Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst whose leak of the “Pentagon Papers” precipitated a landmark Supreme Court case, says President Barack Obama “has become an elected monarch” who is leading “an unprecedented campaign against unauthorized disclosure.”
“The government had used the Espionage Act against leaks only three times before his administration,” Ellsberg told The Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday. “He’s used it six times. He’s doing his best to assure that sources in the government will have reason to fear heavy prison sentences for informing the American public in ways he doesn’t want.”
“In other words, he’s working very hard to make it a government where he controls all the information,” Ellsberg added.
Ellsberg’s leak of a top-secret history of the Vietnam War to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan in 1971 revealed that the U.S. government had systematically lied about the nature of the conflict since its involvement. The Nixon administration charged Ellsberg under the Espionage Act of 1917 and obtained a federal injunction to stop the papers’ publication, but lost the case on appeal after it reached the Supreme Court.
“I wouldn’t count on the current court with its current makeup making the same ruling with the Pentagon Papers as they did 40 years ago,” Ellsberg told the Post. “I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case.”
“Various things that were counted as unconstitutional then have been put in the president’s hands now,” he continued. “He’s become an elected monarch. Nixon’s slogan, ‘when the president does it, it’s not illegal,’ is pretty much endorsed now. Meaning not only Obama but the people who come after him will have powers that no previous president had. Abilities on surveillance that no country in the history of the world has ever had.”
Ellsberg said that the Department of Justice’s investigation into Fox News reporter James Rosen “may actually have the effect of waking people up to the fact that, for example, Attorney General Holder has been violating the Constitution steadily, and that he should be fired.”
“But fired for what?” Ellsberg said. “For doing what had the approval of the president. Holder should be fired for a whole series of actions culminating in this subpoena for James Rosen’s cell phone records. I think that would be the first step of resistance in the right direction, of rolling back Obama’s campaign against journalism, freedom of the press in national security.”
A prominent defender of fellow leaker Bradley Manning, Ellsberg said that the media will soon be in “the position of printing nothing more than government handouts” and will become “in effect a state press, as in so many other countries that lack freedom of the press.”
“There would be a lot of newspaper people who would be comfortable with that,” Ellsberg said. “But there are a lot who would not.”