Daniel Ellsberg

Unplugging the Doomsday Machine

Daniel Ellsberg on nukes, leaks, and the lost documents he copied along with the Pentagon Papers

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When he last spoke with Reason in 1973, Daniel Ellsberg was on trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers. The Harvard-educated military analyst at the RAND Corporation had long wrestled with many of the moral quandaries of war, but was a consummate Washington insider up until the moment he decided to release a classified Department of Defense study of the Vietnam War, with its damning proof that President Lyndon Johnson had misled Congress and the public about the conflict.

While it looked like Ellsberg might spend the rest of his life behind bars, he was saved—ironically—by Richard Nixon's paranoid dealings, which included sending goons to break into Ellsberg's former psychiatrist's office and allegedly plotting to have him killed.

If the original leaking plan had gone Ellsberg's way, he suspects he might be in prison still. As he relates in his new book, Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury), along with the now-familiar thousands of pages on Vietnam, he had unprecedented civilian access to nuclear planning documents in the Eisenhower and Kennedy years. He swiped and copied them as well. Unfortunately, Ellsberg gave the nuclear documents to his brother, who buried them for safekeeping until the Pentagon Papers trial was over. A hurricane collapsed the hill where they were hidden, and they were lost to history. Ellsberg has had 45 years to wonder what would have happened if they hadn't been, and more than 60 years to be unnerved by the recklessness, poor planning, and misinformation rampant in an area of policy with the highest possible stakes.

Today, Ellsberg is the 86-year-old elder statesmen of whistleblowing. He calls Edward Snowden "a hero of mine." In return, Snowden has said he was following in Ellsberg's footsteps when he leaked his own cache of secret government documents in 2013.

Reason spoke with Ellsberg by phone in October about his new book, his belief that nobody needs more nuclear weapons than Kim Jong Un has, and why the Cold War's apocalyptic threats still hang over us.

Reason: Do you still get people calling you a traitor, and do you anticipate getting more of that on Twitter, now that you have a presence there?

Daniel Ellsberg: For decades I used to say that being called "traitor" is something you never get used to. But the truth is, for humans, you get used to anything. After 40 years, it doesn't get a big rise out of me anymore.

It did very much at first. As a person whose identification was patriotism in a very conventional way—after all, I did go into the Marines, and I volunteered to go to Vietnam—the idea of being called traitor was very, very painful. But even at the beginning, I felt that people who would use that term didn't understand our country very well, or our Constitution.

In many other countries, you work for a führer, to use the German word: a leader. And the leader is the government. You can't criticize the administration without being regarded as treasonous. That's one of the reasons that a revolution was fought over here, a war of independence.

Bettmann/Getty

In my case, the loyalty was to the Constitution and to the country rather than to the administration. Every officer in all the armed services and every member of the Congress and every official in the executive branch all take the same oath. The president's is a little bit different, but everybody else has the same one, and it's not to a leader, and it's not to secrecy. It's to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I had been violating that oath, I would say, when I knew that a president was violating the Constitution and waging war under false pretenses. In the end, I felt that the right thing to do, definitely, was to tell the Congress and the public what was being done in their name. That certainly seemed to me like being a better patriot than I had been.

When you last spoke to Reason more than 40 years ago, you said you were a former Cold War Democrat who was "in transition" and "very influenced by the people who are radical pacifists and anarchists." I'm curious about how you would describe your politics since then.

I was influenced really by nonviolent activists in the Gandhian tradition and the Martin Luther King tradition. Giving the Pentagon Papers was a radical action. It involved truth telling and risk to myself. I expected to go to prison for life.

I still want to live up to that tradition. But I never became a total pacifist. I don't agree with those of my friends who are critical of all wars. The truth is, though, that there hasn't been one since the Second World War that I could really recognize on our part as having been justified or worthwhile. So I remain very much anti-imperial and very skeptical of intervention.

I found it interesting that you use World War II as an example of a justified war. In your recent book, there's some mention of your dislike of the tactics the Allies used.

Well, look, to say that I thought the war was just and even necessary against Hitler does not mean that I would endorse our tactics. I thought that the firebombing of Germany toward the later stages, and the entire bombing of Japan, which consisted of trying to kill as many Japanese civilians as possible, was a clear-cut war crime from beginning to end. Indeed, if you're really to take the idea of war crimes seriously, no question, it should have been prosecuted.

I don't think you can understand the nuclear age and how it came to be if you don't know the history of World War II. Most people don't know—they bought the government line that our effort was only to hit military targets in a narrow sense, and that other people were being hit only by accident, in what we now call collateral damage. That was a flat-out lie from '42 on. They were imitating the Nazi tactics in the blitz. That departed entirely from the notion of "just practice" in war, as opposed to "just cause." Unfortunately, that precedent worked itself out in the worst possible way. The legitimation [of using nuclear weapons] really came before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which in turn simply reflected what our Air Force had been doing for the previous year.

By the way, are you asking these questions from the point of view of a total pacifist?

I'm OK with self-defense, but I think it's hard to find a justified war even if you think some conflicts within that war were justified.

The occasional somewhat violent uprising is successful, but it's very few. That's why I'm much more committed to the idea of nonviolent resistance efforts of various kinds. But in the case of [justified tactics during] World War II, I would point to the British actions in the Battle of Britain. The dogfights in the air, but also anti-aircraft [attacks] against bombers. I not only see that as justified—or as some pacifists will say, "I don't condemn that"—I think they were doing the right thing. They did prevent the invasion of Britain. And I don't think that nonviolent tactics against those bomber planes would have been as effective at all.

I agree. But there are people who slide from that into "and therefore every Allied tactic was justified because they had to win, and they did win, and therefore they had to do all that in order to win."

