By Gautham Nagesh - 06/03/10 01:46 PM EDT
A Pentagon official during the Nixon administration, Ellsberg became famous in 1971 when he leaked documents explaining U.S. decision-making in Vietnam to 19 newspapers. He was tried on twelve felony counts but the charges were later dismissed.
The New York Times was the first paper to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers, though publication was halted for a time by a court order sought by the Nixon administration.
Ellsberg, who appeared Thursday with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Personal Democracy Forum, suggested he wouldn't have needed the cooperation of newspapers with the Internet's invention. He said he would have been able to release the 7,000 pages of documents immediately rather than waiting 22 months while newspapers fought government injunctions to publish the material.
Ellsberg said he was skeptical of the idea of Wikileaks when it launched and remains amazed that it has managed to evade the grasp of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Wikileaks, which is related to Wikipedia, is a website designed to help whistleblowers, journalists and activists provide sensitive materials to the public. Ellsberg expressed admiration for the site's ability to operate without interference from the American government.
"It's still amazing to me that the NSA isn’t able to crack this operation of [Assange's]," Ellsberg said. "That’s what their job is. If they can’t do it, all the better."
Ellsberg said he was approached about Wikileaks shortly before the site's launch, and was initially skeptical.
"I thought it was either a scam by the CIA or a very naïve effort," Ellsberg said. "I was sure the NSA can get on top of this."
Ellsberg also emphasized that despite technological advances, whistleblowing remains an act of great personal courage, often to the detriment of one's career or personal interests.
"It takes more than technology, it takes moral courage," Ellsberg said.
He also accused President Barack Obama of lying about hard caps on the number of troops to be sent to Afghanistan during his State of the Union address. He said many people in the Pentagon were aware that the president was lying, but wouldn't say anything in order to protect their careers and families.