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Daniel Ellsberg

Biography:

Daniel Ellsberg received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard in 1962. His research leading up to his doctoral dissertation, Risk, Ambiguity and Decision, is considered a landmark in the development of decision theory. In 1959, he 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. He joined the Defense Department in 1964 as special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) John McNaughton, working on Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification on the front lines.

On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, he worked on the Top Secret McNamara study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the seven-thousand-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 seventeen 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, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. Since the end of the Vietnam War, he has been a lecturer, writer, and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, government wrongdoing, and the need for patriotic whistle-blowing.

Past Shows:

Accidents, Risk, & Prevention

Writer Marc Gerstein was joined by co-author Michael Ellsberg and his father Daniel Ellsberg to discuss their book on major accidents and catastrophes, and how they often could be prevented. For example, the death of students from the recent China quake might have been averted if their schools weren't so badly constructed, and there was a stronger motivation to protect children, said Gerstein. In the case of the Challenger disaster, NASA's top brass didn't listen to the warnings of engineers about the safety of O-rings. Additionally, the timing of the launch was kept even though the weather was too cold because Pres. Reagan wanted to have a link up with Christa McAuliffe during his State of the Union speech, Daniel Ellsberg detailed. Leaders, across political systems, often gamble with risks, and other people's lives, when the alternative is a possible loss to their status, he added. Michael Ellsberg talked about "bystander behavior" in which psychological factors such as ... More »

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