Born in Brooklyn, New York on June 13, 1938, Morton Halperin earned a BA from Columbia University in 1958, an MA from Yale University in 1959, and a Ph.D. From Yale in 1961.
From 1960-66, Halperin taught — and served as a research assistant — at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. During this Cold War period, he advocated for U.S. nuclear disarmament even if the Soviet Union did not likewise disarm. In any mutual arms-reduction treaty with the Soviets, wrote Halperin in his 1961 treatise A Proposal for a Ban on the Use of Nuclear Weapons, “inspection was not absolutely necessary.… The United States might, in fact, want to invite the Soviets to design the inspection procedures if they seem interested in them.”
In testimony which he gave before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966, Halperin stated that the U.S. should give diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China and advocate for its admission to the United Nations.
From 1966-69, Halperin served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration in June 1967 put Halperin to work — along with three dozen Defense Department employees — compiling a classified history of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam since the 1940s. By the time the project was completed in 1969, it was a 47-volume, 2.5 million-word collection of government documents and was classified as “TOP SECRET-SENSITIVE.” But soon thereafter, two former Defense Department and Rand Corporation employees, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, leaked copies of 43 of the 47 volumes to the press. In June 1971, with the Vietnam War still in high gear, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe began publishing excerpts from the leaked volumes, which became widely known as “The Pentagon Papers.” As David Horowitz and Richard Poe report: “’The Pentagon Papers’ echoed Halperin’s longstanding position that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, and ridiculed Presidents Kennedy and Johnson for stubbornly refusing to heed those of their advisers who shared this opinion. It marked a turning point in America’s failed effort to keep Indo-China from falling to the Communists.”
Ellsberg and Russo were eventually indicated on 15 counts involving violations of the Espionage Act, stealing government property, and interfering with the control of classified information. Lyndon Johnson characterized the Ellsberg-Russo leaks as being “close to treason.” General Lyman Lemnitzer, who had served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1960-62 and as Supreme Commander of NATO from 1963-69, similarly described Ellsberg and Russo’s transgression as “a traitorous act.”
In Ellsberg’s 1973 federal trial, Halperin testified on behalf of the defendant. But the government ultimately ended up dropping its case against Ellsberg as President Nixon’s power collapsed during the Watergate intrigues. One complicating factor was that Ellsberg, who had been a guest in Halperin’s home for part of the May 1969-February 1971 period during which a warrantless national security wiretap was monitoring Halperin’s phone, had been overhead on the tap 15 times. This caused the government to take the position that, for national security reasons, the contents of the taps should not be disclosed to anyone — not even in a courtroom.
When Richard Nixon began his first term as U.S. president in January 1969, Halperin was named as a senior assistant to then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. Halperin resigned his post in 1970, however, as a protest against Nixon’s decision to move American forces into Cambodia and to intensify the bombing of North Vietnam.
From September 1969 to December 1973, Halperin was a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Meanwhile, he was feted and embraced by numerous leftist organizations that promoted similar views, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Council on Foreign Relations.
During that same general time period, Halperin served on the executive council and newsletter committee of the ACLU‘s Committee for Public Justice, a Communist-affiliated entity which was created in 1970 to discredit the FBI, CIA, and Justice Department as agents of political repression.
In 1974 Halperin directed a project on government secrecy for the Twentieth Century Fund.
In his 1971 book Defense Strategies for the Seventies, Halperin wrote: “The Soviet Union apparently never contemplated the overt use of military force against Western Europe. The Soviet posture … has been, and continues to be, a defensive and deterrent one … against a Western attack.”
In 1975 Halperin began a 17-year stint as director of the Center for National Security Studies (CNSS), a spinoff of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). The CNSS was also aligned with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). IPS Director Robert Borosage helped Halperin run the CNSS. During his tenure at the helm of CNSS, Halperin filed numerous Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests in an effort to procure secret data from the files of U.S. intelligence and security agencies. On some occasions, he followed up those FOIA requests with lawsuits.