Yeah. But that's based just on an assumption. It doesn't bear up to real historical analysis of what exactly happened and whether it was necessary or not. Sure, people will say that at the time they thought the bombing of cities was not only effective but necessary. But that turned out to be untrue. There remains no justification, and that was fairly clear as the war was going on. It had to be kept from the public in both Britain and America because the leaders knew that it did not stand up morally.

"In the end, I felt that the right thing to do, definitely, was to tell the Congress and the public what was being done in their name."

The Russians were fighting under Stalin for a terrible regime, and many of them knew it—but they were fighting against Nazi invaders. A pacifist friend of mine recently said, "Look, they lost 20 million people. What could be worse than that?" A fair question, except that if one was to look into the German plans you'd see that what they had in mind was depopulating Russia to the point of killing by starvation 30–40 million people.

So even under the terrible conditions of the Russian front, they were fighting for their lives, and I think justifiably.

Let's talk about your new book. Could you sum up the bizarre circumstances by which you lost the other papers?

I decided in 1969 when I started copying the Pentagon Papers that, since I'm doing this, I should really put out information far more significant than the information on Vietnam, and that was the dangers for human existence that we have been building up and which the Russians have been imitating now for some years.

I copied everything in my top-secret safe, much of which dealt with nuclear matters. Not operational details, but the fact that we were contemplating first use and first strike—disarming attacks on the Soviet Union—and this resulted in a very dangerous situation, especially because the Russians were doing the same.

I was influenced by the example of draft resisters like Randy Kehler, who were on their way to prison for nonviolent resistance to the draft. I concluded that if that was the right thing for these young men to do, I could and should do that also, by telling the truth. I saw Randy Kehler just before he was due to go to prison in San Francisco, and I told him what I was doing at that very moment in the way of copying. He thought it wasn't important to put out the Pentagon Papers, because enough about Vietnam had come out already. What was really new and important was the nuclear material. I said, "Well, I agree with him on the importance, but Vietnam is where the bombs are falling right now, and I want to do what I can to shorten that war by informing people what was being done in their name." My plan really was to go through my trial—maybe a couple of trials, for distribution as well as copying—and then put out the nuclear papers.

That didn't happen because I gave them to my brother who, to shorten the story, hid them in a town dump, and a hurricane actually came through and disturbed the trash field that he'd buried them in, including moving the stove that he'd used to mark the location. It's just impossible to find the box containing the nuclear papers anymore.

That would almost certainly have put me in prison to this day, and nevertheless I regretted very much that I didn't have the chance to do that. It's been kind of a cloud over my life for the last 40 years, but I'm dispelling that cloud now by telling the substance of what was in those documents. A number of them have been declassified in the intervening decades by Freedom of Information Act requests—enough to at least, I think, show that what I'm saying in general is verifiable. I'm just hoping I'll have something of the effect in awakening people to these dangers that I could have had earlier.

What is the biggest misconception the public has about nuclear war?

People are worried about North Korea for good reason. North Korea is a nuclear state against which our president is threatening military action, and that military action would very likely escalate. Even if we didn't begin it, to attack North Korea has a very great risk of getting a nuclear response, which would lead to nuclear use by us for sure, and it just possibly could start with nuclear use by us. Everything is on the table, as [President Donald Trump] says—and as you know, I quote nearly every president as having used those words.

Here's the thing I think that people don't understand: Trump, crazy as he looks compared to others, is simply following tradition in terms of nuclear threats. I don't think any president has ever said to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Nuclear first use by the U.S. is out of the question."

In that sense, when Trump shows a willingness to contemplate initiating nuclear war, either in a limited way or in an all-out way, that's not new with him. Hillary Clinton said the same. Bill Clinton. Every president.

[The second thing is that nuclear war would have] a far greater death toll than people think. Our Joint Chiefs [in 1961 were preparing for] a war that would have resulted in over a billion deaths out of 3 billion people in the world. But that was mistaken even at the time. I didn't know and the Joint Chiefs didn't know and the president didn't know [about the disastrous effects of] the smoke from the cities that they proposed to burn simultaneously by nuclear weapons.

With nuclear weapons, the big change is not so much to the fire in one city. You can with incendiaries kill 100,000 people in a night. That's more than were actually killed immediately in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. But as we developed hundreds and later thousands of nuclear weapons, you could do that essentially to hundreds or thousands of cities at the same time, causing firestorms in each of those cities.

Karen Bleier/Getty

Such a fire over a large enough area simultaneously will cause very strong updrafts. The cold air—the oxygen from the outside—like a bellows can blow the smoke from all of this into the stratosphere. And in the stratosphere, the smoke doesn't rain out, and moreover, we've learned that when it goes that high, it subsequently gets warmed by the sun and goes even higher, to a level that surrounds the globe and prevents sunlight. Not altogether, but as much as 70 percent of the sunlight. More than enough to cause winter conditions of below-freezing temperatures, at night especially, in the summer. What they call "nuclear winter."

That in turn causes a famine, because it destroys harvests worldwide. A war between U.S. and Russia would destroy harvests for about a decade, and a year of that is enough to kill nearly everyone. Even though perhaps 1 percent of humans would survive—and that's a lot of people now, 70 million people—other animals would not. They can't adapt the way humans can, and nearly all other large species would go totally extinct. We'd be left with a world of microbes. So we're talking about something that can be fairly called "doomsday."

Our weapons are mainly designed for fast pre-emption, that is to say, striking first. That's been crazy for over half a century. Each side has enough warheads at sea that can't be destroyed in a pre-emptive attack to cause nuclear winter. And even if you didn't know about nuclear winter, they're enough to destroy hundreds of millions of people. The idea that it's beneficial or optimal to strike first rather than second has been a hoax and a delusion since the mid-'60s at least.

So why has this doomsday scenario not happened?

Partly because the enmity between the leaderships of the two sides in the Cold War was not as aggressive as we claimed. If they had been as Hitler-like as we claimed the Russians were, we wouldn't be here, period.

