Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. After graduating from Harvard in 1952 with a B.A. summa cum laude in Economics, he studied for a year at King’s College, Cambridge University, on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Between 1954 and 1957, Ellsberg spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as rifle platoon leader, operations officer, and rifle company commander. In 1959, Ellsberg became a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, and consultant to the Defense Department and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to The New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on twelve felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him. Ellsberg is the author of three books: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017), Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002), Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001), and Papers on the War (1971).
On the Brink
Before he made the most important disclosure of the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg saw inside the United States’s nuclear empire — and it terrified him....