On This Day in History…. June 13, 1971: NYT Publishes “Pentagon Papers” 40 Years Later Declassified

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:

Day in History

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS: PENTAGON PAPERS DECLASSIFIED 40 YEARS LATER

Donal F. Holway/The New York Times

Daniel Ellsberg, outside a federal courthouse in 1971, faced 12 felony counts as a result of his leak of the Pentagon Papers; the charges were dismissed in 1973.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY….

On June 13, 1971, The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a documentary history tracing the ultimately doomed involvement of the United States in a grinding war in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
They demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.
The Government sought and won a court order restraining further publication after three articles had appeared. Other newspapers then began publishing. They, too, were restrained, until finally, on June 30, 1971, the United States Supreme Court ruled, by a vote of 6 to 3, that publication could resume.
Forty years later to the day June 13, 2011 the government has declassified the entire Pentagon Papers, and will be releasing them, giving the public and historians the opportunity to read the entire 7000 page document in its proper order and without ommisssions, with the exception of 11 words. — (Adapted from the NYT)

QUOTES

  • Pentagon Papers Online: Full Text 
  • (The original front page story on the Pentagon Papers of the Washington Post from the Pentagon Papers here and here.)

    HEADLINES

    • 40 years after leak, the Pentagon Papers are out: Call it the granddaddy of WikiLeaks. Four decades ago, a young defense analyst leaked a top-secret study packed with damaging revelations about America’s conduct of the Vietnam War.
      On Monday, that study, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, finally came out in complete form. It’s a touchstone for whistleblowers everywhere and just the sort of leak that gives presidents fits to this day.
      The documents show that almost from the opening lines, it was apparent that the authors knew they had produced a hornet’s nest…. – AP, 6-13-11 
    • After 40 Years, the Complete Pentagon Papers: It may be a first in the annals of government secrecy: Declassifying documents to mark the anniversary of their leak to the press. But that is what will happen Monday, when the federal government plans to finally release the secret government study of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers 40 years after it was first published by The New York Times.
      Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said the report should not have been secret even in 1971.
      At first blush, it sounds like the release of one of the worst-kept secrets in history — finally unlocking the barn door four decades after the horses bolted. The study, after all, has already been published by The Times and other newspapers, resulting in a landmark First Amendment decision by the Supreme Court. It has been released in book form more than once. But it turns out that those texts have been incomplete: When all 7,000 pages are released Monday, officials say, the study can finally be read in its original form.
      That it took until the era of WikiLeaks for the government to declassify the Pentagon Papers struck some participants as, to say the least, curious…. – NYT, 6-13-11 
    • Pentagon Papers to be declassified at last: The disclosure of the Pentagon Papers four decades ago stands as one of the most significant leaks of classified material in American history. Ever since, in the eyes of the government, the voluminous record of U.S. involvement in Vietnam has remained something else: classified.
      In the Byzantine realm of government record-keeping, publication of a document in the country’s biggest newspapers, including this one, does not mean declassification. Despite the release of multiple versions of the Pentagon Papers, no complete, fully unredacted text has ever been publicly disclosed.
      On Monday, the National Archives and Records Administration will change that, as it officially declassifies the papers 40 years to the day after portions were first disclosed by the New York Times. In doing so, and in making the papers available online, the Archives could provide researchers with a more holistic way of understanding a remarkable chapter of U.S. history.
      It could also bring a small measure of solace to advocates of open government frustrated by what they see as the overzealous classification of important documents. They note that tens of thousands of the classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks also remain classified…. – WaPo, 6-13-11 
    • Pentagon Papers declassified today. Will we learn any shocking new secrets?: The release 40 years ago of the Pentagon Papers, which showed how several presidential administrations had misled Americans about their intentions in Vietnam, was a historic moment. Now, people can read the report just as government officials themselves saw it.
      The US government is releasing the Pentagon Papers in their entirety on Monday. This 7,000 page report, known formally as the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” is one of the most famous secret documents in the nation’s history.
      It is also a secret document that was poorly kept, as RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg leaked much of it to The New York Times – a dramatic act of defiance that bolstered freedom of the press after the Supreme Court voted to allow the Pentagon Papers’ publication.