But it's so easy for humans to find reasons for doing terribly reckless things. Self-serving reasons: private interest, staying in office, making money, being powerful within an alliance. They're all real reasons, but from the point of view of the survival of humanity, they don't remotely justify the risks that are being taken. In other words, we've got a reasoning animal here—humans—who in collective form are capable of doing things that threaten our survival enormously. We built up this doomsday machine based on false premises. The missile gap, and that the Russians were Hitler and were trying to invade us. Even looking at evidence, which sounds good, is not a very strong protection, because as we're seeing, the people who deny climate change look at evidence. They're just able to interpret it in a way that conforms to their chosen beliefs.

In short, we need more than reason to get out of the predicament we're in, and it's not clear whether humans will rise to that. If catastrophe occurs, it will be not entirely as a result of impulse. It could be the implementation of preparations that have been made over decades.

You note as a metaphor that using a gun doesn't necessarily mean firing it. It can mean brandishing it.

Right. The arguments for the arms race are remarkably like those of the [National Rifle Association]. "It's not the weapons, it's the people," and "You have to have them for defense," and so forth. I think that a case can be made for deterrence, for having some weapons. A case that is not by any means entirely foolish. But let's look at the tyrannical, ruthless regime of Kim Jong Un. I haven't seen any evidence that he really wants to expand, but he is determined to stay in power. He believes that his likelihood of staying in power would be greater if he had a weapon to threaten the U.S. with. Is he wrong?

Probably not.

His process of trying to get that weapon may lead to his being attacked, so that process is dangerous. But on the other side of it, as he says every day, "I need those weapons." If he were to stop entirely, the chance that he would go the way of [former Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi is definitely higher.

By the way, that doesn't give him a reason for having a doomsday machine. There is no good reason for having the capability to kill a billion people. Prior to Trump, how many weapons would it take to deter a [U.S.] president from a major attack? How many of our cities would have to be threatened?

God, I don't know.

A lot of people would say that a reliable prospect for destroying one U.S. city would be a quite strong deterrent. You might think, "Well, you'd need more than one weapon to have that reliability, 'cause we would destroy some [of their missiles before they hit us]." But do you need a thousand weapons? I would say not. Herb York, who was the first director of Livermore Laboratory, one of the two nuclear design laboratories along with Los Alamos—he asked himself, "How many weapons do you need to deter a rational leader from attacking you?" He said, "One to 10, and less than a hundred—but closer to one than a hundred." That seems quite reasonable, I would say. That's what North Korea has at the moment.

Kim Jong Un "doesn't have an ICBM that can reach an American city with a fission weapon. But he does have boats, and that's all it takes to bring the warheads that he has to Long Beach or to San Francisco Harbor."

The others all have more. There was a point at which there were 70,000 nuclear weapons, most of them thermonuclear. Not 10, not 20, not 100. Seventy thousand. Now, that was all done for reasons. Nobody did that absentmindedly. It was argued, it was budgeted, it was planned, it was produced, it was developed over years.

We have a president at the moment who wants the total denuclearization of North Korea. Well, that would be good. Is it going to happen? No. Why not? Because Kim is not going to give up his nuclear weapons. He believes—correctly, I would have to say—that his chance of surviving to an old age would be much less if he gave them up. So that's a non-achievable goal.

How about a lesser goal? Freezing his nuclear weapons program. No more testing, no H-bombs, and no ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]. I'm for that. Is it going to be achieved by military attack? You can destroy the regime with a military attack, but you'll lose probably several million allies in the process and quite possibly an American city. [Kim] doesn't have an ICBM that can reach an American city with a fission weapon. But he does have boats, and that's all it takes to bring the warheads that he has to Long Beach or to San Francisco Harbor. I think he's probably prepared to do that, and we seem to have a president who I can't say is thoroughly deterred by that prospect. [Trump] does act in a number of ways as if he's one of those rogue heads of state we hear about who can't be deterred.

It's hard to contemplate the scale of nuclear destruction that our stockpile is capable of, and that may be part of the problem.

I want to see the doomsday machines dismantled, and that means not just the U.S. and Russia, but all systems that can cause nuclear famine. That means reductions by Britain, France, China, Israel, all of 'em. Would I like to see North Korea get rid of all its weapons? Yes. Absolutely. But they're not going to. On the other hand, would I like to see 'em stop where they are now? Yes. That is achievable by negotiation. It means concessions on our part like ending the state of war between the U.S. and North Korea. Having a peace treaty, in short.

Does North Korea want that?

North Korea's been asking for that for many, many years. But to get a freeze, we have to stop threatening the assassination of Kim Jong Un. You say, "Well, Kim Jong Un is a very bad guy." That's true. He's murderous. He's a tyrant. I'm [also] not in favor of military action to change the regimes of Saudi Arabia or Egypt or China, all of whom have tyrannical regimes. I would give up our imperial pretensions.

Do you ever imagine what would have happened if you hadn't decided to leak the papers? If you could have done anything to mitigate the harms caused by Vietnam or our nuclear policy if you had stayed in the corridors of power?

[When I worked for the government] I was attempting to make things more reasonable, both on nuclear matters and on Vietnam. I was totally unsuccessful. Just as many cities would have been hit after my efforts as before, even though the plans I wrote called for withholding cities [from nuclear attacks]. They weren't going to do that. They changed the names of the targets from being cities to being military targets, so-called, within the cities—industries, transportation hubs, command-and-control centers, air defense. The cities would have burned. The same amount of smoke would have gone up. Working as an insider without Congress and the public ever knowing what we really planned to do, it had no effect.

[Former Secretary of State] Colin Powell, to move ahead here, knew that attacking Iraq was a very bad idea, but I'm sure he told his wife, "If I get out, I leave the president alone with hawks like Richard Perle and Dick Cheney, so I've gotta be in there." A voice of reason. Well, plausible enough. But to no good effect at all. He was against torture; he couldn't stop it.

