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Ellsberg still admired as truth-telling icon

  • Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower waiting in a private room prior to a screening of the movie about him called "The Most Dangerous Man in America," in Sebastopol, Jan. 27, 2012. The film has been nominated for an Oscar.

As an image of his much younger self, set against an American flag, was projected on a wall at the Sebastopol Community Center, Daniel Ellsberg, slight and white-haired, mingled with a welcoming crowd.

The ex-military analyst who in 1971 leaked 7,000 pages of secret reports that contradicted government statements about the Vietnam War remains for many an icon of truth-telling four decades later.

"The man has lived a life of great courage and great patriotism," said Alan Horn, 60, of Sebastopol.

Horn was among about 120 people at the community center Friday to meet Ellsberg and watch a screening of an Academy Award-nominated documentary about him, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers."

Ellsberg's leaking to the New York Times of a secret government history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and southeast Asia helped turn public opinion against the war. It also precipitated events that included a government-sanctioned break-in of his psychiatrist's office, which became part of the Watergate scandal that ended in President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.

"He spoke out and essentially helped end the war in Vietnam," said Eugenia Mackenzie, 78, of Santa Rosa.

"He is such a brave man, we need more people like him and Bradley Manning to speak out," she said, referring to the U.S. soldier facing a court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of confidential government documents to Wikileaks.

On Friday, handouts supporting Manning and posters calling for him to be freed provided a backdrop as Ellsberg chatted, signed autographs and plugged his books.

The Kensington resident earns his living as a lecturer and author, a career he fell into after his actions made him a virtual pariah in government and academic circles, he said.

"Nixon made me notorious enough that I've been able to make a living as a lecturer," he said, "fortunately."

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