Daniel Ellsberg (born 1931) was a defense analyst for the Rand Corporation, a U.S. government official, and then became an anti-war activist during the Vietnam era; it was Ellsberg who leaked a top-secret Defense Department study that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. One indirect repercussion from this act was a decline in public support for the war, and eventual discrediting of the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.
Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago on April 7, 1931. His father, a structural engineer, moved the family several years later to Detroit. The young Ellsberg attended Barber Elementary School in Detroit and subsequently received a scholarship to Cranbook, an exclusive preparatory school located in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. After compiling a superb academic record there, as well as captaining the basketball team, he won a scholarship to Harvard University. Once again, Ellsberg's academic performance was outstanding; he graduated summa cum laude in 1952 with a B.A. in economics, ranking third in a class of 1,147.
After graduation Ellsberg continued his studies for one year at Cambridge University in England as a Woodrow Wilson fellow before returning to graduate school at Harvard in 1953. He temporarily interrupted his doctoral training to enlist in the Marine Corps in April 1954. Following officers' candidate school, he received the rank of second lieutenant and served as a platoon leader at Quantico and later at Camp Lejeune. In February 1957 he was discharged from the Marine Corps as a first lieutenant. Ellsberg then returned to his graduate studies at Harvard, where he spent the next two and a half years as a member of the prestigious Society of Fellows. During this period he expanded his research interests to include political science and psychology, focusing especially on the new field of games theory, which utilized mathematical formulas to devise strategies for adversarial conflicts.
From Rand to Vietnam
In 1959 Ellsberg accepted a position with the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California. That firm had recently emerged as a leading center for the application of games theory to defense problems. At Rand he worked on a variety of matters, developing particular expertise in the field of nuclear strategy. During his years at Rand, Ellsberg also worked intermittently as a consultant on strategic nuclear war planning and nuclear command and control for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the White House, and the Department of State, respectively. In 1962 he was awarded the Ph.D. degree by Harvard; many specialists considered his doctoral dissertation, "Risk, Ambiguity, and Decision," a tour de force.
In August 1964 Ellsberg joined the Department of Defense as a special assistant to John McNaughton, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He devoted much of his time at the Pentagon to the growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In July 1965 he transferred to South Vietnam as a senior liaison officer attached to the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Ellsberg remained in Vietnam for two years. Among other duties, he worked under Major General Edward G. Lansdale, the officer in charge of the American pacification program, assessing the effectiveness of anti-guerrilla operations in the provinces.
Frustrated by U.S. Policy
By 1966 Ellsberg told friends that he was growing increasingly disillusioned with the course of the American war effort. These doubts intensified after his appointment the following year as an assistant to the deputy U.S. ambassador in South Vietnam, William Porter. In that position he prepared a report sharply critical of the U.S. pacification effort and made a special trip to Washington to present his findings to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Shortly thereafter Ellsberg suffered a severe case of hepatitis and left Vietnam permanently.
In July 1967 he resigned his government position to return to the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg continued serving as a governmental consultant, however, until the spring of 1969. As a consultant he helped prepare a secret internal study, commissioned by Defense Secretary McNamara, that examined the history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. Subsequently, in his final assignment for the government, he prepared an outline of alternative Vietnam strategies for Henry A. Kissinger, President Richard M. Nixon's special assistant for national security affairs.
Ellsberg's opposition to the war in Vietnam deepened during the early years of the Nixon administration. Increasingly he spoke out publicly against American involvement, articulating an antiwar position that proved occasionally embarrassing to his employers at Rand, a major defense contractor. In the spring of 1970 he left that firm to accept a fellowship at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; he intended to write a book on Vietnam decision-making and to continue speaking out against a war that he now viewed as immoral. "My role in the war was as a participant," he stated at that time, "along with a lot of other people, in a conspiracy to commit a number of war crimes, including, I believe, aggressive war."
The Pentagon Papers
Acting on these new convictions, in the summer of 1971 Ellsberg leaked copies of the McNamara study to the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Almost overnight the "Pentagon Papers," as the study was quickly dubbed, became a lead story in the media, and Ellsberg became a controversial national figure. As he later explained his motivations: "I felt as an American citizen, a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American people. I took this action on my own initiative, and I am prepared for all the consequences." Those consequences included federal indictment on several counts under the Espionage Act for the possession and unauthorized release of classified documents.
