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October 4, 2015

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Letter to the editor:

You can’t compare Snowden, Ellsberg

In his column Wednesday, "Edward Snowden: a profile in courage," Tom Keane draws a favorable comparison between Edward Snowden and Dan Ellsberg, who in 1971 made public a top secret study of the events leading up to, and justifying the continuation of, the war in Vietnam.

I was a colleague of Ellsberg’s at the Rand Corp. at that time and believe that Keane’s analogy is dead wrong on several counts.

First, the information provided in the Pentagon Papers did not endanger the lives of American citizens or anyone else; if anything, Ellsberg’s aim was to get American troops out of Vietnam sooner rather than later, which would have reduced casualties on both sides.

Second, while it is true that a person might in desperation ignore the oath taken by everyone who receives a Top Secret clearance not to reveal information entrusted to him, Ellsberg tried to get the Defense Department to make the basic facts in the papers public.

When that didn’t work, he went to a number of senior senators, including the head of the Foreign Relations Committee. Only then did he go to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Finally, before releasing the papers, Ellsberg didn’t hightail it out of the country, hoping to avoid the consequences of breaking his oath and the law.

Regardless of whether one believes Ellsberg was right in doing what he did, he had the courage to stay in the country and face whatever costs came his way. Snowden is no Ellsberg.

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