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Daniel Ellsberg Reveals He was a Nuclear War Planner, Warns of Nuclear Winter & Global Starvation

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In 1971, Ellsberg was a high-level defense analyst when he leaked a top-secret report on U.S. involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times and other publications, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. He played a key role in ending the Vietnam War. Few know Ellsberg was also a Pentagon and White House consultant who drafted plans for nuclear war. His new book, published Tuesday, is titled "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner." We speak with Ellsberg about his top-secret nuclear studies, his front row seat to the Cuban missile crisis, whether Trump could start a nuclear war and how contemporary whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden are his heroes.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: North Korea is warning that U.S. actions are bringing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war. The warning came Monday as the U.S. and South Korea held massive war games, mobilizing warships, thousands of troops and some 200 U.S. planes, many of them capable of deploying nuclear bombs. North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling President Trump a, quote, "nuclear demon." Earlier this year, North Korea said it would freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an end to U.S. and South Korean war games, an overture rejected by the Trump administration.

As tensions between the U.S. and North Korea ramp up, today we're joined for the hour by a nuclear war planner to discuss what nuclear war would look like. He is already well known for another reason, as one of the world's most famous whistleblowers. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was a high-level military analyst when he leaked a top-secret report that detailed the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, including a secret dramatic escalation of troops and bombings in what looked like an unwinnable war. He photocopied and shared the 7,000-page document with The New York Times and other publications. The report came to be known as the Pentagon Papers and played a key role in ending the Vietnam War.

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AMY GOODMAN: Well, few know that 10 years before, in 1961, Daniel Ellsberg was a consultant with the Pentagon and the the White House, where he drafted plans for nuclear war. In his book, just out this week, titled The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Dan Ellsberg reveals for the first time he also made copies of top-secret documents from his nuclear studies -- an entire second set of papers in addition to the Pentagon Papers, for which he is known. Dan Ellsberg is also the author of a 2003 memoir about the Pentagon Papers and Vietnam called Secrets, in which he did not discuss this other set of papers. He's the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America. Dan Ellsberg will be a character in the forthcoming Steven Spielberg film about the Pentagon Papers called The Post.

When the come back from our break, we'll speak with Dan Ellsberg for the hour about nuclear war, the plans he drew up, what nuclear war would look like and his history as the most famous whistleblower in America. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "We Will All Go Together When We Go" by Tom Lehrer. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez. We're joined by Dan Ellsberg for the hour, yes, known for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Today we learn about something else he did over the years, in fact, decades ago: writing up plans for a nuclear war. His book details this, just out this week, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

So, you made copies of top-secret reports for plans about nuclear war years before you copied the Pentagon Papers --

DANIEL ELLSBERG: That's right.

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AMY GOODMAN: -- and released them to the press?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Essentially, my notes, and sometimes verbatim excerpts, not the entire plans themselves, but on plans that were then unknown to the president, to begin with, to President Kennedy. I briefed his aide, McGeorge Bundy, in his first month in office on the nature of the plans and some of the other problems, like the delegation of authority to theater commanders for nuclear war by President Eisenhower, which was fairly shocking to McGeorge Bundy, even though Kennedy chose to renew that delegation, as other presidents have.

But I was given the job of improving the Eisenhower plans, which was not a very high bar, actually, at that time, because they were, on their face, the worst plans in the history of warfare. A number of people saw them, but very few civilians ever got a look at them. In fact, the joint chiefs couldn't really get the targets out of General LeMay at the Strategic Air Command.

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Democracy Now!  is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on (more...)
 

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