Actually, it was others who did reveal it. Did the leaking eliminate it? No. But it greatly reduced the amount of torture we conducted. So whistleblowing has had some effect.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I would like others to believe that they have the power—and the obligation, really—as patriots, as human beings, to reveal what they themselves know are unjustified dangers to human existence. And not simply, for reasons of career and promises to superiors, to conceal dangers of that nature. In other words, to be truth tellers.

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75 responses to “Unplugging the Doomsday Machine

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  2. …everybody else has the same one, and it’s not to a leader, and it’s not to secrecy. It’s to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    I agree with what Ellsbrerg is trying to say here, that we need to do away with that troublesome oath so that our leaders can be free to do secretly whatever they feel is in their best interest.

  3. “He calls Edward Snowden “a hero of mine.” In return, Snowden has said he was following in Ellsberg’s footsteps when he leaked his own cache of secret government documents in 2013.”

    Snowden is a traitor of the highest order. He stole terabytes of entirely unrelated data to what he was protesting against, ran away to China then later ran away to Russia. And handed over that data to them. Traitor.

    Ellsberg seems like a rather naive man but one with convictions I respect. His conclusions on WWII, for instance, are rather silly. Fire bombing in Japan was disgusting but unavoidable in a total war situation. The Air Force experimented with various bombing methods that started with high altitude bombing, utilizing the B-29s to try and bomb Japanes industrial centers to kill their production. This method kept the aircrews out of range of interceptor aircraft and flak but was entirely ineffective. So they started low altitude bombing with fire bombs to demolish the small scale industries rampant in Japan at the time and to mitigate the horrendous inaccuracy of high altitude bombing. They went from stopping production at industrial sites for a few hours to burning down the entire factories in massive firestorms.

    Wanna avoid the horrors of war? Don’t start wars. When they start it is best to throw out naivety and prosecute them to win them.

    1. No, Snowden is a hero. Exposing illegal acts is hero-material. You are a damned statist worshipper.

      But you don’t go far enough in your WW II analysis. War always has targeted civilians because they produce the supplies which keep armies going. Even if that targetting is indirectly, by blockades to reduce imports of vital resources, it still targets civilians collaterally.

      The only way a country could prevent its civilians being targeted is to establish an entirely separate military economy before war starts, with soldiers farming, mining, manning factories, etc. If that sounds ludicrous, it is, and shows how impossible it is to not target civilians. Whether civilians die by firestorm or explosions or starvation, targeting is targeting, dead is dead.

      Like the fools who proclaim the atomic bombings as war crimes while ignoring the previous firestorms, several of which killed more people but much more slowly and agonizingly. Or the 100,000 Chinese being killed every month by the Japanese military. Or the millions of Japanese deaths that would have been the result of an invasion. Or the millions of civilians that would died from a year long blockade. The atomic bombings were the excuse the Japanese military needed to accept surrender, even if the Russian declaration of war may have been more of a long term threat. They should be damned grateful it ended that way. Every singe alternative was worse.

      1. I have struggled with Snowden for sometime. The NSA mass-collection of information was very questionable but I find it hard to believe Snowden could not have found a better way to expose the information. I would be very surprised if Rand Paul would tell him to kick rocks if exposed to the information, for instance, and he would still have had whistleblower protections and the overtop protection of a Senator. And he would not have betrayed the promise he took to safeguard information.

        But that is not the route he chose. Snowden decided to steal literally everything he came in contact with no matter if it was relevant to his central issue or not. Then ran away to China. Then ran away to Russia. It is clear this information was gathered as blackmail / bartering chips for his freedom.

        Ellsberg was willing to go to jail for his convictions. Snowden was not. Then he lied about all of this repeatedly, the stealing of unreleated information, and insulted common sense by his asinine explanations for going to China and Russia. Coward and a traitor in my book no matter the other positive outcomes that may have accompanied his actions.

        1. You’re giving Senator Paul too much credit. Congress either knew about the collection or willfully ignored it. Snowden’s superiors and the NSA contracting them knew. No politician was going to admit to the public violating their oath of office. Hell, who copped to it even after it was exposed? A person finding systemic Fourth Amendment violations has no recourse – none – other than informing those whose constitutional protections are being violated.

          This is a country of men, not of laws, and to expect Snowden to get dropped in a secret hole for the rest of his life for doing what our representatives were too cowardly to do is the worst statism.

        2. Ellsberg was willing to go to jail for his convictions. Snowden was not.

          I think you’re making too big a distinction here. Ellsberg may have expected he would go to jail, but he fought it and won. He didn’t have the escape options Snowden did, of fleeing to Hong Kong and Moscow. Both knew the risk, they just dealt with it differently, and we will never know how much of that was due to the different options.

          1. I implore you to simply consider the information he stole indiscriminately, information that had nothing to do with bulk collection of data on US persons, and then the places he ran off too. China and Russia.

            These are not escape options, they are traitorous actions. He ran off to countries more statist, more illiberal, more corrupt, than the United States with data that had nothing to do with his whistleblowing action. Not only are these optics terribly questionable, they indicate very questionable motives to begin with.

            All I ask is to consider this before calling him a hero.

            1. There are very few options when looking for a country not under the thumb of the United States government. I implore you to consider that.

          2. I implore you to simply consider the information he stole indiscriminately, information that had nothing to do with bulk collection of data on US persons, and then the places he ran off too. China and Russia.

            These are not escape options, they are traitorous actions. He ran off to countries more statist, more illiberal, more corrupt, than the United States with data that had nothing to do with his whistleblowing action. Not only are these optics terribly questionable, they indicate very questionable motives to begin with.

            All I ask is to consider this before calling him a hero.

