Daniel Ellsberg, who played a role in the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, spoke about scandal and cover-up in the Nixon administration Tuesday at the Hall on Virginia Avenue’s Watergate 723 program.
He encouraged students to risk their futures to expose untruths and uncover wrongdoing – to make a difference in the world.
“I am willing to lose my career and my relationships by telling the truth about a pattern of criminal activity, and if told will affect policy and save many lives,” Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg was responsible for the release of the Pentagon Papers, which were classified documents about U.S. decisions leading up to the Vietnam War, to the press June 13, 1971. He was also wiretapped by the White House team called the “plumbers,” famous for its role in the Watergate scandal.
During his two-hour talk with about 25 HOVA residents, Ellsberg told them about many issues that were kept secret over the years. He said former President Nixon had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War. Nixon did not intend to end the war, Ellsberg said. Ellsberg said Nixon’s plan in 1968 was to achieve a mutual withdrawal and pose a renewed war with the threat of nuclear weapons.
Nixon never achieved his goal, and 28,000 more people died in his futile attempt, he said.
Ellsberg said Nixon knew that Ellsberg had documents on the Vietnam War from Nixon’s administration that had not been released. He said Nixon knew somebody was talking and considered Ellsberg a serious threat. Ellsberg was put on trial for the release of these secret documents.
Ellsberg said even though he knew of the information, he did not tell Congress the truth. Ellsberg said if he had been aware of how critical the documents were, he would have released the documents much earlier. Then the war may have ended sooner, and thousands of lives may have been saved, he said.