FAS Note: This 2013 email exchange between Daniel Ellsberg and FAS secrecy project director Steven Aftergood addressed the problem of secrecy and the role of leaks. Ellsberg graciously invited critical comments on his own approach as he sought to promote a wider public dialog on secrecy policy.

  From: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com)
  Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 6:28 PM
  Subject: Fwd: Ellsberg article on Secrecy
  To: Aftergood, Steven (saftergood@fas.org)

  Dear Steve: I have a vague memory of having sent this piece (I've edited some typos and brought it up to date,
  a little) to you for your interest some time ago, and gotten no response. I've long thought that it would be very
  appropriate for your audience, and wished that you could link to it in Secrecy News.  (I don't think I've actually
  requested this before; I think I was hoping for some detailed reactions from you first).

  I'd like nothing better than to have some interaction on it both from you--in particular--and with your readers.
  In particular, the last two sections, and especially the last, the desiderata for a secrecy system in a democracy.
  I haven't seen a list quite this specific anywhere else, and it would seem very worthwhile for knowledgeable
  and concerned people like you and many of your readers to make their own suggestions and to criticize mine.
  (I'm not at all assuming that all right-minded people (sic) will agree with me, including you; but I think we
  have here a good basis for discussion and argument).

  Love, Dan
---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 3:22 PM Subject: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: John Cusack Cc: board@pressfreedomfoundation.org Dear John, and fellow Board members: Here's an edited version (a few typos corrected, and a few notes bringing it up to date) of the paper I sent out earlier. I've attached a digital copy in Word (the pdf version has a number of errors), and here's a link to it on my website, ellsberg.net: http://www.ellsberg.net/archive/secrecy-national-security-whistleblowing Reading it over, I do think it deserves wide circulation among people concerned with secrecy, open government and democracy, which would include the readers we're appealing to for donations to the FPF. (I can't judge whether it would be comparably interesting to a much wider audience.) It's not the whole story: e.g., it only alludes in passing to the dangers of the present secrecy system and practices, to what it is they hide in the way of crimes, lies, errors, recklessness, and why these are so frequent even in a democracy (partial answer: because an effective secrecy system allows the perpetrators to get away with them, avoiding accountability), and to why officials so commonly want to commit these offenses. And it doesn't address the murky and controversial issues of the law relating to secrecy and leaking, which I happen to be very conversant in (as the first person to be prosecuted for a leak, and one who has kept up with almost all the later prosecutions). But what it does cover--such as why underlings who do recognize that these matters should be known to the public in a democracy still keep the secrets so reliably (including me, before 1969 or 1971), and some of the concrete ways the present system should be changed--seems to me to be presented virtually for the first time. I've never seen it anywhere else, though I've read very widely on the subject of secrecy. (I'm going to urge Steve Aftergood to make it available to the readership of of his invaluable Secrecy News--exactly who it's aimed at--especially since it challenges some of the recurring comments that he himself makes. I'd love to have an informed dialog or debate on these issues with him and his readers, especially on my proposals for a radically modified system). Love, Dan
From: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 6:50 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Thanks Dan. I don't think that you sent this to me before -- I would have responded -- but I do recall seeing an earlier version in Social Research. At any rate, I will gladly take note of it in Secrecy News. Steve
From: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 10:26 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) Dear Steve: If I didn't send it to you before--I know I meant to--my bad. I'll be very pleased to have it brought to the attention of your readership--the precise audience I had in mind! But just as much (really), I would like to have your own responses, either publicly or privately to me, to the argument in Part II, and to the precise suggestions in Part III. I have so much respect for your work (Secrecy News is indispensable), and at the same time I'm so aware of what seem to be some real differences between us (on the value and need for some important unauthorized disclosures, not only as things are and have been, but after any conceivable reform of the secrecy system), that I've long wanted to--I'll put it bluntly--have a crack at changing your mind. Always, of course, with the possibility that you'll change mine! A true dialog, a discussion. (You're certainly not at all alone in the views that I see as different from mine). In fact, as I think about it, an actual dialog between us on the subject of the legitimacy of leaking in a democracy, and on the characteristics of a secrecy system that is both better and possibly achievable, would be well worth transcribing and publishing in Secrecy News or elsewhere. But I'd be eager to have such a conversation with you, perhaps by e-mail, even privately; all the better, if it led to a convergence on many points, with perhaps remaining differences left to be aired publicly. Love, Dan From: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 10:33 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) P.S. When I say that I've long wanted to have a crack at changing your mind in particular, on certain differences I discerned between our perspectives: I recognize, rereading this piece, that Part II, particularly the latter half of it, was meant precisely, in my own mind, to challenge what I suspected were some of your own preconceptions of the "problems" of the secrecy system. Now, maybe I understood you quite wrongly. I'd be glad to be corrected, if so. And if I didn't, you may well agree that we disagree; in which case, rather than leave it at that, I'd like very much to argue the points, in e-mails (or phone, if you prefer). I know you're pressed, but I don't think this would be a waste of your time. Love, Dan
