Sunday, January 30, 2011


A few weeks ago, this documentary on Daniel Ellsberg was shown on Australian TV. Two moments stuck in my mind.

1. The first is this warning that Ellsberg gave to Henry Kissinger when the latter went to work at the White House. The behaviour that Ellsberg describes is a kind of intellectual arrogance based on access to privileged information. This might be possible to paraphrase (in the manner of Lord Acton) as: All secrecy tends to corrupt and absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely. This does not mean that we can abolish secrecy (any more than we can abolish power), rather that we have to put in place safeguards against its power at both the personal and institutional levels. Easier said than done.

2. Later on in the documentary, after Ellsberg has gone public and faces trial, he expresses dismay that the newspaper and TV journalists were not talking about the documents that he had brought into the public domain but rather the "Ellsberg saga". He had ended up becoming the news, which is the last thing that he wanted. The soap opera of capture and trial was easier to write than the murky history of American involvement in Vietnam. Of course, that would never happen today.


neilp said...

You should check out

Ellsberg and Assange chat at the London Frontline club. I listened to the audio, but I assume the video is the same.

Brad said...

Hey Matt,

I have a copy of the book by Daniel Ellsberg: "Secrets: a memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon papers". If you want it, I will give it to you (Christmas present!).