UMass acquiring Daniel Ellsberg’s private papers

  • Daniel Ellsberg's identification card in Vietnam. DANIEL ELLSBERG PAPERS

  • Daniel Ellsberg and a fellow soldier, with helmet, gun, and uniform, leaning against a post in Vietnam in 1966.  DANIEL ELLSBERG PAPERS

  • Daniel Ellsberg speaks at a press conference at the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge, July 1, 1971, the day after the Supreme Court ruled against the Nixon administration’s efforts to prohibit the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers. DANIEL ELLSBERG PAPERS

  • Daniel Ellsberg at the podium, speaking at a press conference following the Supreme Court decision to allow publication of the Pentagon Papers, July 1, 1971.  JEFF ALBERTSON (photogapher)/DANIEL ELLSBERG PAPERS


  • Daniel Ellsberg speaking at rally for Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley Manning), outside the gates of Fort Meade, Maryland, June 1, 2013 DANIEL ELLSBERG PAPERS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2019 11:47:12 PM

AMHERST — Around 500 boxes of Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s personal papers will find their home at the University of Massachusetts archives, shedding new light on the economist, author and former military analyst’s activism, analyses, and trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers.

In addition to documents from Ellsberg’s trial, during which he faced conspiracy, espionage and theft of government property charges, the collection will include his assessments of the Vietnam War; his analyses of decision-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and a variety of other documents relating to Ellsberg’s anti-war and anti-nuclear activism, according to UMass.

In 1969, Ellsberg, working as an analyst for the RAND Corp., along with his former colleague Anthony Russo, photocopied classified documents revealing the true role and intentions of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, as well as deception by presidential administrations.

In 1971, Ellsberg leaked these documents to the New York Times and Washington Post. After surrendering to the federal prosecutors in Boston, he faced up to 115 years in prison if convicted in his ensuing trial. All charges were dismissed when it was discovered that the Nixon administration, seeking to discredit Ellsberg, had agents break into his psychiatrist’s office.

A sampling of documents available on the UMass website shows documents such as a portion of Ellsberg’s testimony in his trial; letters written to Ellsberg; Ellsberg’s identification photo in Vietnam; and photos of Ellsberg throughout various eras of his life and activism.

“Years from now, when we look back at this terrible period, we will be grateful for what people like yourself tried to do for so long, to point us in the right direction,” Milton S. Gwirtzman, a lawyer and advisor for the Kennedy family, ​​​​​​wrote in a 1969 letter to Ellsberg.

In a statement, Ellsberg said he is “grateful that my papers will be going to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an institution that is dedicated to the values of openness, equity and social justice.

“This collection, which represents my life’s work, will now be available to scholars seeking understanding of some of the most consequential events of the past half century,” he continued. “In my years of service, both inside government and out. I have always firmly believed that truth-telling to the American public is an expression of the loyalty owed to the Constitution, the rule of law and the sovereign public. It is a patriotic and effective way to serve our country. Sharing these papers with future generations through the archives at UMass Amherst is reflective of that deeply held philosophy.”

Ellsberg’s collection fits into the archive’s focus on the history of social change in America, said Robert Cox, head of Special Collections and University Archives at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.

“What I’m hoping is that people approach the collection and begin to think about the ethics of how Dan made his decision to put his freedom on the line,” Cox said, “and about the ethics of the things that he was responding to.”

Ellsberg’s papers will constitute one of the five largest collections currently at UMass, Cox said, noting that a typical collection from an academic would be around 10 or 15 boxes, while 100 boxes or more would be considered a large collection.

Ellsberg, now 88, and his wife, Patricia Marx Ellsberg, will visit the university during the last week of October, and Ellsberg will join UMass as a distinguished research fellow in the Political Economy Research Institute.

“One of the great things about having someone who is still around and still active is we have access to someone who is really an important historical figure,” Cox said.

“Having him available to students and researchers is part of the pleasure of having the collection here,” he added.

Due to the collection’s size, it may take up to two years for a full-time archivist to process and catalog the materials, according to UMass, but Cox said that the library will do its best to accommodate anyone who wants to look at the documents as they arrive.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at
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