From: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) Date: Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 4:54 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Thank you Dan. I am going to re-read your piece carefully within the next few days, and will respond to you via email when I have done so. We'll see if I have anything interesting to say... From: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) Date: Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 8:58 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Dear Dan, Thanks for sending your paper, and for your invitation to comment on it. I am in sympathetic agreement with much, maybe most of it. Certainly I share your view that secrecy is problematic, that a drastically reduced secrecy system would be desirable, that whistleblowers can play a vital role in informing public policy and must be protected, and so forth. I think there is some rhetorical overkill at a few points in the paper. I don't believe that secrecy abuse is the norm (p. 11), or that its most common purpose is to conceal criminal activity or embarrassment (p. 14). My disagreements are narrow but deep, and they mostly deal with things you did not say rather than what you did say. In no particular order, here are some responses to what I read. 1. There can be good faith disagreements about the proper scope of secrecy.
    If you think that the only reason people classify information (or uphold classification decisions made by others) is professional anxiety, or social conformity, or herd mentality, then I would say you are underestimating the complexity of the issue. A decision to classify information is not like a math problem that only has one right answer. It is a subjective judgment, about which others may reasonably disagree. Although one may feel strongly that a particular act of secrecy is invalid, that feeling alone does not resolve the issue, and it does not mean that everyone who holds a different opinion is a liar or a coward. Let me put it to you this way. When you leaked the Pentagon Papers, you withheld four volumes from the press because (if I recall this correctly) you were concerned that they might disrupt ongoing negotiations. Was that an act of cowardice on your part? Was it a desperate last grasp at professional respectability? Or was it a prudent act of discernment in the face of uncertainty? My guess is that it was the latter, and I think that many others practice a similar a kind of prudence. That should be acknowledged, and grappled with.
2. Those who leak should -- ideally -- take responsibility for their actions.
    A decision to violate one's non-disclosure agreement and to disclose classified information to an unauthorized person may be the right thing to do in some cases, but a person who makes that decision ought to take responsibility for it and accept the consequences, as you did. I think this is both ethically necessary and politically sound. Imagine that you had leaked the Pentagon Papers anonymously, and that your identity as the leaker was never discovered, that Nixon never knew you had committed the leak, that there was no break-in, no trial, and no dismissal. It seems to me that the potency of your action, and its political efficacy, would have been severely diminished. Your personal example added a dimension of power that would have been missing from an anonymous leak (particularly since the Papers themselves are not very readable or interesting to a lay person). Among the many problems I see in the WikiLeaks model is that it severs the disclosure from the source. It offers (or it offered) the Papers without the Ellsberg-- which is a defective product, ethically and politically.
3. Not all leaks are "whistleblower" disclosures.
    The ethical aspect is important, because not all leaks are good leaks. A person may feel strongly that something should be disclosed-- and nevertheless be wrong. He may lack adequate knowledge to recognize the hazards involved in a particular disclosure. For example, the WikiLeaks disclosure of the names of Afghans who were cooperating with American military forces -- placing those individuals at risk from Taliban retribution -- was an evil act, not a courageous one. If Bradley Manning was responsible for that, then he needs to answer for it.
4. What is the alternative to reform?
    Perhaps the most basic problem I see with your paper is the lack of a political program that would provide a path connecting your vision of "a democratic secrecy system" with the status quo. You seem disdainful of mere reform, but you don't seem to offer an alternative. We are all trying to find a way forward, but we have to start from where we are, using the tools we have.
Anyway, those are some initial reactions, for what they are worth. With respect and best wishes, Steve
From: Daniel Ellsberg (ellsbergd1@gmail.com) Date: Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 10:08 PM Subject: Re: Ellsberg article on Secrecy To: Steven Aftergood (saftergood@fas.org) Dear Steve: These are exactly the kinds of responses I hoped to evoke from you, and I very much appreciate your taking up my proposal to engage with me on our apparent or real differences. Each of your well-expressed points merits a carefully articulated response, which I won't attempt this moment but which I'll send you soon. The process, now begun, is already valuable for me, in pointing out issues that I should have addressed directly or more clearly in my paper--or, perhaps, in a longer treatment (long as this was, being rambling rather than concise)--or where I may indeed have given a misleading impression. But I think our exchange will be worthwhile for you, too. It will be easier for you to judge that when you see what I have to say. (Whether or not you feel called on to respond further to my next set of comments--as, I must say, I hope-- I'm looking forward to the challenge of expressing them persuasively to you. Thanks for the inspiration!) Before long in this process, I think you'll find that our differences are (even) less than you now think. But we will probably end with some real differences, which will not at all diminish my respect for you and your work. Love, Dan