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Daniel Ellsberg Discusses Whistleblowers Past And Present

Jeremy Fuster |
April 10, 2014 | 6:17 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)
(Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)
Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst that leaked the Pentagon Papers, spoke with USC students at a Wednesday lunch panel about the similarities and differences between him and modern-day government leakers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Ellsberg discussed at length about how technology has greatly changed both the ability of whistleblowers to reveal information about government wrongdoing and increased the danger of them being caught. 

"I put about 7,000 pages, which I couldn't have done without Xerox machines, which was groundbreaking technology at the time" he said. "But now with digital technology we can put out hundreds of thousands of documents."

The talk was held by USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and also featured Stan Stahl, president of the Information Systems Security Association of Los Angeles, and two USC students: Kevin Driscoll, a Ph.D. candidate at the Annenberg School of Communications, and Annalise Mantz, former Editor-in-Chief and current special projects editor for the Daily Trojan.

Stahl noted that the controversy over Manning and Snowden's leaks reveal a need to better define what government information is truly dangerous if exposed and what information people need to know to protect themselves. 

"It’s not ‘Snowden belongs in jail’ versus ‘Snowden’s a hero,’” Stahl said. “It’s, ‘How do we collect the information? How do we put limits on that collection? How do we get a court to approve it?’ And we’re not going to solve that here. We’re going to solve that collectively, all of us, but it means…we need to take that discussion and make it a part of the dialogue we have as a country."

SEE ALSO | Ellsberg On The Republic We Couldn't Keep

Ellsberg compared Snowden's approach to leaking his documents to those of Manning's, saying that Snowden learned from his predecessor's mistakes. He criticized Manning for leaking documents to WikiLeaks that she did not personally read. This action was used against Manning when she was charged by the U.S. government of "wantonly" publishing intelligence and making it "accessible to the enemy." Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in July 2013.

"[Snowden] could have easily put it all on the net, made all his information available on his own judgment," Ellsberg said. "Learning from Manning's example, Snowden made it a point to not release anything he had personally reviewed and urged that it be the decision of experienced newsmen to decide which information gets put out to the public."

Still, Ellsberg said that Manning and Snowden deserved praise for their willingness to sacrifice their personal freedom to protect that of others.

"Whistleblowers have to ask whether they are willing to lose their jobs, their privacy...and sometimes even their freedom and their lives to protect the Constitution, and for me, the answer was 'yes'."
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