Juniata hosts famous leaker

HUNTINGDON – Daniel Ellsberg began questioning the practices of the U.S. government more than 40 years ago, and he is still at it.

Ellsberg, former strategic analyst for the RAND Corp. and the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to national media in 1971, spoke at Juniata College on Thursday evening about contemporary government transparency. Ellsberg’s whistleblowing has re-entered public discourse as context to Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency.

Ellsberg held no punches, criticizing the past two presidents as well as the New York Times (to whom he originally leaked the Pentagon Papers) within the first five minutes of his speech. Ellsberg started by responding to President Barack Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on NSA reforms.

Ellsberg disputed Obama’s indictment of Snowden’s means of whistleblowing, citing the president’s claim that “the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out have often shed more heat than light.”

Ellsberg told the Juniata College crowd that “no aspect of [Obama’s] speech on Jan. 17 would have been a matter of public debate if Snowden had not done it in the way that he did.”

He illustrated this point by referring to William Binney, a former NSA official who resigned after more than 30 years of service in 2001 and went through the proper channels, asking the U.S. Defense Department Inspector General to investigate the NSA. Binney’s house was subsequently raided by the FBI while he was held at gunpoint and was never brought to testify in front of Congress.

Ellsberg was also critical of the New York Times for its Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of how the FBI had dealt with Binney and other defecting NSA officials, for releasing their story “in December 2005, having had the story ready to go in October 2004, which was before the [presidential] election, which would have revealed to the public that President Bush’s statement that ‘there is no listening to Americans without a warrant from a court’ to be a lie.” Ellsberg believes the disclosure could have swung public opinion against Bush to the point that he would have lost the election.

Ellsberg also disapproved of Obama’s ending to his State of the Union address in which he shared an anecdote about Sgt. Cory Remsburg. Obama mentioned that Remsburg was on his 10th deployment in Afghanistan when he was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb. Ellsberg pointed out that in no other U.S. military involvement could a soldier have been on a 10th deployment, as the duration of the war in Afghanistan has exceeded any other American conflict.

Ellsberg blamed the politicians who applauded Remsburg for putting him in harm’s way.

He ended his speech imploring the audience to petition Congress to shut down the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens. “The question is whether we will tell Congress that we want change as Republican Justin Amash and Democrat John Conyers did when they proposed a bill to strip the NSA of its budget which came within seven votes of passing in Congress. This bill may be passed in the future, but only if the American people tell Congress, the way they did last September when they told Congress that they did not want war with Syria.”

When asked “why should someone who has nothing to hide care if they are under surveillance?” Ellsberg asked if they believe that “journalists, their sources, judges and politicians have nothing to hide? … Lack of NSA oversight is a crisis not only of personal privacy; it is a crisis of democracy.”