UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 26, 2009

NEW DOCUMENTARY ON DANIEL ELLSBERG

Gaea Times - Four decades after he stunned the nation by leaking the top-secret Pentagon Papers study of the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg walks the halls of the past in his dreams. In his sleep, he imagines that he still works as a researcher at the Rand Corp., advising Pentagon officials on policy, handling classified documents, studying the science of war. "Being at Rand was the ideal life for me," Ellsberg says, almost as an afterthought. "In my dreams, I am doing classified work, trying to solve social problems."

Over the decades, Ellsberg, 78, hasn't been welcome at Rand. He committed the most startling breach of security in the company's history, walking out on Oct. 1, 1969, with the first briefcase full of classified documents destined for public release. That bold move - and the actions that followed to get them published - are the subject of a new documentary film, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers."

The movie had its West Coast premiere only a few blocks from Rand. Ellsberg, ever the agitator, sent college students with flyers to headquarters to urge his former colleagues to attend the screening and try to understand why he did what he did. None came. Ellsberg acknowledges that some wounds never heal. At a Rand reunion several years back, no one would shake his hand. When he tried to visit Rand, a nonprofit think tank providing analysis of public issues for government agencies, he was escorted out by security guards.

He had read the 7,000 page study of the Vietnam War known as The Pentagon Papers and became convinced that the history of U.S. involvement dating back to 1945 was a study in lies. He wanted to end the war and although to this day he does not take credit for that, he says his actions and those of other anti-war activists helped shorten the conflict.

The film by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith suggests his actions triggered the Watergate scandal and drove President Richard Nixon from office. There are audio tapes of Nixon railing against Ellsberg as a traitor in conversations with Henry Kissinger, who called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America."

The release of the classified study in The New York Times and in other newspapers triggered one of the most important First Amendment legal battles the country has ever seen and led to a powerful U.S. Supreme Court ruling for freedom of the press. Both Nixon and Kissinger were convinced that Ellsberg had more secret documents he planned to release and they launched an offensive that included a break-in at his psychiatrist's office and culminated in his espionage trial in Los Angeles.

The charges were dismissed and a mistrial declared because of "outrageous governmental misconduct," including the break-in and disclosures that the judge had met with Nixon during the trial and was offered the job of FBI director. All of it is depicted in the film, which is billed as a combination political thriller and love story. Early reviews have been positive.

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