The Pentagon Papers catapulted Ellsberg into a position of national prominence. For the antiwar movement, his conversion from ardent "hawk" to committed "dove" proved a powerful symbol. Ellsberg, for his part, warmly embraced the movement along with a series of other liberal causes. In 1972 he published a book, Papers on the War, that set forth his position on the Vietnam conflict.
The following year the charges against him were dropped as a result of government misconduct. In the wake of the Pentagon Papers furor, the Nixon administration had launched its secret "plumbers" operation, so named because this team of trusted presidential aides was directed to stem any further "leaks" that might embarrass the government, as the Pentagon Papers had. Nixon aides burglarized the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist in an effort to find information that would destroy his credibility, and employed similar criminal tactics in an attempt to tap the phones at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in the summer of 1972. The ramifications from this last act forced Nixon to resign 1974.
Distinguished Protest Record
Although Ellsberg's name gradually slipped from public view in subsequent years, he continued to speak out on a series of important national issues, including the problems of nuclear power and nuclear armaments. In the 1980s he served on the strategy task force of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and publicly advocated nuclear disarmament; he was also an outspoken opponent of U.S. policy in Central America. Joining other prominent Americans critical of the Reagan administration policy, Ellsberg was arrested numerous times for civil disobedience, including the besieging of the CIA office in San Francisco in 1985.
Later in the decade Ellsberg was affiliated with Center for Psychological Studies in the Nuclear Age at Harvard Medical School; there he studied the impact of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In the early 1990s he accepted a position as director of the Manhattan Project II, a program launched by Physicians for Social Responsibility. Its goal was to dismantle the work of the first Manhattan Project— the World War II-era, top-secret government effort that developed the world's first nuclear weapon. Though no longer a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Ellsberg continues to work with the activist group. He is also a popular guest lecturer. For his record of achievement he has received the Tom Paine Award and the Gandhi Peace Award.
Sanford Ungar's The Papers and the Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers (1972) follows the First Amendment battle over Ellsberg's act. A study by Peter Schrag, Test of Loyalty: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government (1974), analyzes the events surrounding Ellsberg's change of position regarding the Vietnam War as well as his decision to release the Pentagon Papers. There are no other studies that deal directly with Ellsberg, although many of the standard works on the Vietnam conflict mention his role in passing. □
"Daniel Ellsberg." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/daniel-ellsberg
"Daniel Ellsberg." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/daniel-ellsberg
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In October 1969, Ellsberg tried to release the secret Pentagon history to Congress, but lawmakers refused the material. Drawn more deeply into the antiwar movement, he provided the so‐called Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post. Its June 1971 publication revealed a history of presidential failures and deceptions and was critically important in mobilizing public opposition to the war. President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger feared further leaks by Ellsberg. To silence and slander Ellsberg and block future “leaks,” they created the White House “Plumbers” unit. At Nixon's instigation, the unit conducted an illegal break‐in of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles in September 1971. The same “Plumbers” unit carried out the June 1972 Watergate burglary, which led to President Nixon's resignation in August 1974. Ellsberg was tried for espionage, but because of White House tampering, the federal judge dismissed the charges. During the 1970s and 1980s, Ellsberg lectured widely and was arrested for antiwar and antinuclear civil disobedience protests.
[See also Peace and Antiwar Movements.]
Sanford Ungar , The Papers and the Papers, 1972.
Peter Schrag , Test of Loyalty: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government, 1974.
"Ellsberg, Daniel." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
"Ellsberg, Daniel." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
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Daniel Ellsberg, 1931–, American political activist, b. Chicago, grad. Columbia Univ. (B.S., 1952, Ph.D., 1959). After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he worked for the Rand Corporation (1959–64; 1967–70), conducting studies on defense policies. Originally a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, he became a committed opponent of U.S. policy. In 1971 he gave the New York Times access to a secret history of the Vietnam War, commissioned by the Dept. of Defense, which revealed that the government had repeatedly misled the American people about the escalation of the war. The government attempted to prevent the publication of the report, which became commonly known as the Pentagon Papers; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the New York Times Co. v. United States (1971) that the publication of the papers was permissible. The government attempted to prosecute Ellsberg for the release of the report. The charges were dismissed in 1973 when it was revealed that White House officials had burglarized the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist in an effort to discredit him (see Watergate affair). He discusses the matter in his Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002).
