Daniel Ellsberg: Julian Assange is in danger
measl at mfn.org
Fri Jun 11 18:45:52 PDT 2010
As feds hunt for Wikileaks. Julian Assange in hopes of preventing him
from publishing diplomatic secrets, Samuel P. Jacobs talks with Pentagon
Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg about why he should stay out of
America.and why some things should be kept secret.
Government officials tell The Daily Beast that they are searching for
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, whom they believe is in
possession of State Department secrets leaked to him by an Army
intelligence specialist now under arrest. As Assange, the Australian
champion of whistleblowers cancelled a public appearance in Las Vegas
Friday night, The Daily Beast talked with Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary
leaker of the Pentagon Papers about Assange.s safety and what he would do
if he were in possession of the State Department.s confidential traffic.
Since standing trial for providing state secrets to newspapers.he was
acquitted in 1973.Ellsberg has become an author and activist.
The Daily Beast: Could the release of the diplomatic cables said to be in
the possession of Wikileaks endanger national security?
Daniel Ellsberg: Any serious risk to that national security is extremely
low. There may be 260,000 diplomatic cables. It.s very hard to think of
any of that which could be plausibly described as a national security
risk. Will it embarrass diplomatic relationships? Sure, very likely.all to
the good of our democratic functioning. The embarrassment would be our
awareness that we are supporting and facilitating dictators and corrupt
and murderous governments, and we are quite aware of their nature.
An example would be surrounding a visit of Hamid Karzai to this
country.where he is given a special audience with the president. We know
that privately he is seen realistically. We know that because of the leak,
which I think started out of this investigation. We know that because of
the leak from Ambassador Eikenberry. He describes him as irredeemably
corrupt, not an appropriate partner for a pacification program, and cannot
They would regard this as very embarrassing, [since publicly they.ve been]
saying, he is a perfectly suitable partner for pacification, working on
Do you think Assange is in danger?
I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May
3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban imigris were
brought up from Miami with orders to .incapacitate me totally.. I said to
the prosecutor, .What does that mean? Kill me.. He said, .It means to
incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use
the word .kill...
Is the Obama White House anymore enlightened than Nixon.s?
We.ve now been told by Dennis Blair, the late head of intelligence here,
that President Obama has authorized the killing of American citizens
overseas, who are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Assange is not
American, so he doesn.t even have that constraint. I would think that he
is in some danger. Granted, I would think that his notoriety now would
provide him some degree of protection. You would think that would protect
him, but you could have said the same thing about me. I was the number one
defendant. I was on trail but they brought up people to beat me up.
You believe he is in danger of bodily harm, then?
Absolutely. On the same basis, I was..Obama is now proclaiming rights of
life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without
due process. No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since
John the First.
What advice would you give Assange?
Stay out of the U.S. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It.s pretty
valuable.He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely
by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases,
in this country.
He is doing very good work for our democracy. If [the alleged leaker,
Bradley Manning] has done what he is alleged to have done, I congratulate
him. He has used his opportunities very well. He has upheld his oath of
office to support the Constitution. It so happens that enlisted men also
take an oath to obey the orders of superiors. Officers don.t make that
oath, only to the Constitution. But sometimes the oath to the Constitution
and oath to superiors are in conflict.
Assange has taken the position that all information should be out there.
Do you agree?
He has talked about not holding anything back. I wouldn.t agree with that.
Some judgments should be made. Frankly, I don.t know whether he would
really act on that.
In your opinion, not everything should be released.
Yes, there are things that should be kept secret for some period of time.
It.s a matter of time that it can be kept. To say that there are no such
things is unrealistic and doesn.t stand up under much thought. [Assange]
is taking a position there that on its face is not sustainable, but he
might well not keep it. He.s obviously a very competent guy in many ways.
I think his instincts are that most of this material deserves to be out.
We are arguing over a very small fragment that doesn.t. He has not yet put
out anything that hurt anybody.s national security.
And what about these cables in particular?
On the question of those 260,000 diplomatic cables, it is not my position
that nothing in them could deserve to be secret, that nothing deserves to
be secret. I don.t know. I haven.t read them. Having read a hell of a lot
of diplomatic cables, I would confidently make the judgment that very
little, less than one percent, one percent perhaps, can honestly be said
to endanger national security. That.s distinct [from the percentage that
could cause] embarrassment.very serious embarrassment, [if people] realize
that we are aware of highly murderous and corrupt operations by people and
that we are supporting them. It is very seriously embarrassing.
I think a better judgment would be to look over the 260,000 cables and
exclude those which on their surface are dangerous. If the choice is
between putting none of them out, as the State Department would like, and
putting all of them out, I definitely feel our national security would be
improved if they were put out. Between those two choices, I would rather
see them all of them out. It would help understand our own foreign policy
and give us the chance to improve it democratically. I hope they are out,
I hope we get to see them.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also
written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic
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