Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, has died, family members confirmed on Friday. He was 92.
In a statement obtained by The Washington Post, Ellsberg’s family members confirmed his death. It came months after he told friends and supporters in a March 1 email that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that he had declined chemotherapy, according to the newspaper.
The Pentagon Papers — a top-secret, 7,000-page report on the origins of the Vietnam War — fueled controversy in the country as it was sharply divided over the war, according to The New York Times. Its publication began a chain of events that later led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Before Ellsberg was revealed as the source of the leak, he served as part of the government-military elite, with the trust of officials in Democratic and Republican administrations, The Associated Press reported. Throughout the 1960s, he worked for the government and others as a consultant on Vietnam and he had the highest security clearances, according to the AP.
His feelings about the Vietnam War began to sour in the mid-1960s when he witnessed the combat firsthand, The Times reported.
“I saw it was all very hard on those people,” he told the syndicated columnist Mary McGrory, according to the newspaper. “But I told myself that living under communism would be harder, and World War III, which I thought we were preventing, would be worse.”
He determined that the war effort had no chance of success, the Post reported.
The Pentagon Papers, formally known as the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, were commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967 and showed how the U.S. government had secretly expanded its war effort while lying to Congress and to the public. The government accused the Times of committing espionage and jeopardizing national security with its publication of the papers, though the Supreme Court later upheld the freedom of the press, according to the newspaper.
After the leak, Nixon and his top aides sought to discredit Ellsberg, creating a special unit nicknamed the Plumbers, the Post reported. The group was behind the 1972 break-in that formed the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
The group also burglarized Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in an attempt to find damaging information on him, the Times reported. He was charged with espionage and other crimes following the leak of the Pentagon Papers, though a judge later tossed out the charges, citing government misconduct, according to the newspaper.
Ellsberg is survived by his wife, three children, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter, the Post reported.