Ellsberg: Remembering Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo, my partner in the March 1971 leak of secret government archives (The Pentagon Papers) exposed how successive U.S. administrations manipulated America into the Vietnam War, died August 5, 2008 at his home in Suffolk, Virginia.

Tony Russo came to be my best friend at Rand after I came back from Vietnam in 1967, and we became even closer after he left. He was fired from Rand, despite my efforts to keep him, for the best of reasons: He had, in classified reports, analyzed the class basis of the Vietnam conflict, and he had exposed the widespread use of torture by our Vietnamese forces, with American involvement. I learned more from Tony than from anyone else about the nature of the National Liberation Front, some members of which had impressed him deeply when he interviewed them about a Rand research project. He was brilliant and funny, with a very original and creative mind. He was also very warm — more likeable than me, as many who attended our trial discovered.

Just before I decided to copy the Pentagon Papers, with Tony’s help, he made a suggestion that played a key role in my decision. Tony did not know that the Pentagon Papers were being held at Rand, or were in my safe, or even that I had worked on the study, because I was under orders not to tell anyone. But I did tell him in late September 1969 that I had been reading a study (which later became the basis of the Pentagon Papers) that revealed a lot of high-level lying. He said to me, “You ought to put that out.” This was an extraordinary thing for someone who had until recently held a top secret clearance to say to anyone, least of all to someone who still had a clearance. In fact, I never heard of such a suggestion being made before or since (except of course by me, later). A week after this conversation, with other events working on my mind, I called him up and said, “Tony, do you know a study that I mentioned last week? Well, I’ve got it, and I think I will put it out. Can you help?”

I don’t think there was anyone else in the world with past official experience I would’ve gone to with that request, no matter how close a friend they were. I knew that he was the one person with the combination of guts and passionate concern about the war who would take the risk of helping me. I asked him if he knew where we could find a Xerox machine, and within an hour he got back to me with the word that his then-girlfriend had a machine in her office we could use. We started either that night or the next, we were never able to recall which. If he had not found that machine, that very week, before Nixon had committed himself to staying in Vietnam in a speech on November 3rd, I don’t think I would have taken the route I did, because it simply wouldn’t have seemed promising enough. As it was, Tony took the exact same risks I did of prosecution. Frankly, at the time, I didn’t think that was true; I thought I was the only one at risk. But I was mistaken, as it turned out, when Tony was indicted on three felony counts in the fall of 1971.

One further note: It is frequently said in relation to the current trial of the former AIPAC employees that theirs is the first prosecution of someone for a leak who was not an official and did not have a clearance. That is false. Tony Russo was indicted on the exact same charges, with the exact same status. As is the case with the AIPAC employees, if he had been convicted on that basis, every journalist and even every newspaper reader who had possession of information that had been disclosed without authorization (that is, ‘leaked’) would be equally subject to prosecution. So it was crucial for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the public’s need to know that Tony was not convicted in our trial, by reason of governmental misconduct.

Our friendship was strained later (not so much during the trial, as far as I was concerned, but by some events shortly after the trial), and we saw each other only intermittently over the next 30 years. In the last few years, on several occasions when he was gravely ill, we did meet, and had very warm conversations which I appreciated. The fact is I will be eternally grateful to Tony for his courage and partnership in what proved to be a useful action. He set an example of willingness to risk everything for his country and for the Vietnam that he loved that very few, unfortunately, have emulated. I only hope that others will continue to be inspired by it.

One thought on “Ellsberg: Remembering Anthony Russo”

  1. The war in Vietnam was lost in 1963.

    Many CIA analysts are honest brokers.

    Muzzles and rose-colored classes take their toll.

    As in any other organization the asses the next tier up mainly want to see and hear what they want to see and hear, and respond accordingly.

    You are brave, courageous, principled man, Daniel Ellsberg.

  2. One thing that was astounding about Tony Russo, and it says much about the ability of corporate America to accurately assess whether somebody should or should not have access to classified materials, is that Russo, was a member of the California Peace and Freedom Party while employed at Santa Monica based Rand Corporation.

    The documents he exposed demonstrated secret government agreements between the Eisenhower administration to support the French colonial government in Vietnam to defeat pro-independence forces and the later efforts of the Kennedy administration to provoke the North Vietnamese into a confrontation that would justify sending in American combat troops. The Johnson administration, according to the documents, planned from the very beginning to expand the war, committing combat troops and air forces without consulting congress.

    Prosecuted by the Nixon administration for releasing the papers, the charges were thrown out of court when investigations into government corruption and illegal spying showed that members of the same unit who had burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and had been tasked by the White House with breaking into the Brookings Institution looking for copies of the “Pentagon Papers,” although the action never took place. Likewise, the so-called White House “Plumbers Squad” had broken into the Beverly Hills office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

    Russo always credited the Black Panther Party as being the most supportive organization behind his legal defense while on trial for the leak of the documents.

    More recently, Russo had become an active supporter of the San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women and lectured at meetings of the organization. This brought Russo full circle with an old high school friend from his early years growing up in Suffolk, Virginia, Linda Pruett, who along with myself had become a co-president of the Chapter.

