstein wrote a long piece in Rolling Stone. Why in Rolling Stone? He couldn’t get it published anywhere else, and it was a long piece about CIA dealings with journalists in which he said 500 journalists had aided the CIA knowingly. I think 500 had security clearances or non-disclosure agreements, which would seem to compromise them as journalists significantly.
[Note: According to Bernstein’s report, the CIA had dealt with 400 journalists. At least 200 had signed agreements or some form of a contract.]
Bernstein said their number one asset was the New York Times for getting out information. Conceal this, and we’ll give you that. I could give you many examples, but we’ve been going on for a long time. And that’s true for the Times of course.
The CIA did not want to take on the Times, even though it does expose things infrequently that they don’t want out. But that just enhances the credibility of the Times from the government’s point of view, when the New York Times is doing their job. [chuckles] They’re doing it about one-tenth of the time to the extent that they should be doing it, and from the government’s point of view, we’ll accept and we won’t prosecute these people for embarrassing us occasionally.
As long as they’ll align ourselves with us, as long as they won’t put out the surveillance story for a year with [Thomas] Tamm [on NSA warrantless wiretapping]. We need that. So they don’t prosecute them—yet. And yet it has been true for a half a century. Some day, and the ACLU predicted that it would be trump who would indict a journalist, which Obama who had indicted more sources than anyone else—you go into why.
You tell a little bit more why [in your book]. It’s always puzzled me. How did he get in that position? Well, he hated leaks. Well, all presidents hate leaks. Why was it under him that there were so many prosecutions? I was learning from that at midnight last night from your book, reading it.
Trump didn’t care about that, of course. He didn’t even like the New York Times. Didn’t he call it the failing New York Times? He hated the Washington Post even more. As you mention in the book, there was an earlier effort by Nixon to prosecute the New York Times. That grand jury was dismissed before bringing indictments apparently because those people had been overheard illegally without a warrant, as I had, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, my friends. They didn’t get indicted then because almost surely they asked, have I been overheard?
Now it’s against Assange, and if Assange is convicted, if he is extradited and convicted, every journalist in the world has an x on their back, a laser target for if they print anything that is classified of the one hundred percent that is classified. Of which, five percent should be classified. Five percent is a lot, but 95 percent is even more. Say it’s a few years old.
The Charlie Savage case is 50 years old. I was looking forward to arguing in court. This is before I knew that my life would be shorter than I had expected. But I was looking forward to going to court and saying, do you really think it’s going to endanger national security? To put out information that is 50 years old? Now granted, it is very current. There is a crisis going on about Taiwan. I’m not sure I could have prevailed.
It does affect U.S. policy with respect to Taiwan, right now. That’s why I put it out. Still I would like to see them argue explicitly in court that they must protect a policy of readiness and threat to blow up the world to hold on to Taiwan, which I think would not look a lot better than Putin’s monstrous threats to blow up the world to protect Crimea, his hold in Crimea and the Donbas, which he has defined as Russia.
Now why isn’t he being denounced? That’s an unconscionable threat, immoral and insane, which it is. Well, because NATO has been making that threat for 70 years and is still doing that. Not very actively because we now have a conventional non-nuclear superiority to the Russians.
[cell phone ring interrupts]
The Warsaw Pact has changed sides, and is now in NATO. We have a huge superiority. Though we don’t need nuclear threats, they can’t denounce Putin for making these insane threats to take an insane action to initiate a nuclear war because it’s their policy. Biden needs that threat for Taiwan, where we don’t have conventional superiority in that region.
Now, do you have to threaten nuclear war to keep the Chinese from invading? No, I don’t think so. Even Putin—well, Putin may feel he has to threaten that to hold on to the Donbas against American intervention, if we intervene directly. If we do intervene directly, he will say to hold on to this part of Russia, whose existence is threatened—the Crimea, the Donbas, or Zaporizhzhia—we can do that against Ukrainians. Against American pilots directly, not so clearly. That’s where I fear he would carry out his threats to carry out a small nuclear war, which has of course every risk. You would hope not, but every risk of causing nuclear winter.
