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Pentagon Papers figure dies

Patricia Sullivan

When someone says "Pentagon Papers," the name that almost everyone remembers is Daniel Ellsberg. But there were others involved in copying and distributing the secret history of the Vietnam war, and Ellsberg wasn't the only one prosecuted for it.

Anthony Russo, another Rand Corp. analyst and a committed activist who died Wednesday, is the one who suggested to Ellsberg that he copy the study and distribute it to the media. Russo volunteered his girlfriend's office, which had a copying machine, and helped photocopy the voluminous files. And when Ellsberg spent months trying to get members of Congress to release the study officially (which would have given him some measure of protection from prosecution), Russo urged him to go straight to the newspapers.

Russo's advice was right, in retrospect, although they were both prosecuted for conspiracy, theft and espionage. In the midst of the trial, the government prosecutor disclosed that White House operatives had burglarized the Beverly Hills office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. The burglars, led by G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were not apprehended until after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington nine months later.

Then days later, Nixon's two top lieutenants -- John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman -- resigned, along with acting attorney general Richard G. Kleindienst. White House counsel John Dean was fired. A few days later, the judge, WIlliam Matthew Byrne, disclosed in court that he had had two recent contacts with Ehrlichman, who had offered him a job -- director of the FBI. Although Ehrlichman later testified before the Senate Watergate Committee that Byrne had expressed interest in the FBI job, the judge insisted that he had told the Nixon aide he could not discuss any job offer while the Ellsberg trial was underway.

The trial was shaken again on May 9 when Judge Byrne learned of yet another impropriety: The FBI had secretly taped telephone conversations between Ellsberg and Morton Halperin, who had supervised the Pentagon Papers study.

When the government claimed it had lost all relevant records of the wiretapping, Judge Byrne declared a mistrial on May 11, 1973.

"The totality of the circumstances of this case which I have only briefly sketched offend a sense of justice," Byrne told the court that day. "The bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case."

Russo and Ellsberg had a falling out. They were very different people and had clashed
repeatedly on trial strategy -- Russo wanted to radicalize the proceedings with defense witnesses such as activists Tom Hayden and Howard Zinn, but Ellsberg preferred more established figures, such as McGeorge Bundy and Theodore Sorensen. In the end, Russo felt Ellsberg hogged the limelight.

Ellsberg issued a statement yesterday on Russo's death that ended: "He set an example of willingness to risk everything for his country and for the Vietnam that he loved that very few, unfortunately, have emulated."

By Patricia Sullivan |  August 8, 2008; 1:07 PM ET  | Category:  Patricia Sullivan
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As a proud Vietnam Veteran, may you burn in hell, Mr. Russo.

Posted by: 12345 | August 8, 2008 5:55 PM

Burn in hell?? Because he released a government study, funded by taxpayers, on how we got into the Vietnam mess? There were no deep, dark national security secrets in the Pentagon Papers -- just embarrassing secrets that politicians didn't want made public. I fail to see how that justifies your over-the-top reaction to this man's death.

Posted by: Chester | August 8, 2008 6:14 PM

As a proud Vietnam veteran, I applaud the courage, bravery and sheer guts of Anthony Russo and Daniel Ellsberg. I didn't fight over there to have Nixon tap phones illegally.

Posted by: Proud Vet | August 8, 2008 6:25 PM

Chester, would those politicians be JFK and LBJ?

Proud Vet, I believe that politicizing the War caused many of the 55,000 deaths of our buddies. When I fought there, I never recall hearing anybody complain about wiretaps. Of course in those days, the wiretaps were by democrats.

Posted by: 12345 | August 8, 2008 7:52 PM

12345, what is there to be proud of in replacing the French colonial yoke on Vietnam with an American one? Not to mention that the war was based on a lie, an "attack" in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Do you think soldiers should risk their lives for lies? Why?

Posted by: EllsbergWasAHero | August 8, 2008 10:57 PM

It's actually not so much that Russo and Ellsberg were "different people," but that they were egotists and competitors for the limelight. That competition extended to their personal lives, both believed they were "ladies men."

Ellsberg was also trying to come across as a disillusioned public servant and he "worried about being sullied and damaged by Russo, a counterculture radical," according to Tom Wells, author of "Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg." Wells notes that Russo was outspoken about "US imperialism" and revolution. He was great at talk, but in the end, he was just Ellberg's copy boy.

Wells also details Ellsberg affinity for nudist camps and "hippie girls," another point of contention with Russo.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 10, 2008 12:20 PM

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