See biography by T. Wells (2001).
"Ellsberg, Daniel." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
"Ellsberg, Daniel." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
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ELLSBERG, DANIEL (1931– ), U.S. government adviser responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Born in Chicago, Ellsberg was a graduate of Columbia University, receiving both his B.S. (1952) and his Ph.D. (1959) there. A Vietnam veteran, he was a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He then went to work for the Rand Corporation on defense issues, ultimately becoming an important adviser to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. His views then were decidedly hawkish. He was assigned to study American policy toward Vietnam and in the course of that study became a fierce opponent of the war. He then took the major step of leaking a study of the history of American involvement in Vietnam to the New York Times. The study, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers, documented the way in which the Johnson administration had misled the American people during the Vietnam War. Although the Papers did not directly attack Richard Nixon's actions, his administration reacted with fury. Ellsberg was charged with leaking the document; a petition was filed against the New York Times, enjoining them from publishing the papers; and then the White House had some secret operatives, later known as the "plumbers unit" of Watergate fame, break into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in search of potentially incriminating information that could be used to destroy his reputation. When the Washington Post, which had not been enjoined from publication, printed the Pentagon Papers, the case became moot and the information became public. The break-in at the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist became public during the Watergate hearings that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon, who resigned as president of the United States in August 1974. Having achieved his "five minutes of fame" Ellsberg remained politically active, most especially fighting against nuclear arms proliferation and becoming a prominent figure at public protests.
D. Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002).
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
"Ellsberg, Daniel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
"Ellsberg, Daniel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel
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Born April 7, 1931
American political scientist and
Daniel Ellsberg was a high-ranking government official who helped shape American military policy during the Vietnam War. But as the war progressed, Ellsberg's early sup port for U.S. involvement gave way to strong antiwar feelings. This conversion led Ellsberg to leak a top-secret government study about U.S. policies in Vietnam to the New York Times. This study—known as the Pentagon Papers—revealed that the U.S. government had repeatedly misled the American public about the war in Vietnam over the previous two decades.
A brilliant young man
Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois. An excellent student, he graduated first in his high school class. He then received a scholarship to attend Harvard University, where he studied economics and political science. After graduating from Harvard with honors in 1952, he was granted a special fellowship to study advanced economics at Cambridge University in England. He then returned to Harvard in 1953, where he earned a master's degree in economics.
In 1954 Ellsberg volunteered for military service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent the next two years in the Marines, where he became an expert marksman and a highly regarded officer. This experience, which included an extended tour of duty in the Middle East, heightened his interest in military strategy and international politics. After leaving the service, he went back to Harvard to secure a doctoral degree in economics.
In 1959 Ellsberg accepted a job offer from the Rand Corporation, a federally funded organization that studied defense and national security issues for the U.S. government. He spent the next few years working as a military affairs consultant to the White House, conducting research on U.S. military strategy around the world. Much of his time was spent studying the fierce competition that had developed during the 1950s between the United States and the Soviet Union. In this rivalry, known as the Cold War, both nations increased their military strength and tried to expand their political influence around the world.
A key battleground
In the early 1960s Vietnam became a major focus of Ellsberg's attention. Once a colony of France, Vietnam had won its freedom in 1954 after an eight-year war with the French. But the country had been divided into two sections by the 1954 Geneva peace agreement. North Vietnam was headed by a Communist government under revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh (see entry). South Vietnam, meanwhile, was led by a U.S.-supported government under President Ngo Dinh Diem (see entry).
The Geneva agreement provided for nationwide free elections to be held in 1956 so that the two parts of Vietnam could be united under one government. But U.S. and South Vietnamese officials refused to hold the elections because they believed that the results would give the Communists control over the entire country. American strategists thought if that happened, all of Southeast Asia might fall to communism, a development that would dramatically increase the strength of the Soviet Union.
