Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Daniel Ellsberg on working for the executive branch
"I was the first Rand researcher who did work directly for the president's assistant for national security. I did staff work for Kissinger on Vietnam in the very beginning of the administration. No Rand person had done that before. And that was very prestigious and very exciting. Many, many people inside and out of the executive branch think that the opportunity to work in the executive branch is the highest calling that an American can have. You're working on national security matters above all. You're working for the national security in the most powerful, effective way that you could possibly have. Nothing that you could do, write articles, write books, work for a congressman, be a congressman, none of that could compare with possibly informing and influencing the president. And that was true whether or not you had voted for that president or worked for his party. There was only one president at a time and the chance, whatever party he was, the chance to have some useful influence in informing him or shaping his policy seemed the most important thing you could do."

"And second, the aura of the president, the idea of identifying with him and working for him and being a presidents' man, a kind of feudal relationship, chivalric relationship, knights of the round table working for that king -- that suddenly lost its aura. I no longer wanted to be a president's man. The idea of life outside the executive, I think, suddenly had a possibility for me, or alternatively, it looked just as good or better than working for a president. And I don't think I've ever had a colleague who has ever reached that point in their lives. They can't imagine life outside the executive branch as being better. When their party gets out of office or if they're fired or if they move out for higher money or whatever, they nevertheless spend their lives waiting for the phone call, to be called back and give advice. No matter how painful the break was with the earlier president, they're ready to go back there. It's their highest calling, actually. Self esteem, prestige, excitement, importance, and a sense of serving the country. That somehow was burned out of me by reading this 7,000-page record. And that made it possible for me to imagine doing something that I think very few of my colleagues have ever been able to imagine. And that was, doing something that would forever prevent me from working for any president again. No executive branch official would ever or could ever hire me again after I had done this. Now that would apply to quite a range of activities, all of which are ruled out for most officials or former officials. They just cannot conceive of doing that. They can conceive of leaving a particular president. They can't conceive of doing something that would keep future presidents from relying on them or trusting them or calling them in again."

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