    Planning to return to activism in California, Russo returned from Virginia in August 2005 where he announced his intended candidacy for the Peace and Freedom Party’s nomination for United States Senate for the 2006 election at my 50th birthday party. We were orchestrating what we hoped would be a campaign in the primary for various party nominations on a slate headed by Tony that would restore the Peace & Freedom Party to some semblance of sanity and take its leadership away from the “Berkeley Bolsheviks” who have periodically managed to snatch defeats from the jaws of victory. Tragically, Russo suffered a heart attack a day after the party. Following heart bypass surgery, he returned to Virginia, but never fully recovered.

  3. Oh yes, dear Tony. You are not forgotten by the peace movement, and by all patriots.

  4. Three comments so far?? Oh he wasn’t one of the frontmen….He was behind the sceens…Doing what needed to be done when no one else would…expose the feckless policy and ego driven decisions that killed hundreds & hundreds of thousands, if not millions……Go sleep Tony, you earned your rest…

  5. Dan,

    My impression from many past conversations with Tony has always been that Tony regarded you in the worst possible light. Once when talking with him he described you as a ” Mega Mega Megalomaniac.”

    Once when I asked you about the “Tony problem” you told me that Tony was just “Crazy” and that all of his problems stemmed from his usage of LSD back in the good ol days. You layed it all on that.

    People on their death beds wishing for giveness in their lives and the ending of strife often say things that they would never otherwise have said. I hope that it is really true that you two had a genuine reconciliation towards the end. I somehow doubt that. Who knows?

    Regardless, keep the faith


  6. Go Tony and rot in hell forever, treasonous bastard. Hope Daniel will follow you soon.

  7. Dan,

    Tony and I were colleagues and friends at Rand for a couple of years in Vietnam (1966-68) while we were working on the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study. The Rand team in Vietnam at that time included Tony, Doug Scott, Mai and Dave Elliett, Ardie and Russ Betts, Leon Goure, Bill Jones, Gerry Hickey, Yogi Ianerro, and others.

    Since learning of Tony’s death earlier this morning, I have been thinking back to those times and remembering Tony and others. In 2000 Tony and I exchanged a few emails; that was the only contact I have had with Tony since leaving Rand in 1968, and I knew nothing about his health problems.

    I read with interest and sadness your “Remembering Anthony Russo” and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    So long, Tony.


  8. I am always shocked when I read comments like the second and seventh. The level of vehmence expressed by those who deem whistle-blowers treasonous; often people like Ellsberg and Russo perform the most patriotic acts any citizen can, and I feel lucky to be an American when I remember watching the 1974 resignation of Tricky Dick Nizon. I live in a country born of wholly conscientious dissent and I believe Patriotism flourishes when that dissent reveals the opacity of power-mad puppeteers and petty Machiavellis like Hoover and Liddy.

    1. That’s Tricky Dick Nixon, I meant.

      Also, I meant to write the level of vehemence shocks me because I can’t see how any patriot or lover of freedom thinks that masking the sins of our Fathers results in a healthy Republic. Full disclosure protects us all, while opacity permits unlawful invasions of Iraq, the barbaric practices of Water-boarding and rendition, and other lessons we clearly failed to learn from the Vietnam era. How could anyone fail to discern this and, worse yet, fail to hail Russo and Ellsberg as the heroes of our Republic they so clearly were.

  9. 11 comments in 5-days…and, the obit was reported broadly with this site link. Pretty sad, actually, considering the number of lives his actions affected — from those saved from death on the battlefield to those on the psychic battlefield of the 60s and 70s who had to deal with the ground swell of ‘Peace with Honor’ and the bombast of the Peace Movement, its drug-addled angst and the cutural morass it spawned. Fortunately, our society has morphed into an even more concerned and closer-family-unit force than that time could ever foresee — most participants of ‘the day’ would agree that our social underpinnings were badly frayed by the entire Vietnam War experience, something the Iraq/Afghanistan War cannot claim.

    I do hope that Mr. Ellsberg’s passing will be more widely mourned when he does at last lie down; I am happy to see him active on this site — his efforts were never in vain, whether some regret them or not.

  10. For those interested in paying their last respects to Anthony Russo,

    A Memorial Service will be held at:

    St. Mary’s Catholic Church
    202 Broad Street
    Suffolk, Virginia

    Saturday, August 16, 2008

  11. Dan: My husband, Steve Orel, died July 7, 2007. He and I loved Tony and worked with him while we were living in LA. He came to Birmingham to see us a few years ago and held court at our home with many friends. As Steve would often say about those he loved, “Tony lived in our hearts and paid no rent.” Losing Steve and Tony means a large hole has been left in this world that can only be filled by those who give their lives for others more than themselves. THe quest for justice has to be their motto and action has to ensue. Goodbye my dears. I miss you both and work hard to fill your shoes everyday.

    Glenda Jo Orel

  12. I just finished watching The Pentagon Papers, and have followed Google to this site. It’s astonishing that I lived through those national events and hardly noticed them at the time. (born in 1951) I am sorry to hear about Tony’s passing, and wish I could have met him–and Dan and Patricia. Maybe next time I’m back in Northern California….

    Thank you

  13. I can’t believe you would be mad at someone who alerted the authourities about a father screwing his children. How do you justify that?

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