In the mid-1970s Halperin befriended Philip Agee, a former CIA agent-turned-Cuban intelligence informant who, in a 1975 book, publicly disclosed the names of more than 700 CIA officers, agents, and cooperators worldwide. At least one of the CIA agents who was named in Agee’s book, Athens station chief Richard Welch, was murdered shortly after its publication. In an extremely favorable review of the book, Halperin wrote that the most prudent course of action for the U.S. would be “to dissolve the CIA covert career service and to bar the CIA from at least developing and allied nations.” Moreover, Halperin flew to to England in 1977 to help Agee fight a deportation order that accused him of having had “regular contacts” with “foreign intelligence agents,” and of disseminating information “harmful to the security of the United Kingdom.” Despite Halperin’s efforts, however, Agee was deported.
When he was back in the U.S., Halperin testified repeatedly against legislation proposing to punish anyone who revealed — as Agee had done — the identities of U.S. undercover agents.
In testimony that he gave before the Church Committee on December 5, 1975, Halperin said: “I believe that the United States should no longer maintain a career service for the purpose of conducting covert operations and covert intelligence collection by human means. I believe also that the United States should eschew, as a matter of national policy, the conduct of covert operations.”
That same year, Halperin became the chief editorial writer for First Principles, a monthly CNSS publication designed to advance the campaign against U.S. intelligence collection.
In 1975 as well, Halperin wrote: “More recently, through the Project on National Security and Civil Liberties [where he was director], I have been involved in an effort to use the Freedom of Information Act to pry ‘secrets’ from the national security bureaucracy.”
Also in the mid-1970s, Halperin served as director of the Project on National Security and Civil Liberties, the litigating arm of the ACLU‘s campaign to degrade and destroy America’s intelligence capabilities.
In 1976 Halperin co-authored the book The Lawless State: The Crimes of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies, which recounted Cold War-era abuses of power by the U.S. government, particularly America’s surveillance methods. “Using secret intelligence agencies to defend a constitutional republic,” Halperin wrote, “is akin to the ancient medical practice of employing leeches to take blood from feverish patients. The intent is therapeutic, but in the long run the cure is more deadly than the disease.” He also wrote:
In 1977 Halperin identified various categories of secret information that he believed should be made public: “The first category [of documents that should be automatically released] includes information necessary to congressional exercise of its constitutional powers to declare war, to raise armies, to regulate the armed forces, to ratify treaties, and to approve official appointments.”
That same year, Halperin became chairperson of the Campaign to Stop Government Spying (CSGS), which grew out of a Conference on Government Spying that he had addressed in Chicago in January. CSGS was formally launched in 1977 by Robert Borosage with the support of the the ACLU, the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for National Security Studies, the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (a Communist Party USA front group), the National Conference of Black Lawyers (affiliated with the Soviet attorneys’ front, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers), and the Political Rights Defense Fund (a front for the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist entity). CSGS, which later changed its name to the Campaign for Political Rights (CPR), also had close ties to Philip Agee’s Organizing Committee for a Fifth Estate.
In June 1982, Halperin was quoted as saying: “It may be true that other nations have, and will continue to engage in covert action. But this is far from proper justification for its use by the U.S. Indeed, few nations in the world have used covert action as aggressively and comprehensively as the U.S. And in no other country does the use of covert action conflict so violently with the guiding principles of a nation’s constitution and the desires of its people. Covert action violates international law.”
In early 1978, Halperin came to the defense of Ronald Humphrey, a United States Information Agency communications watch officer, and David Truong, to whom Humphrey had been giving classified government documents that Truong, in turn, gave to couriers who transported them to North Vietnamese officials in Paris. Humphrey and Truong were arrested in January 1978 on charges of espionage, theft of U.S. government documents, and conspiracy to injure the defense of the United States. Four months later, they were tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in prison — terms they began serving in January 1982. Their unsuccessful defense claim was that the documents in question contained nothing more than diplomatic banter that could not possibly have led to harm against the United States. Supporting the claims of Humphrey and Truong, Halperin testified in their defense at their trial on May 10.
