July 26th, 2010
09:17 PM ET

Ellsberg: 92,000 pages will not convey reason for Afghan war

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been drawing comparisons to the Vietnam War for many years, and WikiLeaks' publication of more than 90,000 government documents about the war in Afghanistan will give more credence to that comparison. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistle-blower responsible for leaking the U.S. government's top-secret study on the Vietnam War in 1971, says that like the Pentagon Papers, these documents will not justify the ongoing war.

"I think what the Pentagon Papers showed with 7,000 pages was that there was a lack of any good reason for doing what we were doing," Ellsberg told CNN. "My strong expectation is these 92,000 pages will not convey any good reason for the dying and killing and the enormous money we're spending over there in a time we cannot afford it."

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but their release is being called the biggest intelligence leak in history, drawing comparison to the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg agrees with that assessment. He says the secret documents on the U.S. war in Afghanistan published by WikiLeaks dwarfed the Pentagon Papers in the amount of content thanks to advances in technology.

"This would not have been possible 40 years ago at all on this scale," Ellsberg explained. "As it was, it took me months to do several copies of 7,000 pages, and I couldn't have done anything on this scale at all."

Ellsberg also praised WikiLeaks.  "The possibility for the kind of transparency that is very good for democracy has been enhanced by this technology and by WikiLeaks' willingness to put out this kind of material."

Ellsberg says one of his biggest regrets was not leaking out the documents in real time, during the mid-1960s, when it could have made a difference in changing the direction and public opinion about the Vietnam War, rather than waiting until 1971.

He sees a similar parallel today with the publication of WikiLeaks documents and called on Congress to take oversight action in light of the vote on war funding scheduled for Tuesday in the House of Representatives.  The Senate already passed its version of the bill last week.

"It's now too late for whoever the source is here to have averted this war, but we're in midst of it. It's not too late for Congress to rethink its willingness to rubber stamp appropriations for an endless war," he said.

"They'd be well-advised to postpone that vote until Congress has time to digest the gist of this story and hold hearings of the kind they never held on Afghanistan in nine years and really challenge the administration to give any basis on why we'd do better than the Soviets in their 10 years or the United States in the last nine years."

Ellsberg was also very critical of Pakistan, in light of allegations in the documents that the country’s intelligence service has been coordinating with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"We weren't subsidizing Hanoi. We knew who our opponents were at least," Ellsberg says of the roles played by Russia and China and during the Vietnam War. "These documents confront us with question: Do we know who our allies and our enemies are?" he asked about the current role of Pakistan.

"We've been asking Pakistan to get more involved. It turns out they are involved and we knew it, only they're on the other side."

But Gen. Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan's intelligence service who is cited numerous times in the reports, rejected the accusations.

"These reports are absolutely and utterly false," Gul said Monday. "I think they [the United States] are failing, and they're looking for scapegoats."

While the parallels between the WikiLeaks documents today and the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago are striking, from a military perspective the significance of the two compilations are very different.

The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret report - the highest possible classification ranking the government can assign a document - while the WikiLeaks documents are secret and are accessible to a wider group. The Pentagon Papers were a secret history of the role of the United States in Southeast Asia from 1945-1967, which went against much of the public record. The WikiLeaks documents are snapshots of moments in time during the Afghanistan War, albeit in great detail and candor.

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