A Conversation with Daniel Ellsberg


Co-presented by the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Before Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, there was Daniel Ellsberg. As a central figure in toppling the myths that perpetuated the war in Vietnam, Ellsberg exposed government secrets and lies, and consequently was both vilified and lionized. In the 47 years since the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg has appeared in films dozens of times – either as a character in fictionalized versions of the story (most recently in Steven Spielberg’s The Post), or as himself in documentary films.

At this very special event, Daniel Ellsberg and The Loft Cinema’s Executive Director Peggy Johnson, a political journalist with Arizona Public Media for 25 years, will discuss the Pentagon Papers and how that event, and Ellsberg himself, have been portrayed in films and how those films inform public knowledge and opinion.

About Daniel Ellsberg

In 1959, Daniel Ellsberg, who earned his Ph.D. in economics at Harvard, became a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation and consultant to the Defense Department and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. He was a member of two working groups reporting to the executive committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Ellsberg worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on 12 felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, Ellsberg has been a lecturer, writer and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era. He is a senior fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.