When the South refused to hold elections, North Vietnam and its Viet Cong (Communist guerrillas) allies in the South took up arms against Diem's government. The United States responded by sending money, weapons, and advisors to aid in South Vietnam's defense. When this assistance failed to end the Communist aggression, America sent combat troops to Vietnam. But deepening U.S. involvement in the war failed to defeat the Communists. Instead, the war settled into a bloody stalemate by the late 1960s.
Ellsberg studies Vietnam
Ellsberg visited Vietnam in both 1961 and 1962, conducting research on possible American military strategies in the region. Ellsberg enjoyed these trips tremendously, for he felt that he was making a meaningful contribution to his country. He expressed firm support for U.S. military involvement in Vietnam throughout this period.
Ellsberg soon gained a reputation as a brilliant and perceptive analyst, and his career flourished. In 1964 Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton invited him to become his special assistant. Ellsberg gladly accepted the offer, reasoning that he could be of even greater service to his country as a member of President Lyndon Johnson's (see entry) administration.
Ellsberg spent a good deal of the next two years in Vietnam. At first he was excited about America's growing military buildup in the country. At one point, he even inquired about returning to Marine duty as a combat commander (authorities eventually told him that they could not risk his capture by the enemy because of his knowledge of sensitive military secrets). But by late 1965 Ellsberg's faith in the effectiveness of U.S. intervention in Vietnam faded. As he recalled in a 1998 interview at the Institute of International Studies, he gradually became convinced that "nothing lay ahead of us but frustration and stalemate and killing and dying."
During the next two years, Ellsberg submitted numerous reports and memos in which he explained his doubts about continued U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. These doubts were shared by other officials, as well as the swelling membership of the American antiwar movement. But U.S. military involvement in Vietnam continued to escalate.
"The Pentagon Papers"
In 1966 Ellsberg returned to the Rand Corporation. A year later, however, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (see entry) asked him to take part in an effort to compile a history of American-Vietnamese relations since 1945. Ellsberg and three dozen other researchers spent the next two years putting together the study, known as the Pentagon Papers. The completed forty-three-volume study included seven thousand pages of government documents and detailed analyses of the Vietnam War from both government agencies and civilian "think tanks" (institutions organized to provide intensive research into military strategy, political theory, and other subjects). The papers provided a detailed record of U.S. policy in Vietnam since the close of World War II (1939–45), when the Vietnamese first rose up against their French colonial rulers.
As work on the Pentagon Papers drew to a close, Ellsberg took advantage of his top-secret security clearance to review large sections of the study. As he read the compiled history, he became convinced that presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy (see entry), and Lyndon B. Johnson had repeatedly misled the American public about their actions and intentions in Vietnam. "When I finished reading the Pentagon Papers I understood at last that the war was one war; there wasn't a French war followed by a Vietnamese war and an American war—there was one war that we had participated in from the beginning, and it was a war that we had never had any right to be in at all," Ellsberg remarked in The Ten Thousand Day War.
In fact, Ellsberg's review of the Pentagon documents convinced him that American involvement in the conflict had turned the war into a fight between the Vietnamese people and America's mighty military arsenal. "To call a conflict in which one army [the South Vietnamese] is financed and equipped entirely by foreigners a 'civil war' simply screens a more painful reality: that the war is, after all, a foreign aggression. Our aggression," he declared in Papers on the War.
Finally, Ellsberg's review of the Pentagon Papers led him to believe that President Richard Nixon (see entry), who had assumed office in early 1969, was following the same pattern of deceit that previous American presidents had employed regarding Vietnam. "What I particularly learned . . . from the Pentagon Papers was that Nixon . . . was choosing to prolong the war in vain hopes that he might get a better outcome than he could achieve if he'd just negotiated his way out and took what he could get and accepted, essentially, a defeat," Ellsberg claimed during his 1998 appearance at the Institute of International Studies.
Ellsberg decides to leak the Papers
After Ellsberg finished reviewing the documents, he asked his wife to read some of the materials. He gave her selected reports that discussed various American strategies to inflict pain and misery on North Vietnam. "She came back to me after she read it with tears in her eyes," Ellsberg recalled in The Ten Thousand Day War. "She characterized it as [being written in] the language of torturers, and that hit me very hard."