            1. Snowden didn’t run to Russia; he was marooned there by the U.S. government during transit.

            2. I implore you to simply consider the information he stole indiscriminately, information that had nothing to do with bulk collection of data on US persons, and then the places he ran off too. China and Russia.

              Yes, he also stole information about the NSA’s reckless attempts to undermine global information security standards. The man did a public service to every single human on this planet.

        3. Ellsberg has been quoted elsewhere that in the current climate he believes he would have been imprisoned for the Pentagon Papers. He was operating under different rules in a pre-9/11 world.

      2. No, Snowden is a hero. Exposing illegal acts is hero-material. You are a damned statist worshipper.

        I think it is useful that there are military snipers who will kill people who intend to harm the US. At the same time, I think military snipers are cowards and psychopaths and I wouldn’t trust them with anything in person. It’s a similar situation with double agents, people who assassinate dictators, and people who leak important information.

        The point is: performing a useful service for society is not necessarily an indication of good character, let alone “hero” status. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        I’m glad Ellsberg, Snowden, and Manning leaked what they leaked. At the same time, I would avoid these people like the plague because I don’t think anybody who makes the kinds of choices they have made can ever be trusted.

        1. The EMT who saves lives may well be some kind of weird social deviant who would make Crusty blush. Maybe he steals his kids’ Halloween candy, or slips out at night to throw his leaves and dog poop over the fence to let his neighbor deal with it, or cheats at poker.

          That doesn’t make him any less a hero for saving lives.

        2. I disagree that “anybody who makes the kinds of choices they have made can ever be trusted.” They’ve taken substantial risks to show us what the government is doing in our name, and in the case of Snowden, he exposed people in government acting illegally. And unfortunately, those people have gone unpunished. Even James Clapper lied to Congress (shouldn’t he be prosecuted just like Manafort and George P.?). And those illegal programs remain AFAIK. It’s led to a president using the government to spy on his political opponent.

          One thing you can trust, is that people in power will abuse that trust and aren’t to be trusted. I trust Snowden far more than people in the federal government, because he has no power. I only hope that people in government are truly trustworthy, but the evidence is against it for many of them, especially at the highest levels.

          1. One thing you can trust, is that people in power will abuse that trust and aren’t to be trusted. I trust Snowden far more than people in the federal government, because he has no power

            Snowden’s source of power is the same as that for Nixon, Clinton, or anybody else working with or for government: the state. And he misused the power the same way politicians do: by placing himself above the law. So, I disagree that there is a valid distinction between “people in power” and Snowden; the details may differ, but in the end, Snowden is pretty much doing the same thing politicians do. The fact that Snowden’s actions were personally risky and costly doesn’t change that: many politicians are self-righteous and foolish in the same way.

            1. And he misused the power the same way politicians do: by placing himself above the law

              Who gives a shit? The law is not the font of morality. Placing oneself above immoral laws is laudable, especially when its done to help others.

            2. > Snowden’s source of power is the same as that for Nixon, Clinton, or anybody else working with or for government: the state.

              Bullshit. The source of power for presidents is the apparatus of the state, its force (Sun Tzu, “All warfare is based on deception) and much more importantly (Operation Mockingbird), fraud, lies and deceit. The state is the very manifestation on Earth of the essence of deceit. All voluntary, economic activity is based on coincidence of wants and honesty.

              Snowdens source of power is the exact converse of the State: the Truth.

          2. I disagree that “anybody who makes the kinds of choices they have made can ever be trusted.” They’ve taken substantial risks to show us what the government is doing in our name

            Anybody who knows history knows that this is an intrinsic, unavoidable feature of government. The only reason you need Snowden to “show you” that is if you are an ignorant, statist fool to begin with who thinks that the problem isn’t with “government” but “the government”.

            And, of course, the conclusion that Snowden supporters draw from his revelations isn’t to decrease the size and power of the state, it is, as usual, to double down on statism and state power, to double down on the foolish belief that the best response to bad government is to increase the size and power of government.

            1. And, of course, the conclusion that Snowden supporters draw from his revelations isn’t to decrease the size and power of the state, it is, as usual, to double down on statism and state power, to double down on the foolish belief that the best response to bad government is to increase the size and power of government.

              That does not track at all.

            2. Nonsense. Snowden supporters are largely libertarian.

              1. Snowden supporters are largely young idealists who have been raised during periods of tremendous government incompetence and think this is reason to burn it all down and start again. They have also been raised in a time as far away from the threat of violence and burning as possible that they forget how terrible this truly is. By teachers and professors who proselytize on he need to feel guilt for your ancestors actions. These are my friends, people who are naturally averse to anything branded USA but who consistently vote for far left politicians and support their causes.

                Unreasonable people in other words. Moral absolutists and naive fools.

                Some are consistent and dislike government infringing on their liberties and want to shrink the government and watch it more closely but these are rare.

      3. But you don’t go far enough in your WW II analysis. War always has targeted civilians because they produce the supplies which keep armies going. Even if that targetting is indirectly, by blockades to reduce imports of vital resources, it still targets civilians collaterally

        And why shouldn’t war “target civilians”? Rulers, even dictators, only rule because the civilian population accepts their rule, and hence the civilian population is ultimately responsible in conflicts between nation states.

        1. Today’s cruise missiles have made carpet-bombing obsolete. The Allies bombed Germany flat in the spring of 1945 largely because the rest of our stuff was wrecked but we still had lots of planes and bombs.

          1. Hank, you really don’t know what you are talking about. Carpet bombing is the term used to describe bombing a large area. Historically in WWII this was because bombing accuracy was not great.

            Carpet bombing still has its place in warfare. Cruise missiles can target specific targets or drop cluster bombs to target troops and vehicles in the open (carpet bombing).

            Bombing might not win wars but it been shown to absolutely affect the bombed country’s infrastructure and morale. You would not be able to fight or build equipment effectively if you were bombed every day.

