Assange vs. Ellsberg

Posted: Dec 07, 2010 1:26 PM
Many Americans still revile anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg for his 1971 disclosure of the Pentagon Papers -- classified government documents tracing US involvement in Vietnam.  Nevertheless, The New Republic's Todd Gitlin argues that Ellsberg compares very favorably to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a purveyor of leaked information, and that lazy media comparisons of the two men miss the mark:

...The twinning of Julian Assange with Daniel Ellsberg as a sort of tag-team of noble leaking, an aristocracy of transparency, strikes me as glib and unconvincing, even if the two men have at times presented themselves as brothers under the skin. When Ellsberg published—made public—the Pentagon Papers nearly 40 years ago, he released a historical book—a more or less coherent, linear, systematic study of decision-making during the Vietnam war, commissioned by Robert S. McNamara when he was secretary of defense, and a systematic revelation of a pattern of government lies and distortions repeatedly issued to the American people. There was little or no news for the Vietnamese in its revelations of what the war was doing to that land. The secrets had been kept not from the adversary but from this hamstrung democracy itself. And the Pentagon Papers did not propound that the state was illegitimate or that it ought to be rendered more stupid, impulsive, cognitively impaired, or ideologically blinkered.

Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.

To further demonstrate the two parties' divergent leaking philosophies and motivations, consider the following quotes:

Ellsberg in 1971:  “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”

Assange yesterday: “If something happens to us, the key parts [of the Doomsday/extortion file] will be released automatically.”

Assange today:  Riddle asked the 39-year-old Australian whether he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden. Assange, dressed in a navy blue suit, cleared his throat and said: "I understand that and I do not consent."

Even if one doesn't hold Ellsberg in high regard, it's clear that Assange is a far different, thoughtlessly destructive beast, who makes the Pentagon Papers leaker look like a model of patriotic responsibility by comparison.