Dan Ellsberg’s Parting Plea: Don’t Wait

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity honored the late Dan Ellsberg with our annual award for fearless integrity on April 11, 2023. It was clear that Dan summoned much of his remaining strength to leave an unambiguous message to people of conscience as to why they should blow the whistle on government lies, as he did, but NOW, not later.

The private ceremony was filmed by a friend of Dan and Patricia. Dan saved his parting plea for the last three minutes. Those wishing to go directly to that segment can start at minute 19:32. Dan’s words speak for themselves; I have transcribed them below.

Two things: we did not turn against the Vietnam war because of lies. We were used to that and had never objected before. Nor did we turn against the war because it was not winnable. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had said the war was winnable if only the president would do more murder, cross more international boundaries going into China and North Vietnam, than he was willing to do. All was ‘winnable’; it was the president who decided that opting for stalemate, however bloody and escalating, was preferable to him to getting out, to losing, or to pursuing an absolutely vain effort proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of escalating to the north.


And that is happening right now in Ukraine.

So people did not break with the war because it was lied about; they did not go to prison because it was unwinnable, but because it was wrong. And they all knew it was wrong, that these lies were about crimes and sins and evil that should stop immediately – murder, not just your ordinary lies about cost overruns but lies that were killing people.

And, thus, I’ve said to very many people since then, Do not do what I did. Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait till the bombs are falling and thousands more have died. Act like Katharine Gun; act like I wish I had done in 1964, when I knew that people were being lied to death. Put out documents to that effect before the war, right at the time, at whatever cost to oneself, at whatever risk, which is not even comparable to the massacres that were actually ongoing or in process. [Emphasis added]

Do what I wish I had done in ’64, not what I waited till 69 and 71 to do. Act like Katharine Gun and Ed Snowden and Tom Drake, Bill Binney, and many others on the list of Sam Adams awardees, in particular, Ed Snowden and Julian Assange.

Below is the Sam Adams Award citation for this year’s awardee, Daniel Ellsberg:

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity

Presented this 11th day of April 2023 in the Berkeley Hills of California by admirers of the integrity of former CIA analyst, Sam Adams.

Know all ye by these presents that Daniel Ellsberg is hereby awarded the Corner-Brightener Candlestick Holder by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity.

Mentor, Mensch, "Most Dangerous Man," Friend: We honor Dan for setting the standard in exposing government lies and – although he himself never worked for an intelligence agency – for giving unflinching support to intelligence officials who blow the whistle.

Earlier Awardees: From Katharine Gun (2003) to Daniel Hale (2023); from Julian Assange (2010) and Chelsea Manning (2014) to Sy Hersh (2017) – all took courage from Dan and from one another. Ed Snowden (2013), having watched the "Justice" system abuse Tom Drake (2011), decided he had to go abroad in order to expose "turnkey tyranny." And, citing the patriotic example of Bill Binney (2015), Ed declared: "Without Bill Binney there would be no Ed Snowden."

Poetic Justice: CIA analyst Sam Adams, for whom this award is named, proved in 1967 that the US Army in Saigon was falsifying the number of armed insurgents in the South. Adams’s count was almost double the 299,000 Gen. William Westmoreland insisted on for political purposes.

Felicitous Leaks: The countrywide insurgent offensive during Tet (Jan/Feb 1968) proved Adams right. Still, President Johnson planned to escalate until leaks to the NY Times thwarted this risky plan. A story by Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith, "WESTMORELAND REQUESTS 206,000 MORE MEN, STIRRING DEBATE," led the Times’s front page on March 10, 1968, revealing plans to widen the war into Cambodia and Laos and noting the increasing opposition to escalation.

The Coup de Grâce: Enter Dan Ellsberg with his very first leak. Dan gave Neil Sheehan the damning data on Westmoreland’s lowball estimates designed to demonstrate "remarkable progress." On March 19, the Times front-paged Sheehan’s story headlined: "US UNDERVALUED ENEMY’S STRENGTH BEFORE OFFENSIVE: CIA REPORTS FORCES WERE SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER."

Escalation Thwarted: On March 25 the President complained privately: "The leaks to the NY Times hurt us. … We have no support for the war. … I would have given Westy the 206,000 men." On March 31, Johnson paused the bombing and announced he would not run again for president. Westmoreland was pulled out of Saigon and ‘promoted’ to army chief of staff.

Dan Ellsberg has never rested on his laurels. Those who take seriously the danger of nuclear war are also deeply indebted to him for his The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017). That unique book is even more important today than when first published.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Author: Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).