Ellsberg Shares Pentagon ‘Secrets’

Legislators handed President George W. Bush a blank check when the Senate approved a resolution supporting an attack on Iraq last week, Daniel Ellsberg ’52 said last night at the Boston Public Library.

Though the event was billed by the Harvard Book Store as a reading from Ellsberg’s new memoir about the Pentagon Papers, Secrets, Ellsberg spoke at length about last week’s Congressional resolutions supporting military action in Iraq.

“I can’t bring myself to only focus on this book,” he said. “Not with this feeling that history is being relived here, especially for one who lived it for the first time from the inside, like myself.”

In many ways, he said, recent events make the publication of his memoir and continued study of Vietnam increasingly relevant.

“I’m sending this book to a lot of people in Congress,” he said. “They do need to read this history.”

He praised Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) and Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va) for vocally opposing military action in Iraq.

But Ellsberg criticized Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for voting to support the resolution last week.

“I’ve admired Kerry for a long time, since he gave one of the very strongest speeches against the [Vietnam] war that was ever made,” he said. “I asked him to write a blurb for my book.”

Pointing at his book’s back cover— which features a quotation from Kerry— Ellsberg said he would not have requested the blurb had he known Kerry would come out in support of a military campaign against Iraq.

Ellsberg said he thinks it is unlikely that Bush will report back to Congress before taking major military action.

“President Bush will get ambiguous intelligence that he will judge forces him to begin bombing immediately,” Ellsberg said.

Ellsberg, also a Crimson editor, referred to his years as a student at Harvard several times during the event and called Cambridge his “hometown.”

When the FBI was frantically seeking him in an international manhunt after he began distributing the Pentagon Papers to national newspapers, Ellsberg said he spent the 12-day period before his surrender hiding in Cambridge.

“I had a suspicion, when I heard they were looking for me in Bermuda, that they were taking some junkets,” Ellsberg said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Secrets details Ellsberg’s leak of the so-called Pentagon Papers, a top-secret U.S. government study of Vietnam War policy that detailed large-scale deceptions, to The New York Times.

As a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation in the 1960s, Ellsberg had helped to compile the extensive study, which revealed that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution—in which Congress permitted escalated U.S. military involvement in Vietnam—had been drafted months before the North Vietnamese attacked U.S. naval vessels in the gulf.

It also revealed that, while President Lyndon B. Johnson had publicly described the war as a short-term battle, he oversaw a massive commitment of infantry to Vietnam.

—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at shoichet@fas.harvard.edu.