Torn by guilt about his earlier role in Vietnam policy making, Ellsberg decided that he needed to inform the American people about the contents of the Pentagon Papers. He made several copies of the study and tried to deliver them to important members of Congress, even though he believed that he would probably be thrown in prison for his actions. But the lawmakers did not take any immediate action, and the documents remained a secret from the American public.
By 1970 Ellsberg had resigned from Rand and had become a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam. He participated in antiwar rallies, wrote antiwar articles and letters, and testified at trials on behalf of draft resisters. In the meantime, President Nixon ordered two major military raids into Cambodia and Laos—Vietnam's neighbors to the west—to strike against Communist forces.
The invasions into Cambodia and Laos convinced Ellsberg that he needed to take more drastic steps to influence American policy in Vietnam. "I had the feeling that America was eating its young, was destroying some of its most dedicated, most patriotic, most concerned citizens—young Americans subject to the draft—and it was up to older people like me who had been participants to not let that burden fall entirely on their children," he explained in The Ten Thousand Day War.
Gives the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times
In February 1971 Ellsberg secretly gave the Pentagon Papers to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan (see entry), a veteran Vietnam War correspondent. On June 13, 1971, the Times began publishing front-page reports on the contents of the Pentagon Papers, including excerpts from the documents themselves. The publication of these documents triggered a storm of criticism against the U.S. government. After all, the papers indicated that the nation's political leaders had repeatedly misled the American people about Vietnam over the previous two decades. For example, the Pentagon Papers revealed that President Johnson had planned a major increase of American troops into Vietnam during the mid-1960s, even as he assured the nation that he had no plans to escalate U.S. involvement in the war.
The leak of the Pentagon Papers greatly angered the Nixon administration, as well as many lawmakers and military officials. Nixon and his staff worried that the revelations of past government misconduct would hurt their own operations in Vietnam. Other officials charged that Ellsberg's actions were a betrayal of his country. The administration successfully obtained a court order that forced the New York Times to suspend its publication of the papers after three installments. But by this time several other American newspapers began publishing excerpts. On June 30, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Times and other papers had the constitutional right to publish the documents. As a result, the Pentagon Papers were made available to the American public.
Ellsberg faces prison
Frustrated in their efforts to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, officials in the Justice Department charged Ellsberg with a variety of crimes, including conspiracy, theft, illegal possession of government documents, and violation of the U.S. Espionage Act. If convicted of all charges, he faced 115 years of imprisonment. Ellsberg surrendered to authorities on June 28, 1971. At that time, he declared that he was willing to endure prison if his actions ultimately helped end the war.
Ellsberg's trial ran for the first five months of 1973. During that time, prosecutors worked hard to portray Ellsberg as a thief who stole government property that was vital to America's national security interests. But in May 1973 Judge Matthew Byrne, Jr., learned that agents of the White House had used burglary, illegal wiretaps, and other activities in an effort to find information that might embarrass or discredit Ellsberg. The judge then decided to dismiss all charges against Ellsberg. The agents who had collected the illegal evidence, known as the "plumbers," later engaged in other illegal activities that led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's eventual resignation from office in 1974.
Strong career as political activist
Upon gaining his release, Ellsberg became a leading figure within the American antiwar movement. When the war ended, he turned his attention to other political issues that concerned him. In the 1980s, for example, he emerged as a leading critic of nuclear weapons. He also spoke out against American foreign policy in Central America and South Africa. Ellsberg's record of political activism remained strong in the 1990s as well. In December 1998 he signed a contract to write an autobiography for Viking Press, after a spirited bidding war among several publishers.
Anderson, David L., ed. Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945–1975. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993.
Ellsberg, Daniel. Papers on the War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Herring, George. The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The NegotiatingVolumes of the Pentagon Papers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945–1975. New York: Avon, 1981.
"The Rolling Stone Interview: Dan Ellsberg." Rolling Stone, September 1973.
Schrag, Peter. Test of Loyalty: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1988.
Zaroulis, Nancy, and Gerald Sullivan. Who Spoke Up? American Protest against the War in Vietnam, 1963–1975. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984.