By no means was that the only occasion when Halperin defended Humphrey and Truong. For instance:
In a 1979 article titled “American Military Intervention: Is It Ever Justified?,” Halperin wrote: “I suggest that the United States be prohibited from being the first to use nuclear weapons. In my judgement, there are no circumstances that would justify the United States using nuclear weapons, unless those weapons were used first by an opposing power.”
In the June 9, 1979 issue of The Nation magazine, Halperin wrote the following with regard to the Soviet-Cuban military intervention in Angola: “Every action which the Soviet Union and Cuba have taken in Africa has been consistent with the principles of international law. The Cubans have come in only when invited by a government and have remained only at their request…. The American public needs to understand that Soviet conduct in Africa violates no Soviet-American agreements nor any accepted principles of international behavior. It reflects simply a different Soviet estimate of what should happen in the African continent and a genuine conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.”
Under the auspices of the ACLU’s Washington, D.C. office, Halperin in 1979 defended the right of The Progressive magazine to publish secret details it had obtained regarding how to build a hydrogen bomb. Vis-a-vis scientists who refused to help lawyers representing The Progressive‘s efforts to publish such material, Halperin wrote in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in August 1985: “They failed to understand that the question of whether publishing the ‘secret of the H-bomb’ would help or hinder non-proliferation efforts was beside the point. The real question was whether the government had the right to decide what information should be published. If the government could stop publication of [this] article, it could, in theory, prevent publication of any other material that it thought would stimulate proliferation.”
In April 1981, Halperin condemned legislation that was designed to set heavy criminal penalties for Americans who deliberately identified undercover U.S. intelligence agents. By Halperin’s telling, such a law “will chill public debate on important intelligence issues and is unconstitutional.”
In Target America – James L. Tyson’s 1981 exposé of the Soviet Union’s massive “propaganda campaign designed to weaken and demoralize America from the inside” – the author stated: “Halperin has emerged as probably the leading ‘expert’ on intelligence matters among the Far Left Lobby groups. He and his organizations have had a constant record of advocating the weakening of U.S. intelligence capabilities. His organizations are also notable for ignoring the activities of the KGB or any other foreign intelligence organization. His criticism of American intelligence misdeeds would give the impression that our agencies have been committing these crimes simply for their own villainous reasons in a world where the U.S. faces no external enemies whatever. A balance sheet analysis of Halperin’s writings and testimonies … gives Halperin a score of 100% on the side of output favorable to the Communist line and 0% on any output opposed to the Communist line.”
According to a May 2000 report by journalist Paul Sperry: “[A] well-respected former State official … who worked in intelligence during the height of the Cold War” described Halperin as “a person we knew to be pro-Soviet,” “not a person to be trusted,” and a man who was “known on embassy [briefing] cards as a Soviet or communist agent.”
In 1984 Halperin became the director of the ACLU’s Washington, D.C. office — a post he would hold until 1992. He also headed the ACLU’s “National Security Archives.”
From 1985-90, Halperin was a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.
In defense of Yasser Arafat‘s terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization, Halperin said in 1987: “It is clearly a violation of the rights of free speech and association to bar American citizens from acting as agents seeking to advance the political ideology of any organization, even if that organization is based abroad. Notwithstanding criminal acts in which the PLO may have been involved, a ban on advocacy of all components of the PLO’s efforts will not withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
In the Winter 1990-91 edition of Foreign Policy magazine, Halperin wrote: “International terrorism is rapidly supplanting the communist threat as the primary justification for wholesale deprivations of civil liberties and distortions of the democratic process.”
In September 1992, Halperin was quoted as saying: “The achievement in which I take the greatest pride is the largely behind-the-scenes efforts of the ACLU to defend the First Amendment by defeating the flag-burning constitutional amendment in both houses of Congress.”
In 1992 as well, Halperin began a two-year stint as senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In the Summer of 1993, Halperin wrote: “The United States should explicitly surrender the right to intervene unilaterally in the internal affairs of other countries by overt military means or by covert operations. Such self restraint would bar interventions like those in Grenada and Panama, unless the United States first gained the explicit consent of the international community acting through the Security Council or a regional organization.”