            Plus nukes are one big carpet bombing effort. They wipe out everything within their effective radius. If Japan has not surrendered, they would have found out how carpet bombing by nukes would wipe out defending armies near landing beaches.

        2. “And why shouldn’t war “target civilians”? Rulers, even dictators, only rule because the civilian population accepts their rule, and hence the civilian population is ultimately responsible in conflicts between nation states.

          So “socializing of guilt”? Every person not murdered by a tyrant is also the tyrant, and hence fair target for the tyrant’s enemies?

          Is there any notion of a cutoff for reasonableness? How about the poor fucks in concentration and work camps that did try to stand against the tyrant? Women and children (perhaps the majority of the population in Japanese cities by the time they were nuked)? How about a cutoff that stops short of indiscriminatingly killing people who aren’t trying to fight you?

          Otherwise this kind of argument can justify any kind of atrocity or terrorist actions. The US govt is a lot better than those cartoon characters from WW2, sure. but it still destroys some people in the must unjust and indefensible fashion, at least occasionally, just to be dicks. Is any and all response against anyone in the US now justified to topple this system?

        3. So, by that “reasoning” we should murder slaves, because they are supporting the evil Massa?!?

          The idea that the ruled are responsible for their ruler is evil nonsense. “Democracy” is the primary prop in the collectivist bag of bullshit “arguments”. “We are the government” they brag, “To say that you love your country but fear your government is unpatriotic, because the government is US!”, they lecture. THAT is the underpinning of your argument.

          You and your collectivism are an absolute moral horror.

          1. Let’s see how far your anarchy goes towards securing your rights and freedoms. If everyone around is a moral horror and the government (ran by individuals) can do nothing but what is contrary to your interests how exactly do you suppose this gets better without democratic government.

            Your anger and moral relativism/idealism has been played out countless times before. Go ahead and ask Robespierre how his worked out.

    2. 1. Terabytes of data completely related to the unethical actions the USG has been taking in the WoT though. So I think I’ll give him a congratulatory pat on the back for that one.

      2. Oooh, I know this one – he’s put American lives at risk. Yeah, the lives of the pawns we’re using to do or instigate those unethical actions. Having been one of those dudes . . . I’m not going to hold a grudge against the man.

      3. Ran away to China and then Russia and then turned them over? Is this supposed to be wrong? Was he supposed to wait at home for the FBI to come shoot him in the face during an ‘investigatory conversation’? Just because he wasn’t willing to let these assholes martyr him doesn’t make him a traitor.

      4. Turned over that ‘completely unrelated information’ – to people who had every reason to gleefully smear it across the face of the USG and would ensure that it would be widely disseminated.

      1. Your choice to make on where you want to sit man. I think your nihilism and anarchism are a little too extreme though.

        The USA is by no means a perfect nation, we are humans after all, but I would be hard pressed to find anything I prefer about China or Russia to the USA. Providing nations that are not only statist but antiliberal, totalitarian, and oppressive information that can damage the national security interests of the United States seems pretty traitorous in my book.

        One more thing to ponder… Snodwen was working in Hawaii with US PACOM (Pacific Command) at an NSA facility when he decided to defect. He was not working with law enforcement who might collect on US individuals whether on purpose or accidentally, he was not working with special forces who might conduct anti-terror operations, he was not working with anyone who would have a legitimate reason to come into contact with information relating to US persons or anything that would be even slightly in the grey area for US intelligence services. He was working in a place worried about foreign nations and collecting on them (as a network administrator let us belabor, not a collector or analyst).

        What information do you suppose he primarily had access to and turned over to the Russians and Chinese? Probably legitimate military intelligence, no?

        1. What information do you suppose he primarily had access to and turned over to the Russians and Chinese? Probably legitimate military intelligence, no?

          No, I don’t suppose that. Nobody has provided one shred of evidence of such a thing happening.

          1. Executive Order 12333 has defined US persons and what the IC can collect on them. Which is virtually nothing. This has been drilled into the IC through repeated training sessions and overt threats of prison to those who disregard it. 99.99% of what NSA collects has absolutely nothing to do with US persons because it has no operational significance and no use to anyone in the military or the government. You give more information freely to Google and Amazon than NSA can legally collect (or cares to collect) on you. Does that excuse questionably legal actions? No. But let’s be realistic about the scope of the problem here which is fairly small.

            Back to Snowden…

            “The U.S. believes Snowden’s cache also includes 31,000 documents that do not deal with NSA surveillance “but primarily with standard intelligence about other countries’ military capabilities, including weapons systems.”
            http://www.businessinsider.com…..ion-2014-3

            If you trust the ethics of a man who ran to Russia with over a million documents on sensitive intelligence matters over the common decency of Americans working inside the government and under a framework of judicial oversight, that is your prerogative. I do not share this nihilism in the American government.

            1. If you trust the ethics of a man who ran to Russia with over a million documents on sensitive intelligence matters over the common decency of Americans working inside the government and under a framework of judicial oversight, that is your prerogative. I do not share this nihilism in the American government.

              1. Snowden didn’t run to Russia. He was marooned there when the U.S. government revoked his passport on the way to South America.

              2. Americans working inside the government routinely violate the rights of others, especially inside the intelligence and law enforcement communities. So yes, I will absolutely trust the ethics of a man who risked decades of imprisonment to expose government abuse over those who perpetuate said abuse.

              3. There is no judicial oversight of the NSA. The rubber stamp FISA court is a joke.

            2. Are you completely clueless as to all the “unmasking” that Obomber people had been doing after the election on Trump’s personnel? The “scope of the problem” is not “small”, it’s positively Brobdingnagian.