A Daring Ride with John Paul Vann
Daniel Ellsberg became very close friends with U.S. military commander John Paul Vann during the Vietnam War. They shared an intense dedication to their jobs and a deep respect for each other's abilities and talents. Their friendship became strained, however, after Ellsberg secretly delivered the Pentagon Papers to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan (see entry) in 1971.
In the following passage from Sheehan's book A Bright Shining Lie, the author relates a daring Jeep ride that Ellsberg and Vann once took through a dangerous area of Vietnam:
Ellsberg discovered what a true companion spirit he had found one weekend in December 1965, during a drive with Vann to two of the more remote province capitals in the III Corps region . . . . Their first destination, Xuan Loc, deep in the rubber-plantation country, was about sixty road miles northeast of Saigon. They would then have another seventy-five to eighty road miles farther to go before they reached their final goal, the capital of Binh Tuy Province, a forlorn little place near the coast called Ham Tan . . . .
[Vann and Ellsberg set out in the company of a young American embassy political reporter who had asked to go along.] After the turn at Bien Hoa just north of Saigon, the road became lonely. The embassy field political reporter noticed the rows of fence stakes with the bits of chopped barbed wire dangling from them. He looked at the burned militia outposts ... ."John, I'm really not supposed to be doing this," he said. "Political reporters are not supposed to be out on the roads. We have orders not to get captured. I think I'd better try to catch a helicopter."
[Vann and Ellsberg drop the embassy reporter off at a South Vietnamese military post, but the young man reconsiders and decides to continue on with them.] A short way out of Xuan Loc the road began to pass through some of the densest rain forest Ellsberg was ever to see in Vietnam. He knew precisely what to do. Vann had trained him during their previous expeditions. He glanced down at his side to be sure a grenade was handy and lifted the carbine [rifle] he had been cradling in his lap so that he could immediately open fire out the window. Vann started driving with one hand. With the other he raised the M-16 automatic [rifle] he now customarily carried to be ready to shoot out his side. Ellsberg wondered how they were going to shoot if they did encounter guerrillas. The years of neglect from the war had allowed the rain forest to encroach [grow] until the road was only wide enough for one vehicle to pass. The forest was so dense Ellsberg had the feeling that if he stuck his arm out the window, he wouldn't be able to get it back; the undergrowth would snatch it. Then the road began to twist through blind curves. Ellsberg decided that if his seven-year-old daughter had an automatic weapon she could ambush a whole regiment on this one-way track through the jungle.
As the road worsened and they made these preparations for action, Vann and Ellsberg kept up the conversation. Keeping up the conversation was important to them. They were enjoying the self-control and sharpening of the senses they felt in the presence of danger.
The embassy political reporter did not say a word for quite a while. About twenty minutes out of Xuan Loc, he suddenly found his voice again. "John, how's the security on this road?" he asked.
"Bad," Vann replied.
"Well, I think I'd better go back, John," the embassy man said.
Vann found a place to turn around. He did not recover his temper sufficiently to do more than curse until he had returned to Xuan Loc [where he dropped the embassy man off] and had the Scout [Jeep] back out on the one-way track through the rain forest, now with both hands on the wheel, wrenching the vehicle through the turns to try to make up for the lost time. "You know," he said to Ellsberg, "I didn't think he'd have guts enough to get out a second time."
Ellsberg smiled. "Well, dammit, John, why did you say that about the security?"
"What could I say?" Vann said. He laughed and let go of the steering wheel for a second and swept his hands up toward the jungle that menaced from every side. "Look at it!"
At Ham Tan there was a final moment to savor. They pulled up in front of the building where the province military advisors lived and went in and introduced themselves. One of the young officers noticed the Scout parked outside. He did a double take. He looked at Vann and Ellsberg, at the vehicle, and then back at Vann and Ellsberg again.
"Did you people drive here?" he asked. They said yes as casually as they could.
"Is that road open?" another advisor asked, astounded.
"Well, it is now," Vann said.
They were the first Americans to drive to Ham Tan in nearly a year.
"Ellsberg, Daniel." Vietnam War Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel-0
"Ellsberg, Daniel." Vietnam War Reference Library. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ellsberg-daniel-0