Before Snowden, Nixon Admin Pioneered Evidence-Free 'Russian Spy' Smears Against Daniel Ellsberg

from the someone-has-the-same-playbook dept

The New Yorker published an interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden last night in which he explains why recent claims by Rep. Mike Rogers that he is a Russian spy are “absurd.” Rep. Rogers, who made the allegations on Sunday, did not present any evidence to support his statements and even the FBI reportedly believes Snowden acted alone.

While it’s well-known that Rep. Rogers has a long history of making things up and telling the media, it’s less known that his tactics are drawn straight from Richard Nixon’s playbook, when his administration tried to discredit Daniel Ellsberg after he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971.

Ellsberg is commonly looked at as the quintessential whistleblower today, but shortly after he leaked the top secret Vietnam War study, the Nixon administration made a concerted effort to paint him as a Soviet spy in the press, using anonymous quotes and non-existent ‘secret’ evidence. (Sound familiar?)

This is from the New York Times on August 11, 1973:

An attorney for Dr. Daniel Ellsberg has chided the Senate Watergate committee for failing to challenge what he called “totally false and slanderous” testimony by the former White House aide, John D. Ehrlichman, suggesting that Dr. Ellsberg delivered copies of the Pentagon papers to the Soviet embassy.

“During his testimony before your committee, Mr. Ehrlichman repeatedly asserted that the Pentagon papers had been given in 1971 to the Soviet Embassy and implied that this might have been done by my client, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, or with his knowledge,” the attorney, Leonard B. Boudin, who wrote the committee. “These allegations are made of whole cloth; they are totally false and slanderous of Dr. Ellsberg.”

In December 1973, the New York Times reported on the Nixon administration’s alleged reasoning for starting the White House Plumbers unit, which conducted several illegal operations against Ellsberg and the Watergate break-in:

One was a fear—nourished in part, some sources said, by Henry A. Kissinger, then the President’s national security adviser—that Daniel Ellsberg, who said he turned over the Pentagon papers to the press, might pass on to the Soviet Union secrets far more important than any information contained in the Pentagon study of the Vietnam war.

Specifically, the sources said, the White House feared that Dr. Ellsberg, a former Rand Corporation and Defense Department official, may have been a Soviet intelligence informer who, in the weeks after publication of the Pentagon Papers in June, 1971, was capable of turning over details of the most closely held nuclear targeting secrets of the United States, which were contained in a highly classified documents known as the Single Integrated Operation Plans, or S.I.O.P.

The second major concern was that a highly placed Soviet agent of the K.G.B., the Soviet intelligence agency, operating as an American counterspy, would be compromised by continued inquiry by the special prosecutor and the Senate Watergate committee into the Ellsberg case. The agent informed his F.B.I. contact that a set of the Pentagon papers had been delivered to the Soviet Embassy in Washington shortly after a Federal court had ordered The Times to stop printing its series of articles on the papers.

In July 1974, the New York Times published a leaked Nixon administration memo written in August 1971 on how they could discredit Ellsberg’s principal lawyer Leonard B. Boudin:

Most of what Daniel Ellsberg has said in public since he acknowledged stealing the Pentagon Papers seems calculated to position him as having responded to an order of morality higher than his onetime solemn undertakings to his country. This rationale, let it be remembered, was earlier employed by atomic spies Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass, Morton Sobell and Bruno Pontecorvo.

And although there is as yet no conclusive evidence that Daniel Ellsberg acted on specific instructions of the Soviet Union—as did those earlier informants—the distinct possibility remains that Ellsberg’s “higher order” will one day be revealed as the Soviet Fatherland. For history is replete with repetition and notable similarities exist.

But in the case of Daniel Ellsberg the benefits of [an acquittal] will accrue to the Soviet Union, the Vietcong and Communist China. For if Boudin is again successful—as he has been so often in the past—the agents of foreign powers will enjoy a liberty of action never before accorded them in the history of our country.

Whether it’s the Nixon administration or anyone else, any allegations made with no proof—and under the veil of secrecy—deserve extreme skepticism and strong pushback from the press. Rep. Mike Rogers’ evidence-free smears against Edward Snowden are no different. As Snowden himself told the New Yorker, “It’s not smears that mystify me. It’s that outlets report statements that speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.”

Republished from the Freedom of the Press Foundation blog. Note: Daniel Ellsberg is on the board of directors of Freedom of the Press Foundation. Edward Snowden will be joining the board in February.

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Comments on “Before Snowden, Nixon Admin Pioneered Evidence-Free 'Russian Spy' Smears Against Daniel Ellsberg”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Nailed it in one

“It?s not smears that mystify me. It?s that outlets report statements that speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.”

If the ‘reporting’ agencies were doing their jobs, that of investigating things and reporting the truth, officials making ridiculous statements wouldn’t be so bad, as they’d quickly be rebutted with facts, the fact that most of the ‘news’ agencies are little more than government controlled PR firms though means that there is no pushback, no objecting when they again make an already debunked claim, instead the reporter just nods their head and moves on to the next question.

ottermaton (profile) says:

This article really caught my eye as just last night I finished watching The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and was thinking just this morning, in reference to the Nixon administration falsely trying to associate Ellsberg with Russian influences, that this is exactly what Rep. Rogers is doing to Snowden. Incredible.

Quite ironic that the Nixon administration memo quoted above states, “For history is replete with repetition and notable similarities exist.” Apparently that’s 100% true.

The film is from 2009 so it doesn’t have any “influences” from the current Snowden revelations, but the way everything plays out is eerily similar. If you haven’t seen the film you definitely should.

AricTheRed says:

I guess it is good that...

…the lying, scumbag, Oathbraker, Mike Rogers does not have a good imagination. If he had accused that Patriot, Mr. Edward Snowden of helping the scary Chinese he would likely have gotten more mileage out of his lies.

My recollection is that Snowden did go, effectively, to China first with his visit to Hong Kong when he released the first revelations regarding the current administrations continuing efforts to subvert the Constitution.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I guess it is good that...

Well, yes and no on the Hong Kong/China bit.

Hong Kong is in a strange position where it’s technically part of China, but at the same time has it’s own government, political system, laws, judiciary system and whatnot. The only real ties between the two are foreign relations, and military matters, which are where China steps in.

All of that, and their history, make Hong Kong one of the safer places Snowden could have gone too, as the US would potentially have had to convince two governments to deport Snowden back, and given their history, the government in Hong Kong really doesn’t care to be told what to do, so the US’s first likely response, ordering them to hand Snowden over, probably wouldn’t have gone over really well.

KAC says:

An ancient technique

This particular false claim reminds me of the “list of Communists in Congress” proffered by the good Senator John Yerkes Iselin (in “The Manchurian Candidate”). Once the allegation has been made, especially if it’s in the form of a short and punchy statement, it tends to stick even though it’s patently false and absurd. Nobody seems to read the rebuttals because they’re not that “newsworthy” and, for many, why bother with facts when an ideological tar-and-feathering suits your prejudices?

Now that Snowden is a Russian agent…well, he’s a Russian agent! Thanks to Mike Rogers for the important disclosure.

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