SUFFOLK, Va. – Anthony J. Russo, a researcher who helped leak the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers to the media and prompted wider public questioning of the war, has died, police said.
Russo, 71, died in his native Suffolk on Wednesday, police records technician Susan Hart said Sunday. The cause of death was not immediately made public.
The case that became known as the Pentagon Papers helped put the Vietnam War on trial.
It began when Daniel Ellsberg, a top military analyst disillusioned with American policy, decided to release a top-secret, 47-volume Defense Department study of the U.S. role in Indochina over three decades. Russo helped him reproduce and distribute copies of the study.
Ellsberg first offered the study to several members of Congress and government officials before deciding to leak it to newspapers. His action was branded by President Richard Nixon as treason.
The government initially tried to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers, first in The New York Times and then in The Washington Post, prompting a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision barring prior restraint of free expression.
Ellsberg and Russo were subsequently charged with espionage, theft and conspiracy for the leak. As co-defendants, they subsequently went on trial in Los Angeles, where the papers had been copied.
But in 1973, a federal judge dismissed the case, ruling that the government was guilty of misconduct, including a break-in at the office of Ellsberg's Beverly Hills psychiatrist denounced as having been orchestrated by White House officials seeking to discredit him.
The Times reported on its Web site Sunday that Russo "chafed being called the 'Xerox aide'" because of his long nights spent copying and reproducing the classified study's thousands of pages.
Russo, a Rand Corp. researcher, visited Vietnam for a study involving interrogating Viet Cong prisoners. He came back radicalized.
"I knew what I was told about the war was totally false," he said.
Ellsberg met Russo in Saigon in 1965 and they were both troubled by what they saw during their research there.
"In 1968 I came back and Dan was across the hall at Rand," Russo recalled. "He had been a total hawk in Vietnam. But everything about him seemed shattered. It was as if he was trying to grow himself back. He was going through a metamorphosis. ... He was very tortured. There was no way he could justify the war anymore."
Ellsberg went on to become an anti-war icon. Russo, retired as a researcher for Los Angeles County, subsequently devoted himself to anti-nuclear issues and led Persian Gulf War protests.
Ellsberg mourned Russo's death in a posting on an anti-war blog linked to his official Web site. He called him a courageous collaborator.
"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," Ellsberg wrote.
It was not immediately known if Russo had any survivors. Funeral arrangements were unknown.