Daniel Ellsberg Sees a New Trend — Telling All while the Issue Is Hot

March 30th, 2004 - by admin

Matthew B. Stannard / San Francisco Chronicle – 2004-03-30 16:48:37


(Monday, March 29, 2004) — When famous whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg boarded a plane to Cincinnati earlier this week, he took along a little light reading: a stack of articles about former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, who has stirred controversy with allegations in his book and testimony before a special panel that the Bush White House was somewhat indifferent to al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and obsessed with Iraq afterward.

Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers documenting government misrepresentations about the Vietnam War, sees Clarke as part of a trend: well- placed individuals in the government who have gone public with books or interviews outlining their concerns and criticisms about their country’s government — while that government is still in power.

Ellsberg is not alone in that observation — observers from across the political spectrum, whether they support Clarke’s actions or not, agree that a new willingness exists to tell all far sooner, and far more publicly, than in the past.

Ellsberg cites officials such as Scott Ritter, the former lead inspector for the UN Special Commission on Concealment and Investigations team, and Katharine Gun, a British government linguist who leaked an e-mail purportedly from U.S. intelligence services asking for help spying on UN ambassadors.

Opinions differ on whether the willingness to tell all is a good thing, but to Ellsberg, who has been sharply critical of the war in Iraq and even written articles encouraging current government employees to leak what he calls “Iraq’s Pentagon Papers,” the phenomenon is a source of optimism.

‘These People Are Heroes’
“I think these people are heroes. They’re really acting appropriately in a very dangerous situation,” he said. “It’s as if we are learning about the Tonkin Gulf a month or two later instead of years later.”

Although Ellsberg, now 72 and living in Kensington, considers Clarke somewhat of a kindred spirit, he doesn’t quite see him as a whistle-blower. Clarke was no longer an employee of the administration when he spoke out and did not provide documentation to back up his accusations — accusations the administration has rejected.

Ellsberg said the only real whistle-blower of recent times is Gun, who briefly faced charges under the British Official Secrets Act and supported her claims with documents.

“I find her really admirable,” Ellsberg said, but he considers the rest remarkable, too, for being willing to go public in a way and with a speed that simply didn’t occur 40 years ago.

“Why are they acting differently from people in my generation?” he said. “We knew (Vietnam) was just as deceptive and the policy was just as bad, but we certainly weren’t tempted to leak.”

At least, not until Ellsberg did it. But since then, a number of observers said, going public early and often has become more and more acceptable, even among ranking government officials.

It certainly wasn’t acceptable in the 1950s, said Stephen Hess, who was a speechwriter for President Dwight Eisenhower and is now with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

“It was a rule of thumb that no one spoke until the president did. When the president wrote his memoir, told his story, that was when the others did,” Hess said. The exceptions, he said, were books that were rarely very critical — and even then, they were considered scandalous.

“We on the staff thought that was just in such poor form … it just wasn’t done,” he said.

The ideal at the time, Hess said, was the White House staff described by pre-World War II political scientist Louis Brownlow, who recommended that President Franklin Roosevelt’s staff should “remain in the background, issue no orders, make no decisions, emit no public statements … They should be possessed of high competence, great physical vigor, and a passion for anonymity.”

That changed markedly with the release of the Pentagon Papers. Another step came, Hess said, during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, who was criticized in public by some former staffers and was himself critical of his predecessors and later his successors — another taboo. After that, the genie was out of the bottle.

“Over time, it became an avalanche. By the time you reached Clinton, you had people that secretly had book contracts,” he said. “You had people sitting around the table keeping notes.”

Both former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris and former senior adviser George Stephanopoulos had books published while Clinton was still in office.

Clark’s Criticisms Are Unprecedented
But Clarke’s book, because of his position, may be taking the trend to a new level, said Peter Berkowitz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor of law at George Mason University Law School.

“I do think what Clarke has done is really unprecedented in our history: somebody who served as a national security adviser to the president stepping down and, while that president is still in office, blasting him,” he said. “That just hasn’t been done before.”

It is also surprising, Berkowitz said, that comments by Clarke, O’Neill, and Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, have such an impact on public policy and public discourse — even though, in his opinion, they fit into the category of disgruntled ex-employee as comfortably as whistle-blower.

“That’s actually one reason, it seems to me, to take this criticism with a grain of salt,” Berkowitz said.

The Marketing of Dissent
But regardless of the motivation, telling all is probably going to be increasingly popular, said UC Berkeley political science Professor Bruce Cain, for commercial reasons if not ideals.

It is increasingly difficult, because of conflict-of-interest laws, for former government officials to move easily back and forth between the government and the private sector, and the growth of cable and the publishing industry ensures that they can seek lucrative post-government employment in the media, Cain said.

And because books sell better when the author’s name is fresh in people’s minds, he said, it is likely such books will continue to be published as soon as possible — and sooner all the time.

“It’s part of this whole speeding up of the cycle of everything. Now, even our memories have to come faster,” he said.

Michael Kohn, general counsel for the private National Whistleblower Center, agreed with Cain’s prediction of faster and faster revelations, but with a different premise.

A Whistleblowing Revolution
“You’re seeing an evolution of our society. Ellsberg is essentially the first modern whistle- blower. As a result, the news media observed how important obtaining this type of information was and how it was the ultimate lifeline to a free society,” he said. “As this message began to take root, the will of people to expose information at an earlier point of time has just gone with it.”

The main brake on the phenomenon, Kohn said, are federal laws that he feels inadequately protect people who try to speak up while still employed, causing more to delay revelation until they quit or are fired.

With more protective laws, he said, “you would have heard from (Clarke) before Sept. 11.”

Hess and Berkowitz said the consequences of this new willingness to tell all include the loss of a kind of loyalty in government service that had been a tradition, and the possibility that future administrations may appoint more party loyalists and be less willing to keep on longtime civil servants from prior administrations.

“There is a very good reason why there is executive privilege and why a president should feel they have a right to receive confidential information from their aides and that their aides owe” loyalty to them, Hess said.

But to Ellsberg, the fact that a number of Bush’s own people have been willing to break that presumption of loyalty is a strong condemnation of the president and his neo-conservative allies, something Clarke himself has hinted at in public statements.

Asked on 60 Minutes whether he owed loyalty to the president, Clarke responded, “Up to a point. When the president starts doing things that risk American lives, then loyalty to him has to be put aside.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers three decades ago, cited these people as part of what he sees as a new trend of those who criticize governments still in power:

• Scott Ritter, the former lead inspector for the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) Concealment and Investigations team in Iraq.

• Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq.

• Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, whose January book about his tenure inside the Bush administration was based, in part, on classified documents.

• Rand Beers, who quit as President Bush’s antiterrorism adviser to become John Kerry’s foreign policy adviser.

• Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who investigated whether Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger and later publicly accused the White House of manipulating his findings.

• John Brady Kiesling, a career U.S. diplomat who resigned to protest the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq.

• Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst on the steering committee of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

• Robin Cook, a former British foreign minister who quit and wrote a book saying the threat of Iraq was overblown.

• Katharine Gun, a British government linguist who was charged under the British Official Secrets Act for leaking an e-mail purportedly from U.S. intelligence services asking for help spying on U.N. ambassadors.

• Anthony Zinni, retired Marine general and former U.S. commander for the Middle East who has criticized the handling of postwar Iraq.

• Clare Short, a former international development secretary who resigned from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in protest after the invasion and later said she had seen transcripts of bugging of Kofi Annan’s office.

• Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired lieutenant colonel formerly assigned to the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans who wrote an article critical of the war on the online site Salon.com — entitled “The New Pentagon Papers.”

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

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