              Statutes and codes do not protect Liberty! PEOPLE protect it. We now know that NSA is collecting EVERYTHING, and that every statement made to the contrary – of which there are many – is an egregious lie, notwithstanding any codes, statutes, rules, regulations, constitutional amendments, edicts, orders, decrees to the contrary.

              Your naivete is the death of this country.

        2. > I would be hard pressed to find anything I prefer about China or Russia to the USA

          Really? REALLY?!? How about that they don’t want to lock me in a cage and the sociopaths in charge of the USA do? How’s that track in your Pros and Cons?

          1. Are you fucking dumb? You can’t even visit fucking Google in China. Or Facebook. They have no Bill or Rights, no Constitution, no independent judiciary, the military is sworn to protect the Communist Party. They lock political dissidents in prison for uttering the word “democracy.” And hey in Russia they got elections, real free, unless the government wants to make up some bullshit charge and bar you from running like Navalny. Or maybe if you are lucky you might get a bullet in the back of your head or get thrown off a building. But don’t worry, they have a free press and capitalism, unless some rival oligarch with better friends in the government can, again, make some bullshit charge up and grow you in prison and force you to sell your business to the rival oligarch.

            How has the world reached the point where morons in the West think there is any moral relativism between our system and Russia/China? Go live there and bask in their freedoms then, comrade, our totalitarian shitholes in the West are clearly not suited to your love of independence.

    3. JoeBlow, you need to get your tongue out of the ass of the military/industrial complex. Your statements are morally horrifying as well as tactically and strategically false and unsound.

      Rosevelt started the war with Japan by blockading/embargoing oil (see Stinnett, Day of Deceit). Japan had requested terms of surrender for 9 months prior to the mass murders at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The carpet bombing of Dresden and Tokyo were initiated as Ellsberg states, not as you so self-righteously and oh, so conveniently rationalize.

      The banking cartels that put Rosevelt in power also financed Hitler. (see Antony Sutton, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler)

      1. You are entitled to your opinion hombre. I perhaps do not think the morality of the world is as cut and dry as you do and I also believe the world is filled with instances of imperfect individuals trying to make decisions with imperfect information on compressed timeframes. It is very easy to second guess when removed from the necessity of action.

        On a side note, the information you are presenting may be factually correct but it is a perversion of the truth. Your claim on the Japanese desiring to surrender for instance. The Allies made it very clear there was one condition for terms of surrender; that it was unconditional. The Japanese did not feel compelled to accept this term until after the atomic bombs dropped. Similarly, you may personally believe it was immoral to conduct low altitude firebombing of Japanese cities but there is hard evidence to prove it was much more effective at disrupting Japanese industry (the goal of the bombing) than high altitude conventional bombing. Just as there is hard evidence to disprove your assertions on surrendering by Japan.

        1. The ONLY term the Japanese ASKED for was to be allowed to keep their emperor. This was rejected by the US, I suspect as a way of forcing Japan into a no-win situation like they did with Saddam Hussein (Stop resisting!), only to allow it after the US had nuked them and Japan surrendered. The “unconditional surrender” term accomplished nothing. Nothing, except to supply an excuse to murder a third of a million civilians.

          The whole idea of “unconditional surrender” was at that time, completely unheard of in war. I have not studied the law of war much, but it sounds pretty alien to the principles of any law I’ve ever read.

          I note that you did not dispute that Rosevelt engineered the US entry into the war in the Pacific. Consider that that makes the US the aggressor, and therefore a war criminal, just for that alone.

          1. The US has no prerogative to sell oil to a country that is using it to amass an empire in Asia contrary to American interests. I do not understand this line of reasoning. Japan was not owed access to resources they were utilizing to establish hegemony in Asia along ideals as far from American liberalism as possible.

            Good and services are sold freely when buyer and seller agree to terms and a price. They are not an entitlement. You are presenting an absolutely asinine argument.

    1. And I expect to see that one show up in some hentai soon (hey, it’s at least more logical than the tentacle fetish).

  4. The US government lies constantly. It was lying to get the US into the civil war, it was lying to get the US into WWI, it was lying to get the US into WWII, it was lying to pass social welfare and civil rights legislation, and it was lying to get the US into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ellsberg merely revealed one of those lies. But in the end, he is still just an leftist academic and statist who is using politics and notoriety for his own gain. And you can bet that when government lies suit Ellsberg’s own political agenda and preferences, he doesn’t question them.

    As for Reason, a couple of articles back it excoriated Trump for eroding trust in government, yet now it celebrates Ellsberg for doing just the same. Stop being such transparent political partisans.

    1. There is a qualitative difference between Ellsberg and Trump. Trump erodes trust by lying.

      1. Trump erodes trust by lying.

        In terms of “lying”, Trump can’t hold a candle to real politicians like Hillary, Sanders, Pelosi, Feinstein, etc. The fact that those other politicians get away with their lies so often is not a good thing for democracy.

        There is a qualitative difference between Ellsberg and Trump.

        True: in his first year, Trump has done a lot more for this country than Ellsberg in his entire career.

    2. Reason acting like Trump is making government worse is laughable.

      Politicians like Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Boosh, and Obama have all contributed significantly to American trusting government.

      Trump was elected to rollback what establishment politicians have been doing to wreck America for decades.

      There is a reason that establishment politicians and bureaucrats want Trump out of office. He is leading the charge to rollback government corruption and that needs to be shut down quickly.

      The establishment never expected Trump to win because they think they have mostly broken American determination to be free.

      1. American‘s NOT trusting government.

  5. I had buried a chestful of Spanish doubloons to donate to Reason during The Panhandlefest, but some fool hurricane must’ve flattened the hill I buried it in. Drat the luck!

    1. Same.

  6. [When I worked for the government] I was attempting to make things more reasonable, both on nuclear matters and on Vietnam. I was totally unsuccessful.

