#1 The Lying Machine

April 15, 2021

In The Whistleblower series premiere, we pick up on Ellsberg’s first day at the Pentagon, the day he became acquainted with what he came to call the “lying machine.” It was August 4, 1964. Contradicting accounts of an attack in The Gulf of Tonkin would give President Johnson the green light to lead the country into war in Vietnam based on a lie. We follow this thread, and the deception, through his time in the field in Vietnam, where he saw how the lies on the ground made their way back to Washington. Back home, Ellsberg observes the power of leaking government lies: His very first leak to The New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan helped to end a presidency.

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Episode Extras

Explore the full recordings of Dan Ellsberg in Vietnam that we shared in this episode

Audio letter from Daniel Ellsberg to Robert and Mary Ellsberg
December 1966

Audio letter from Daniel Ellsberg to Robert and Mary Ellsberg
ca. April 1967

Audio letter from Daniel Ellsberg to Robert and Mary Ellsberg
ca. April 1967

#2 The Force of Truth

April 30, 2021

Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press knowing he could face the rest of his life in prison. But what turned this Cold War hawk into an anti-war dove? What were the motivating events and people who influenced his transformation? At 15, a tragic car accident would shape his sense of responsibility to the wider world. His time in the Marine Corps strengthened his dedication to serving his country. But in 1968 he would begin an unlikely encounter with another faction, the anti-war movement. Their dedication to serving the truth would lead Ellsberg to a massive act of dissent.

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#3 The Presses Roll

May 18, 2021

On September 30, 1969, Daniel Ellsberg opened his newspaper to a story out of Vietnam that would act as the trigger for copying the Pentagon Papers. We pick up on this wild ride when he offers the papers to members of Congress, who shrugged him off. He then went to the New York Times, the first publication of the papers landed on the front page on June 13, 1971. Over the next 13 days, an FBI manhunt swept the Boston area for Ellsberg and his wife Patricia. Upon turning himself in, Ellsberg had sent copies of the papers to 17 newspapers around the country.

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#4 Most Dangerous Man

June 10, 2021

"We gotta get this [S.O.B.]," President Richard Nixon is recorded saying of Daniel Ellsberg. The president's National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would refer to Ellsberg as "the most dangerous man in America."

Now facing a possible 115 years in prison, Daniel Ellsberg awaits his federal espionage trial. Meanwhile, Nixon unleashes his Plumbers in an attempt to silence Ellsberg, and Barbra Streisand sings for the defense. In this episode we trace the series of events that tied Ellsberg’s espionage trial to the fate of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

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#5 The Doomsday Machine

June 23, 2021

Before he was helping plan the Vietnam War, Ellsberg was working at Rand Corporation as a nuclear war planner. In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, he came across a classified policy document that called for killing a fifth of the human population. “This, to me, was pure evil.” When he was facing trial for releasing the Pentagon Papers, he held another trove of secret documents on the Pentagon’s plans for nuclear war. His plan was to release these, most likely from prison. But in a strange twist, a natural disaster interrupted his plans.

In the series finale, the whistleblower leaks documents on U.S. nuclear policy in the Taiwan Straits written by his colleague Morton Halperin at the height of the Cold War. The documents are still considered classified, and could put him at risk of prison time, he says.

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#6 Extra: Into the Archives

August 31, 2021

A class of college students at UMass Amherst became the first group of researchers to take on Daniel Ellsberg’s vast archive. For two students, it’s more than a history project: It’s a family story.

#7 Epilogue: Truth Is the First Casualty

September 10, 2021

In war, truth is the first casualty.

It's a military maxim attributed to Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy. In the lead up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and ahead of the withdrawal from a war that became the longest in American history, GroundTruth's founder Charlie Sennott returns to Afghanistan and revisits a conflict he has covered on the ground since its first battles, and its first casualties.

Two decades later, amid an American departure from Afghanistan that many have compared to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, Sennott examines the two conflicts: the government's lies and deceptions about Vietnam revealed by Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, the lessons left unheeded by American leaders during the Afghan war, and why it took us so long to see the mounting lies of that war.

This episode concludes The Whistleblower, the 10th season of the GroundTruth Podcast, which began with the award-winning series Foreverstan, on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan examining the first 14 years of the war. Listen to GroundTruth's first season: https://bit.ly/Foreverstan-uma