WASHINGTON (AP) — Daniel Ellsberg, who copied and leaked documents revealing secret details of US strategy in the Vietnam War and became known as the Pentagon Papers, said he has terminal cancer and has months to live.
Ellsberg posted on his Facebook page on Thursday that doctors diagnosed the 91-year-old with inoperable pancreatic cancer on Feb. 17 after medical scans.
Doctors have given him three to six months to live, he said.
Ellsberg said he has chosen not to undergo chemotherapy and plans to accept hospice care when needed.
The documents in the Pentagon Papers went into excruciating detail about the decisions and strategies of the Vietnam War. They told how US involvement was steadily built by political leaders and top military leaders who were overconfident in US prospects and misleading about its performance against the North Vietnamese.
Ellsberg, a former Defense Department adviser, provided the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a reporter who told the story for The New York Times in June 1971. Sheehan died in 2021.
Sheehan smuggled the documents out of the Massachusetts apartment where Ellsberg stashed them, and illegally copied thousands of pages and took them to the Times.
President Richard Nixon’s administration obtained a court order because national security was at stake and publication was halted. The action sparked a heated First Amendment debate that quickly progressed to the Supreme Court. On June 30, 1971, the court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of publication, and the Times and The Washington Post resumed publishing stories. The coverage won the Times the Pulitzer Prize for public service.
The Nixon administration attempted to discredit Ellsberg after the release of the documents. Some of Nixon’s aides orchestrated a break-in at Ellsberg’s Beverly Hills psychiatrist’s office to find information to discredit him.
Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and espionage law violations, but his case ended in a mistrial when evidence emerged of government-ordered wiretapping and break-ins.
Ellsberg said in his Facebook post that he feels “happy and grateful” for his life.
“When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would spend the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would have gladly accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed (and was),” he wrote.
“But in the end, that action—in ways I couldn’t have foreseen because of Nixon’s illegal responses—impacted the shortening of the war,” he wrote.