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.