Ellsberg Surprises Panel on Prosecuting Leaks

A recent panel discussion on prosecuting leaks included an unexpected contribution from Daniel Ellsberg, the man whose exposure of the Pentagon Papers opened a new window on the war in Vietnam.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Whatever downsides there may be to living in the nation's capital, there are moments when you think - only in Washington.

One of those moments happened yesterday to NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO: The scene was the Association of American Law Schools' annual conference, a panel about prosecuting leaks. One of the panelists was Kenneth Wainstein, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

Mr. KENNETH WAINSTEIN (Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, Justice Department): I think probably the only representative of this group of the leaks-are-bad camp...

SHAPIRO: Wainstein said leaks can cripple the government's ability to function successfully and they are never justified.

Mr. WAINSTEIN: When you take a sensitive position in government service, you swear to an oath to protect classified information. And whenever that oath is broken, that diminishes the integrity of public service and public servants.

SHAPIRO: When it came time for questions from the audience, a white-haired man stood up, far from the microphone.

Mr. DANIEL ELLSBERG (Former Military Analyst): My name is Daniel Ellsberg, former official (unintelligible)...

SHAPIRO: Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers 35 years ago, 7000 pages containing the military's top-secret account of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg spoke directly to Mr. Wainstein.

Mr. ELLSBERG: You and I took the same oath. It was not an oath to keep secrets.

SHAPIRO: Ellsberg said he and Wainstein signed many agreements to keep secrets...

Mr. ELLSBERG: ...but our oath, yours and mine, was to the Constitution.

SHAPIRO: Ellsberg said people who keep some secrets are protecting unconstitutional activities. When Ellsberg had spoken for about five minutes, the moderator intervened. She politely requested that he ask a question or sit down, and so he sat down.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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