Daniel Ellsberg, releaser of the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg, releaser of the Pentagon Papers Flickr user Steve Rhodes

Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden Kept His Oath Better Than Anyone in the NSA

That sort of civic courage should inspire other Americans to follow suit, he said.

Daniel Ellsberg, the celebrated leaker of the Pentagon Papers, said in a conversation last weekend with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden that every human sometimes bites their tongue when they witness something that they know to be wrong—and blood often flows as a result. Due in part to lies during the Vietnam War, he said, millions of people were needlessly killed. At home, tobacco executives successfully hid the cancerous nature of their products. More recently, as GM customers died in their cars, the company kept mum about a defect. 

The standard he'd like to see set instead? "Snowden was the one person in the fucking NSA who did what he absolutely should have done," he said. "How many people should've done what you did! We all took the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution. There are people who violate it all the time. There are people who are against it, like Cheney and some others. But when it comes to upholding that oath, no one in the U.S. military services, including the commander in chief, has fulfilled her oath to defend and support the Constitution like Chelsea Manning. And no one in the executive branch, or in any branch, has fulfilled the oath to uphold and protect the Constitution as well as you, so thank you."

Snowden and Manning should inspire other Americans to speak out upon seeing what they know to be wrong, Ellsberg argued, even when doing so entails personal sacrifice. The remarks came at the end of a monologue during Hope X, a hacker conference in New York City. The whole part on "civic courage" is worth a read.

Ellsberg begins by addressing Snowden:

I was struck by something you said in Vanity Fair, which was that every one of us has seen things that are wrong, that should be known, that should be exposed, and we have turned our eyes away because we were intimidated. I believe that's true of every human on earth. There are times when they bite their tongues or keep their mouths shut because to reveal it would lose a relationship, or a job, or a career. Then you said, but there comes a time when the level of wrongness or inhumanity is so great that you have to cross over that line. 

I thought, that's Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who did that. How many others? Most people never do reach that line. They never do reach a point where they decide to risk their own status, their relationships, their job. And many of them have been tested on things like the continuation of a wrongful war; hundreds of thousands of lives, 500,000 lives lost each year in the case of tobacco. And only two people spoke out. Look at GM. It's a only a handful, but it's striking how they covered it up. How many people at GM knew that lives were being lost? Who spoke out? Nobody, I don't think so. 

What I hope, Ed, is that you will inspire more people to take even significant risks ... there will always be risks. And the willingness to take that risk, for civilians, is very rare. 

As you may know, it was Bismarck of all people who said courage on the battlefield is very common in our country, Prussia at that point. But civil courage is another matter, it's very rare. Before Manning and Snowden I'd almost given up on it.

You're an example of it.

And Manning. He got a lot of attention, but he didn't get the effect in this country, except for getting our troops home from Iraq, that you did. Why? Because I think Manning was showing what we were doing to other people in the Third World. Others. Not us. And in my case, was the effect because of the millions of Vietnamese who were being killed wrongly? Every one of them was wrong. When I read the Pentagon Papers and realized for the first time that from the very beginning we were supporting a French colonial reconquest of a country, which I thought of us un-American, whether it was illegal internationally or not, I saw every death in Vietnam as being unjustified homicide. To me that was murder, mass murder, and I couldn't be part of that anymore. Well, the American people didn't respond, I'm sorry to say, on the whole, to the mass murder, but there were 58,000 Americans in the process of dying then, see. And in your case, Ed, it wasn't so much directly dying, but you exposed what was being done to us. And people are objecting to that.

I think we have to have a different standard, and you show the possibility of it. Your colleagues in NSA, as you said, agreed with you, many of them, that this is wrong. But I have a mortgage, I have a marriage, I have children to send to college. And that was enough. Even though we're talking about this massive intrusion. It's a new world, basically, that people need to know about. So it shouldn't be only you. And I would hope that some of your colleagues, who I would suspect—from my experience, if you were in a room with your former colleagues now, I would expect them to leave that room. If you can tell me that a former colleague from NSA has in any way communicated with you to say you've done the right thing, in any way, I would guess there are zero like that, which was my experience at the Rand Corporation. You lose every friend you have who has a clearance. And that's all your friends. 

But you're not made of sugar, as you've shown. I saw you say yesterday, "If I were in chains at Guantanamo, I could live with that." Well, that doesn't surprise me, Ed. That's the person I find you to be. It's a pretty unusual statement, isn't it? Well, let's make it a little less unusual. You went in the special forces and had your legs broken, didn't go over. I used my Marine training in Vietnam as a civilian. I'd been a Marine company commander in peacetime. And so I used that training in Vietnam. I saw combat. I walked with troops in combat. There you see courage, physical courage, every minute, every day. People doing the job, going to save their comrades. That kind of courage is marvelous. As a marine once said at Iwo Jima, uncommon courage was a common virtue. Okay, right. When you're doing it for the commander in chief, for the boss, with the applause of your country–usually you don't get the applause, most of it is anonymous, but you know they would approve you if they knew of it, and would hold you accountable if you didn't do it.

We should have a different standard for our civilian officials, as well as, I don't know if you regarded yourself as an official, but also for the middle level person.

It shouldn't be that you are the extraordinary hero that we thank. It should be that we should ask the question of those other people, "What made you think that you could keep this secret for so long? Keep it totally secret, keep your mouth shut?"

A lot of blood has flowed because people bit their tongue and swallowed their whistles, and didn't speak out. And it's time I think that we not prosecute them, but tell them, "That is not the way to preserve a democracy."

"You're not fulfilling your oath."

And I'll just end by saying, people ask, is he a patriot or a traitor? That drives me nuts, the very thought that people could regard you as a traitor. The ignorance of the media and the congresspeople and the other interviewers who raised that question offends me as an American, that they think that it can be traitorous to tell the truth to your fellow countrymen. Here's the standard I would like to see set: "Snowden was the one person in the fucking NSA who did what he absolutely should have done." How many people should've done what you did! I said this about Chelsea when that came out and I say it now. We all took the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution. There are people who violate it all the time. There are people who are against it, like Cheney and some others. But when it comes to upholding that oath, no one in the U.S. military services including the commander in chief has fulfilled her oath to defend and support the Constitution like Chelsea Manning.

And no one in the U.S. executive branch, or in any branch of government, has fulfilled the oath to uphold and protect the Constitution as well as you, so thank you. 

The whole conversation is here:

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.