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.
It was always clear what motivated Ellsberg. He turned against the war. He knew how destructive it was. He had worked on the Pentagon Papers. He rightly thought the people had the right to know how a wrong-headed, barbarous war had developed in the shadows, in defiance of public scrutiny. He did not think that the nation-state should be brought to a screaming halt, or that U.S.-out-of-everywhere was a self-evidently virtuous foreign policy program. He knew some truth—not some data—and brilliantly took responsibility for bringing it to light. He was a light unto journalism, which remains in his debt whether journalists know it or not. He made Americans not just better informed, not better titillated, but smarter.
I know Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Assange, you are no Daniel Ellsberg.