What was my thinking leading up to the release?
- The war in Vietnam could have been dragged on indefinitely in not for the Watergate scandal removing Nixon from office. Nixon very reasonably feared that Ellsberg had damning information about Nixon.
- His interest was not to shame Nixon but to help end the war in Vietnam: it did not have this effect. The only thing that ended the war was Watergate.
- The Pentagon Papers did *not* imply that the US didn’t think the Vietnam War was unwinnable. It was winnable but under much more violence. The President was not willing to take the Joint Cheifs suggestions to go all out, and this was probably fortunate.
- Meeting conscientious objectors to the draft heading off to prison for objecting to the war was a big influence on Ellsberg’s decision to release the documents that he did.
- It caused him to ask: what could I do beyond what I’ve done to get us out of this war?
- The message of the Pentagon Papers was the message that these Americans who went to prison for refusing the draft were trying to send: the war was WRONG.
The ability for humans to collaborate and coordinate did not keep up with our ability to do harm technologically.
In school, Ellsberg heard about a hypothetical: a bomb 1000x more powerful than the biggest at the time. The Manhattan Project was already ongoing but was not known to anyone (never even leaked to the Germans, amazingly). He was asked: would this be good for humanity?
We’ve had 70 years of no nuke war since the first drop, and the same issues are raised today about nuclear weapons as well as new technologies: Genetic engineering, climate engineering, artificial intelligence.
His thesis was on decision making under uncertainty / decision theory, which led to being hired at RAND to look at command and control of nuclear weapons.
The primary concern of pacific control: “go” order would go out correctly for a strike against China, the only target in range at the time. If Russia was destroyed, China had to go to ensure they wouldn’t be the successor state.
The US plans at the time called for no limited war with Russia: must be all-out and we had to get the first drop. Any military engagement above the platoon with Russia would call for every city in Russia and China be launched against.
Ellsberg got interested in this question: “might these planes be launched without presidential order?”
It’s always been false that the president has sole control over nuclear weapons. There must be redundancy in case the president was taken out of course.
At the time, communications were interrupted between DC and the Pacific command and between the Pacific Command and the fleet all the time. They could could have thought to be under attack, so could reasonably have launched.
The whole philosophy was (and is): the US will be better off striking first rather than second. We’re poised on a hair-trigger.
On Dr Strangelove: “When I saw that in ’64, I felt I’d seen a documentary.”
Current war games suggest the Chinese can usually beat us in Taiwan. War with China will probably result in nuclear war since we still have a president who refuses to confirm a “no first use” condition for nuclear weapons (unlike China).
A technical aside: the process for authenticating use of nuclear weapons in the Pacific.
- A sealed envelope, inside of which was another envelope. Inside the inner envelope was a card.
- The first envelope was opened when a certain ~6 char code was received. If the second envelope had the first 3 characters, and the inner card has the last 3 chars, that’s a “GO”
- Naturally we have digital means to do this now.
- The problem raised by Ellsberg: Suppose somebody in the plane is out of radio comms, and they sent out the GO code to everyone? “They can’t: they’d have to open the envelope”… relying on the pilot not ignoring this and just wanting to start war.
- There was no STOP program, because the Russian’s might get it.
- The real concern: the President might get cold feet while the planes are on the way. Once the order is out, there’s no turning around.
- A technical solution was eventually developed called Permissive Action Locks using remote codes… but by order of the Air Force all the codes were 00000000 😆
- Where are the codes actually held? Not at with the upper leaders! They’re at lower levels so they can actually be used in time.
Ellsberg’s major undertaking in 1969: copy all the top-secret notes he’d taken on these problems and copy them along with the Pentagon Papers. He had the intention to put them out once the Pentagon Papers had their time in the spotlight.
Copies were lost where they were stored in a trash dump, tropical storm Doria scattered the dump and they searched for a year. Of what survived, 3/4 was declassified in 2008.
Why is this stuff still classified?
“Classification itself is no indication of relation to national security.”
The National Security Archive tries to get things declassified, but the government says “they can’t find it.” Ellsberg had it, so leaked it into the Pentagon.
The absurdity and abusiveness of the classification system will maybe get this issue of using the Espionage Act against folks like Snowden and Manning brought to the Supreme Court.