If the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers had to do it all over again today, he’d be scanning documents and posting them to the Internet, not leaking them to the New York Times.
In early 1971, Mr. Ellsberg, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, passed a New York Times reporter a copy of a top-secret report casting doubt on the war in Vietnam, the so-called Pentagon Papers. For months, he said, he waited, unsure if The New York Times would ever publish.
When the Nixon administration went to court and prevented The Times from publishing the full report, Mr. Ellsberg gave copies to The Washington Post and other newspapers.
Today, he says, there is something enticing about being independent — not at the whim of publishers or government attempts to control release. “The government wouldn’t have been tempted to enjoin it, if I had put it all out at once,” he said. “We got this duel going between newspapers and the government.”
He does concede that something might have been lost had Wikileaks been around in 1971. “I don’t think it would have had the same impact, then or now, as having it in The Times,” he said. The government’s attempt to block publication — something ended by the Supreme Court — was the best publicity, he said.
But playing the government off newspapers, and newspapers against each other, still does not compare with the power of the World Wide Web. “Competition worked in a useful way,” he said. “But the Internet has this viral aspect. It gets sent around and gets a broader audience.”