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'Dangerous Man' Daniel Ellsberg Reflects

Feb 18, 2010 (Talk of the Nation)

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The Pentagon Papers provoked public debate about the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg, the man who stole them from the U.S. government, is the subject of the documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America.

After service as a company commander in the Marines, Ellsberg went to work at the Rand Corporation as a military analyst and came to specialize on the growing war in Vietnam. A believer at first, he became convinced that the war was unwinnable, then learned from a classified historical study that it was based on lies.

Eventually, Ellsberg provided that study — thousands of top secret documents — to the New York Times and other newspapers, and what became known as the Pentagon Papers prompted a landmark Supreme Court decision on the First Amendment and fundamental reevaluation of the U.S. role in Vietnam.

Ellsberg, in conversation with Neal Conan, gives great credit to the filmmakers. "The people who did the research on this film really did some remarkable archival research," he says. Ellsberg "really almost fell over" when he saw some newsreel in the film with his head in the frame, coming down the ramp after Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara spoke to the press following a trip to Vietnam.

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