‘We Have Only A Small Chance’
I’ll say right now. Anyone in the government, in the Russian government—A citizen can’t even object to this without getting imprisoned and in many cases tortured, like Navalny, in Russia. That’s not true here. So people who object to his policy can say you should not be threatening or preparing to blow the world up. That’s a shorthand for it doesn’t kill everybody, but 90-98 percent yes—from the smoke in the stratosphere that shuts out all the sunlight and destroys all the harvests.
No nation in the world should accept without the utmost condemnation and resistance. If anyone, as I have said before in other occasions, any American I’ll speak to, but this is just as true in any other country—some of which the dangers of doing what I’m saying are much greater.
Anybody who knows that the public and the world is being lied to by their officials or that preparations are being made that may well be carried out to cause nuclear winter or to initiate nuclear war. Of course, a Russian who knows that now or someone in the U.S. who knows that about Taiwan should consider at any cost personally to tell the truth that may avert a nuclear war, or any kind of war, actually.
I can’t say they should individually do it, but if they think, they should consider doing it, what I wish I had done earlier in 1964 or ’61, when I had top secret information or access to it that could have averted the Vietnam War. Of course, I should have put that out earlier. So I say don’t do what I did. Don’t wait til the bombs are actually falling. And get it out. Get it to the New York Times, if they’ll print the documents. Get it to El Pais, Der Spiegel, even the Guardian. [chuckles] They behaved so badly with respect to Assange. Don’t expect respect or concern from the Guardian or these others, or the Times. That’s not an issue.
It’s not a question of whether you should be called names, which have kept Democrats from opposing wars for generations here; not only Vietnam but all the others. That’s not a sufficient reason for not telling the truth. So people should have the moral courage that our soldiers routinely exhibit in combat with respect to their lives. But it’s very rare to find an official who will risk her or his career, or clearance or access. Or re-election or any of this. Unless there is more moral courage in the press, in Congress, and in the military than we’ve seen in the past, I don’t think we’ll survive the consequences of climate change or avoiding nuclear war. Everything depends on it.
Even a small chance of affecting the ripping apart of the Constitution, as in Snowden’s case, or of ending a war and avoiding a war’s worth of lives at stake, of course it’s worth any personal cost to consider, and to do it. We have only a small chance, but everything is at stake. It’s worth pursuing it.
You’re in a potentially noble confession, Kevin. And you didn’t mention in this excellent article in Harper’s by Andrew Cockburn, who is terrific on the question of the military industrial-complex and on how the media failed Julian Assange, terrific article—You naturally didn’t mention that you were the single investigative journalist who is singled out by name in your book and in your reporting for having covered this properly, courageously, and meticulously and so, I give you that tribute too just as Andrew does. And I think others will avail themselves of your information in your book.
GOSZTOLA: Let’s end there, Dan. I really appreciate your time, and I thank you again for the endorsement that you gave to the book. I wish you the best. You seem like you’re at peace, and I’m very happy for you.
ELLSBERG: Well, the world is not at peace. But we’re doing what we can.
GOSZTOLA: John Shipton, Julian Assange’s father, calls it the difficulty of destiny. This is what is chronicled in the film that’s touring the country right now in the United States. That Julian Assange’s brother [Gabriel Shipton] produced. I’m just mentioning it and plugging it in addition to my book because there are screenings that people who watch this stream or broadcast will be able to go see in different locations.
But the difficulty of destiny. Not the idea that an individual can be a hero and change the world but the idea that people who are trapped in these predicaments, in these circumstances, have to struggle and try to transform it. These Belmarsh tribunals that we participated in, rallies, the pressuring of Congress people. We’re all trapped in these predicaments, and it’s all up to us to try and transform it.
Thank you very much, Dan.
ELLSBERG: Thank you for the chance.