In February 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton announced his appointment of Halperin to the new position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping. Halperin withdrew his name from consideration in January 1994, however, when his nomination was stalled by both Republican and Democrat U.S. senators who refused to consent to a nominee with so radical a history. Clinton thereafter appointed Halperin to several positions that required no Senate confirmation: “Consultant to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy” (1993), “Special Assistant to the President” and “Senior Director for Democracy” at the National Security Council (1994-96), and “Director of the Policy Planning Staff” at the Department of State (1998–2001).
During Halperin’s tenure at the U.S. State Department, 15 government laptop computers containing highly classified intelligence information mysteriously disappeared; one of them had been checked out to Halperin’s office. A number of people were punished for this serious security breach, but Halperin was not.
Halperin was a Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations from March 1996 to November 1998.
Halperin was the Senior Vice President of The Century Foundation/Twentieth Century Fund from July 1997 though December 1998.
In February 2002, Halperin became director of the Open Society Policy Center and worked closely with its creator, George Soros. According to a March 1, 2004 report by Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation, Halperin and Soros together hand-picked former Clinton White House chief-of-staff John Podesta to serve as president of the Center for American Progress (CAP). Halperin himself became a senior fellow with CAP, and his son David Halperin joined the organization as a special advisor on campus outreach.
Soros and Morton Halperin then recruited Harold Ickes – chief fundraiser and former deputy chief of staff for the Clinton White House – to help organize CAP. It was launched on July 7, 2003 as the American Majority Institute, but has operated under the name Center for American Progress (CAP) since September 1, 2003.
Halperin was a key figure in the formation of the “Shadow Party,” a term employed by DiscoverTheNetworks to refer to the web of non-profit activist groups organized by George Soros and others to mobilize resources — money, get-out-the-vote drives, campaign advertising, and policy initiatives — that would advance Democratic Party agendas, elect Democratic candidates, and push the Democratic Party ever-further towards the left in the early 2000s.
The day on which the idea of a Shadow Party was first conceived was July 17, 2003, when Halperin was among the team of political strategists, activists, and Democrat donors who gathered at billionaire George Soros’s Long Island beach house to discuss how President George W. Bush could be defeated in the 2004 election. Other attendees included such luminaries as EMILY’s List founder and abortion-rights activist Ellen Malcolm; former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta; Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope; labor leader and former Clinton advisor Steve Rosenthal; former Clinton speechwriters Jeremy Rosner and Robert Boorstin; and major Democrat donors such as Lewis and Dorothy Cullman, Robert Glaser, Peter Lewis, and Robert McKay. The consensus among those at the meeting was that voter turnout—particularly in 17 “swing” or “battleground” states —would be the key to unseating President Bush. Thus, the attendees resolved to fund a number of organizations that could promote voter turnout and to coordinate the Democratic Party’s messaging campaigns. By early 2004, the administrative core of this “Shadow Party” was in place. It consisted of seven ostensibly “independent” nonprofit groups—all but one of which were headquartered in Washington, D.C. In a number of cases, these groups shared one another’s finances, directors, and corporate officers; occasionally they even shared office space. The seven groups were: America Coming Together, the Center For American Progress, America Votes, the Media Fund, Joint Victory Campaign 2004, Thunder Road Group, and MoveOn.org.
Halperin has taught as a visiting professor at a number of universities, including Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and Yale.
Further Reading: “Morton Halperin” (Historical Dictionary of the 1960s, U.S. Department of State, OpenSocietyFoundations.org, Sourcewatch.org); “Testimony [about Halperin] in the House of Representatives” (by Rep. Philip M. Crane, 3-17-1993).
Aspin’s Dangerous Pentagon Choice
By Philip Crane
March 17, 1993
Nomination of Morton Halperin to Be the Assistant Secretary of Defense
By The Congressional Record
October 21, 1993
Statement on the Nomination of Dr. Morton Halperin
July 15, 1994
The Shadow Party (3-part series)
By David Horowitz and Richard Poe
Nomination of Morton Halperin to Be the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy & Peacekeeping
October 21, 1993
In Halperin’s Own Words
A Proposal for a Ban on the Use of Nuclear Weapons
By Morton Halperin
October 6, 1961