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Ellsberg: Whistleblowers Needed to Expose 'Cost and Consequences' of Obama's ISIS Plan

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Daniel Ellsberg Daniel Ellsberg Flickr user Steve Rhodes

Among the many critics of President Obama’s evolving strategy for confronting the terror group ISIS is one of history’s most famous whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

“Whistleblower was not a common term” in the early 1970s at the height of national tensions over the Vietnam war, Ellsberg told reporters Thursday at an appearance sponsored by the advocacy group the Institute for Public Accuracy. “But I fit the definition,” said the former Pentagon and RAND Corp. official who turned over to senators and major newspapers 7,000 pages of classified Defense Department documents on the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Speaking at age 83 at the National Press Club, the leftist Ellsberg tore into the Obama administration’s current effort to use air power without ground troops while recruiting other nations’ help, an approach he likened to the Johnson administration’s manipulation of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident to secretly escalate the U.S. combat role fighting communists in Vietnam.

“The last few days have shown an urgent need for more whistleblowers right now,” Ellsberg said. “We need the Pentagon’s real internal analysis of the cost and consequences” of Obama’s plan, which he suspects would demonstrate that CIA and Pentagon analysts consider it a highly unrealistic way to degrade and ultimately destroy the murderous, fiercely ideological Muslim group that grew inside war-torn Syria and rapidly captured land inside Iraq.

Such whistleblowers, added Ellsberg, now working on a project called Expose Facts to provide aid and legal guidance to those who reveal government lies, should remain anonymous because they can expect to be prosecuted, jailed and denied access to the press—as occurred with WikiLeaks leaker Chelsea Manning, he said.

Drawing parallels with both the Vietnam escalation and the congressional vote for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2002, Ellsberg warned that Obama is seeking to “avoid the appearance of doing nothing,” but he will be pressured in the future to introduce ground troops into Iraq and Syria. ISIS actually wants to draw the United States in so it can portray itself as the region’s top defender against American power, he said.

Ellsberg’s own status in society, he said, “has changed into that of patriot,” judging by support he has received in recent years from such mainstream personages as Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But he said he “is offended” when the same people call National Security Agency contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden a traitor. “He is no more a traitor than I,” Ellsberg said.

(Image via Flickr user Steve Rhodes)

Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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