Whistleblower Dan Ellsberg joined us after the Justice Department charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for publishing U.S. military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes. Assange is locked up in London and faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited and convicted in the United States. Ellsberg died Friday, and as we remember his life and legacy, we revisit his message for other government insiders who are considering becoming whistleblowers: “My message to them is: Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait ’til the bombs are actually falling or thousands more have died.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Two years later, in 2019, I spoke to Daniel Ellsberg a day after the Justice Department charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for publishing U.S. military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes. Assange, who’s locked up in the Belmarsh prison in London, faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the U.S. and convicted here.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yesterday is a day that will be — live in the history of journalism, of law in this country and of civil liberties in this country, because it was a direct attack on the First Amendment, an unprecedented one. There hasn’t actually been such a significant attack on the freedom of the press, the First Amendment, which is the bedrock of our republic, really, our form of government, since my case in 1971, 48 years ago. But this is — I was indicted as a source. And I warned newsmen then that that would not be the last indictment of a source, if I were convicted. Well, I wasn’t convicted. The charges were dropped on governmental misconduct. And it was another 10 years before anybody else faced that charge under the Espionage Act again, Samuel Loring Morison. And it was not until President Obama that nine cases were brought, as I had been warning for so long.
But my warning really was that it wasn’t going to stop there, that almost inevitably there would be a stronger attack directly on the foundations of journalism, against editors, publishers and journalists themselves. And we’ve now seen that as of yesterday. That’s a new front in President Trump’s war on the free press, which he regards as the enemy of the people.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Trump administration saying Julian Assange is not a publisher, is not a journalist, that’s why he is not protected by the First Amendment?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: In the face of this new indictment, which — and let me correct something that’s been said just a little wrong by everybody so far. He doesn’t just face 170 years. That’s for the 17 counts on the Espionage Act, each worth 10. Plus, he’s still facing the five-year conspiracy charge that he started out with a few weeks ago. I was sure that the administration did not want to keep Julian Assange in jail just for five years. So I’ve been expecting these Espionage Act charges. I really expected them later, after he was extradited, because adding them now makes it a little more complicated for Britain to extradite him now, as I understand it. They’re not supposed to extradite for political offenses or for political motives, and this is obviously for both political motives and political offenses. So, from Julian Assange’s point of view, it makes extradition a little more difficult.
Why then did they bring it right now? Well, coming back to the case, by the way, that I faced, I faced only 11 [Espionage] Act charges, each worth 10 years in prison, plus a conspiracy charge worth five. So I was facing exactly 115 years in prison. He’s facing exactly 175. Now, that’s not a difference that makes any difference. In both cases, it’s a question of a life sentence.
I think that the reason they brought these charges so soon, because they had until June 12th, was to lay out — the necessity to lay out for extradition all the charges they plan to bring. And I don’t assume these are the last ones. They’ve got a couple weeks left to string up some new charges.
They started out with a charge that made Julian look something other than a normal journalist. The help to hacking a password sounded like something that, even in the Digital Age, perhaps most journalists wouldn’t do, and that would hope to separate him from the support of other journalists.
In this case, when they had to lay out their larger charge, this is straight journalism. They mention, for instance, that he solicited investigative material, he solicited classified information — terribly, he didn’t just passively receive it over the transom. I can’t count the number of times I have been solicited for classified information, starting with the Pentagon Papers, but long after that, and that’s by every member of the responsible press that I dealt with — the Times, the Post, AP, you name it. That’s journalism. So, what they have done is recognizable, I think, this time to all journalists, that they are in the crosshairs of this one. They may not have known enough about digital performance to help a source conceal her identity by using new passwords, as Julian was charged with. They may not be able to do that. But every one of them has eagerly received classified information and solicited it.
AMY GOODMAN: We end our show with Daniel Ellsberg in his own words, May 18th, 2018, when I spoke to him at a Right Livelihood laureate gathering at University of California, Santa Cruz. I asked him what message he had for government insiders who are considering becoming whistleblowers.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: My message to them is: Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait ’til the bombs are actually falling or thousands more have died, before you do what I wish I had done years earlier, in ’64 or even ’61, on the nuclear issue. And that is, reveal the truth that you know, the dangerous truths that are being withheld by the government, at whatever cost to yourself, whatever risk that may take. Consider doing that, because a war’s worth of lives may be at stake. Or in the case of the two existential crises I’m talking about, the future of humanity is at stake.
So many graduating classes, I think, have been taught — have been told, year after year for half a century, that they face a crossroads or that much depends on what they do. That’s no exaggeration right now. It’s this generation, not the next one, the people living right now, that have to change these problems fast. And I think truth-telling is crucial to mobilize that.
AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg died Friday at the age of 92, just months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our deepest condolences to his family, his wife Patricia, his children Robert, Mary and Michael, his grandchildren and his great-granddaughter. That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you for joining us.
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