Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, says he has terminal cancer, months to live

The man who copied and leaked documents that revealed secret details of U.S. strategy in the Vietnam War posted on Facebook Thursday that he has inoperable pancreatic cancer, which is one of the deadliest cancers.

SHARE Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, says he has terminal cancer, months to live
Daniel Ellsberg in September 2009.

Daniel Ellsberg in September 2009.

Nick Ut / AP

WASHINGTON — Daniel Ellsberg, who copied and leaked documents that revealed secret details of U.S. strategy in the Vietnam War, documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers, says he has terminal cancer and months to live.

Ellsberg, 91, posted on Facebook Thursday that, after CT and MRI scans, doctors diagnosed him Feb. 17 with inoperable pancreatic cancer, which is one of the deadliest cancers, and estimated that he has between three and six months to live.

Ellsberg said he has opted not to undergo chemotherapy and plans to accept hospice care when needed.

The Pentagon Papers provided intimate details of U.S. government decisions and strategies regarding the Vietnam War. They told how U.S. involvement was built up steadily by political leaders and top military brass who were overconfident about U.S. prospects and deceptive about the accomplishments against the North Vietnamese.

Ellsberg said in his Facebook post that he feels “lucky and grateful” for his life.

“When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed (and was),” he wrote.

“Yet in the end that action — in ways I could not have foreseen, due to Nixon’s illegal responses — did have an impact on shortening the war,” he wrote.

Ellsberg, a former consultant to the Defense Department, provided the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a reporter who broke the story for The New York Times in June 1971. Sheehan died in 2021.

Sheehan smuggled the documents out of the Massachusetts apartment where Ellsberg had stashed them and illicitly copied thousands of pages and took them to the Times.

The administration of President Richard Nixon got a court injunction to keep the newspaper from publishing the secret documents, arguing national security was at stake, and publication was stopped.

That action touched off a heated debate about the First Amendment that quickly moved up to the Supreme Court. On June 30, 1971, the high court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing publication, and the Times and also The Washington Post resumed publishing stories. The coverage won the Times the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The Nixon administration tried to discredit Ellsberg after the documents’ release. Some of Nixon’s aides orchestrated a break-in at the Beverly Hills office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to find information to discredit him.

Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act, but his case ended in a mistrial when evidence surfaced about government-ordered wiretappings and break-ins.

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