New Leak by Daniel Ellsberg: the Risk of Nuclear War over Taiwan

Fifty years ago next month, the NYT began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a seminal moment in the history of the Vietnam War and in leaks of Top Secret information. Its source, Daniel Ellsberg, has made another unauthorized disclosure. /1

Risk of Nuclear War Over Taiwan in 1958 Said to Be Greater Than Publicly Known
The famed source of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, has made another unauthorized disclosure — and wants to be prosecuted for it.

Ellsberg also copied a large amount of material about planning for nuclear war, intending to release it later. Most was instead lost. But he kept a Top Secret study of the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis, when the US almost went to war with China./2

The study – written for RAND Corp. by Morton Halperin – was later partly declassified. But the government whited out dozens of pages about internal deliberations and planning for a potential first-use nuclear strike on mainland China. /3

It had been known in broad strokes that the Pentagon thought about using atomic weapons in 1958 before the crisis ebbed because Communist forces backed off. But we didn't have details showing how eager and serious the push was. /4

Officials pushed for a first-use strike because it doubted that Taiwan and its "Offshore Islands" could be successfully defended using conventional weapons alone. Today, those same concerns are flaring anew./5

Ellsberg believes the Pentagon today must be drawing up contingency plans for what happens if a war breaks out of Taiwan and the US is losing using conventional arms. He says the public should be part of a debate over whether a first-use nuclear strike would be on the table./6

Ellsbert, now 90, also has a parallel but very different motivation: he wants the Biden Justice Department to prosecute him under the Espionage Act for the unauthorized disclosure he is openly confessing./7

When the Nixon Justice Dept charged him under that law for leaking the Pentagon Papers, its use in a leak case was novel. (The case was thrown out for unrelated reasons.) Under the Bush-Obama-Trump Justice Dept, it has become routine. But most cases plead out, averting appeals./8

Ellsberg said he would not strike such a plea deal, and would handle his defense to tee up for the Supreme Court to confront whether it violates the First Amendment to use that WW I-era law to criminalize unauthorized disclosures of government secrets in the public interest./end

Originally tweeted by Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) on May 22, 2021.