    Define “reasonable”. Things are the way they are for reasons, they didn’t just accidentally or randomly get this way. Some people have different priorities and different calculations than you do and what seems unreasonable and risky to you seems reasonable and practical to them. Everybody bitches about the way things are to some extent or another and it seems so simple to get them to do something better, but somebody somewhere’s making bank on things the way they are and they don’t want to see things changed.

    My go-to example on this is all the commuters who bitch about the traffic jams they have to deal with. No, dude, you don’t have to deal with traffic jams – you *are* the traffic jam. Find a job closer to home (“but they don’t pay as much!”) or move closer to your job (“but I can’t afford what they’re charging in that neighborhood!”) or shut the hell up and live with the choices you made.

    1. People want something better but they’re not willing to pay the price or willing to admit there is a price – “things would be so much better if everybody just did what I wanted them to do”. Yeah, that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton thinks.

  7. I don’t agree with those of my friends who are critical of all wars. The truth is, though, that there hasn’t been one since the Second World War that I could really recognize on our part as having been justified or worthwhile.

    The Korean war arguably amounted to “self-defense” to the extent that the North attacked our troops stationed there, even if one would argue that we should have left the whole region to the Soviets and Chinese Communists at the end of WWII. It was a rather different situation from Vietnam, where we chose to intervene in a conflict already underway.

    I do wonder about that decision to attack us, inasmuch as the whole war with Japan had just happened because of a similar faulty calculus — “If we attack the US and seize what we want, certainly they’ll realize that it isn’t worth fighting us over it…”

    1. “The Korean war arguably amounted to “self-defense” to the extent that the North attacked our troops stationed there, even if one would argue that we should have left the whole region to the Soviets and Chinese Communists at the end of WWII.”
      Good point and often never mentioned.

      Truman failed to resolve many territorial issues following WWII because he clearly underestimated the resolve of Stalin to land grab and expand Communism. The Korean peninsula was one of these regions that the USA didn’t push the USSR very much. To be fair, Americans mostly didn’t want to go from fighting the Japanese and Germans to fighting the USSR. The best time to push Stalin was before he had the bomb and of course, we ended up fighting the USSR many times later on.

      We know now that Stalin would have backed down if FDR and Truman had pushed for free elections in Eastern Europe, that Korea be united with free elections, and that the USSR must give back all countries seized under the Molotov-Ribberntrop Pact. Once the USSR had a nuke, Stalin would never back down.

      1. “We know now that Stalin would have backed down if FDR and Truman had pushed for free elections in Eastern Europe, that Korea be united with free elections, and that the USSR must give back all countries seized under the Molotov-Ribberntrop Pact.”

        “We” don’t know that.
        Got a believable cite?

  8. If you are exposing crimes against the Constitution, you are not a traitor. The traitors are those in government who abuse their position, exceed the powers of the Constitution, and aid America’s foes.

    Its why whistleblowers are named something other than traitors.

    Jane Fonda is a traitor. She gave aid and comfort to the enemy while NVA troops shot down an American military plane.

    1. If you are exposing crimes against the Constitution, you are not a traitor.

      And who has been convicted of “crimes against the Constitution” based on Snowden’s leak? Nobody.

      So, Snowden didn’t actually “expose crimes against the Constitution”.

      1. Since when is a conviction necessary to expose a crime?

        Is this one of those ‘sentence first, then trial’ jokes?

        1. None of the alleged “crimes against the Constitution” he exposed have ever been ruled unconstitutional. So they basically amount to things that libertarians and leftists *think* should be against the constitution.

          1. None of the alleged “crimes against the Constitution” he exposed have ever been ruled unconstitutional

            Neither has Japanese internment.

    2. Jane Fonda is a traitor. She gave aid and comfort to the enemy while NVA troops shot down an American military plane.

      1. You’re making a bad assumption that the USG has any automatic call on any American’s loyalty. It doesn’t. It has to earn it like anyone else.

      2. Who’s enemy? America’s? Because the NVA was fighting the French to start with. Until we started shooting *at them*.

      3. They wouldn’t have been an American plane in range for them to shoot down if we didn’t deliberately stick our snout in to that mudpile.

      1. You’re making a bad assumption that the USG has any automatic call on any American’s loyalty. It doesn’t. It has to earn it like anyone else.

        So you don’t think treason can ever be a crime? Seriously?

        You have a right to your opinion I guess, but let’s be clear on what that opinion is.

        1. Treason against the united States shall consist in levying war against THEM, or providing aid or comfort to their enemies.

          AFAIK, the NVA never attacked any of the 50 states or any of their inhabitants, so they cannot be an enemy, the illegal, murderous actions of the US military notwithstanding. If they are not an enemy, it’s not traitorous to aid or comfort them.

  9. So a guy invites some people to a Christmas party where everyone has to come dressed as an emotion.

    One women comes in wearing blue, and she announces that she is feeling sad (blue).

    A guy comes in with smiley-face stickers all over his body, and he says he’s happy.

    Then a naked guy comes in, grabs a dish off the dessert tray and sticks his dick in it. He says, “I’m fucking dis custard.”

  10. I think the conversation could have lingered longer on pacifism. I think some great virtue signaling opportunities were passed over.

  11. Anyone who has read of, or watched vids of North Korea will recognize this image:

    http://www.sfgate.com/news/art…..o-14716584

    Yes, the multitude of the subjects wailing, pulling their hair and placing flowers at the base of the memorial to the one who made life livable!
    The twerp warmed a seat, instituted a $15M/W, notably strong-armed a landlord to prevent legal evictions (and he was seated at a table near us at a restaurant that evening; my wife asked me to avoid a ‘discussion’).
    He was a scumbag SJW from end to end and spent most of his life slopping at the public trough. And people give him flowers…

    1. Send me dead flowers every morning
      Send me dead flowers by the mail
      Send me dead flowers to my wedding
      And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave

  12. Sounds like this author is really sad he never went to jail.

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