      Stories based on the report began appearing in the Times 40 years ago today. Given that much of it has been public for so long, will we learn any new secrets from today’s release of the entire project?
      Well, for one thing, historians will now get to view the Pentagon Papers in their proper order, with all supporting volumes, as top government officials themselves saw it.
      “The fact of the matter is that no one, outside the people properly cleared to view top secret, has seen the real Pentagon Papers,” says the National Declassification Center on its blog…. – CS Monitor, 6-13-11 
    • The Pentagon Papers are released in full to the public: On Monday the National Archives released all 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers, the explosive documents that detailed four administrations’ worth of deception on Vietnam. Some of the content has been public since 1971, and the release is not likely to reveal many new secrets. But this is the first time that Americans can read the papers in full without a security clearance.
      Officially known as the “Report of the OSD Vietnam Task Force,” the Pentagon Papers were a secret analysis of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The papers showed that while U.S. leaders said one thing about the conflict publicly, they were thinking something entirely different behind closed doors.
      Forty years ago today, the New York Times first published excerpts of the papers. Daniel Ellsberg, the task force participant who leaked the documents, believes they still have something to teach. He recently told the Times that the papers show that Congress, not presidents, should have the power to make war…. – WaPo, 6-13-11 
    • Pentagon Papers to be fully declassified: The Pentagon Papers, a window into U.S. action in Vietnam that has been officially closed for decades, will be declassified, the National Archives said.
      The National Archives and the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Presidential Libraries Monday “will release in its entirety the official Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force (commonly referred to as the Pentagon Papers),” the Archives said in a release Thursday.
      “This is the 40th anniversary of the leak of these Papers by The New York Times. Approximately 2,384 pages or 34 percent of the report will be opened for the first time as compared to the Senator (Mike) Gravel (D-Alaska) Edition of the Pentagon Papers, the most common benchmark used in Pentagon Papers discussions,” the release said.
      While some sections of the documents were leaked to the press, no complete, fully unredacted version of the text has ever been released to the public, The New York Times reported.
      “This was a secret history project to try to figure out why we were in such a national security tangle,” Timothy Naftali, director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, told the Times. “And now with all the material together in one place, you can see how our government wrestled with the problem.”
      “The fact that the Pentagon Papers were still secret is an embarrassment to the United States government,” said John Prados, senior fellow at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. “You’ve been able to read them for 40 years, but they’re still secret.” – UPI, 6-10-11 
    • Tim Naftali: Nixon Library to make Pentagon Papers public: After more than 40 years, the federal government has declassified the Pentagon Papers, and the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum will be one of the first institutions to make the document available.
      The Nixon Library already has a copy in the vault that was part of President Richard M. Nixon’s papers. It will be released at 9 a.m., June 13, 40 years to the day that leaked portions of the report were printed on the front page of The New York Times, near a picture of Nixon accompanying his daughter Tricia on her wedding day.
      Until now, the public has been able to read only the relatively small portions of the report that were leaked, including what Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg gave to the press and volumes that were read into the Congressional record by then-Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.
      “On June 13, you can look at and touch the Vietnam Task Force Study,” library Director Tim Naftali said, referring to the report’s formal name. “You can see how the authors intended it to be read.”
      The public will be able to read all 7,000 pages except for 11 words on one sheet that federal agencies refused to declassify.
      Naftali said he didn’t know what those 11 words are…. – - OC Register, 5-27-11 
    • Eleven Words in Pentagon Papers to Remain Classified: The Pentagon Papers that were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg four decades ago have been formally declassified and will be released in their entirety next month — except for eleven words that remain classified.
      David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, announced the surprising exception to the upcoming release of the Papers at a meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board on May 26.
      The nature of the censored words was not described, but the National Declassification Center said on its blog that all eleven of them appeared on a single page. The Center also said that the release next month “will present the American public with the first real look at this historic document,” because it will be more complete and accurate than any prior edition of the Papers.
      From a security policy point of view, the decision to maintain the classification of eleven words is questionable because it invites attention and speculation, not to mention ridicule, focused precisely on that which is withheld…. – FAS, 5-26-11

    HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION

    • Fredrik Logevall: Today’s Release of Pentagon Papers Has ‘Contemporary Resonance,’ Says Cornell History Professor: Fredrik Logevall, Cornell University professor of history, is a leading historian of the Vietnam War. He is the author of several books on the Vietnam War, including “Twilight War,” to be released by Random House in early 2012.
      “The leak of portions of the Pentagon Papers forty years ago by Daniel Ellsberg showed clearly the degree to which the Johnson administration concealed from the public and from Congress its grim assessment of the situation on the ground in the South Vietnam, and its plans for escalation. Lyndon Johnson and many of his aides in 1964-65 doubted that the outcome in Vietnam really mattered to U.S. security, yet they Americanized the war anyway, the papers show.
      “We also know that Nixon’s view of Ellsberg’s action was initially mixed. He relished the thought that people would know of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ secret escalation, but he feared that his own secret policies would be revealed, notably his bombing of Cambodia. Nixon’s attempt to block publication had a boomerang effect and only increased the publicity surrounding the story. Ultimately, the leak and his response to it would play a role in his downfall.
      “The issue also has contemporary resonance, with Wikileaks and the Obama administration’s response similar to that of the Nixon administration forty years ago. In both instances the government charged that the leakers were guilty of stealing government property, that by their actions they had endangered U.S. national security, and that they should be tried under the Espionage Act.” – Newswise, 6-13-11 
    • 40 Years After Leak, Weighing the Impact of the Pentagon Papers: In 1971, parts of a secret Pentagon report began to surface in The New York Times calling the Vietnam War’s validity into question. Forty years later, the Pentagon Papers were declassified and released in full Monday. Jeffrey Brown discusses the leak’s significance with historian Michael Beschloss and journalist Sanford Ungar…. – PBS Newshour, 6-13-11 
    • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, people had — many people who were critics of the war had a lot of their worse suspicions confirmed, that the Johnson administration had been very secretive and had not told the truth about key episode, and also learned about other things, like the Kennedy administration’s involvement in the coup that led to the assassination of President Diem in November of 1963.
      But the more shocking thing was this. You know, before 1971, there was a feeling that government documents that were leaked or stolen or published against the will of the government, that was something the Soviet foreign agents did. That was something Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs did.
      In fact, the Pumpkin Papers is one reason why the Alger Hiss archive, one reason why this was called the Pentagon Papers, so there was that connection. But this was the first time that this was really seen as an episode of patriotism. And ever since 1971, we have begun to believe the idea of a crusader who finds government secrets that shouldn’t be secret, gives them to the public.
      Shortly after this was Watergate. We saw what bad secrets government can really keep…….Of the Plumbers, this squad that the Nixon administration organized to go after leaks like this.
      And it is almost poetic. Almost exactly a year after the Pentagon Papers were published was the Watergate break-in, June of 1972. Richard Nixon has this famous meeting with H.R. Haldeman in which he’s using government secrecy to cloak a crime. He is telling Haldeman, use the — tell the CIA and the FBI to stay the hell out of this.
      This was national security — exactly what people feared would happen and exactly the argument that they made for opening these secrets….

      …Well, the irony that it was The New York Times that first did this, because, in 1961, exactly a decade earlier, John Kennedy went to the publisher of The New York Times, who had told him that we have got this information that you are planning an attack on Castro’s Cub at the Bay of Pigs. Do you want us to publish or not? Kennedy said, please don’t. The Times said, OK, we won’t.
      Later on, Kennedy said, I wished you had published it, because it would have stop head this fiasco from happening.
      That is how much things have changed.
      Nowadays, I would say that, for a publisher who is a boss of editors and reporters who come across information like this, the burden is much more on the government to show why something like this will cost lives or directly jeopardize American national security.
      And, oftentimes, if the government makes that argument, they do not win. In the old days, they almost always did…. – PBS Newshour, 6-13-11

       

    • James Rosen: Five Myths About the Pentagon Papers: For his book about the Nixon presidency, The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate (2008), Fox News Washington Correspondent James Rosen intensively researched the Pentagon Papers and interviewed many of the key players in the case. Among them was Daniel Ellsberg, the disaffected former Marine and Defense Department consultant who turned against the Vietnam War and leaked the documents to the New York Times. The Times’ series of excerpts from the top-secret study began forty years ago Monday, triggering both a historic Supreme Court ruling on the scope and limits of press freedoms and also the domestic spying that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation. Here, James examines five prevalent myths about the Pentagon Papers.
      Myth # 1: ON MONDAY –THE FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES’ FIRST PUBLICATION OF EXCERPTS FROM THE PENTAGON PAPERS – THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC A VAST AMOUNT OF MATERIAL FROM THE PAPERS MATERIAL NEVER AVAILABLE BEFORE.
      Myth # 2: THE PENTAGON PAPERS REFLECTED POORLY ON THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION.
      Myth # 3: THE PLUMBERS’ BREAK-IN AT THE OFFICE OF DANIEL ELLSBERG’S PSYCHIATIRST WAS UNSUCCESSFUL.
      Myth # 4: THE ELLSBERG BREAK-IN WAS UNDERTAKEN IN ORDER TO FIND INFORMATION THAT COULD DISCREDIT ELLSBERG AT TRIAL.
      Myth # 5: IT WAS HENRY KISSINGER WHO PERSUADED PRESIDENT NIXON TO PROSECUTE DANIEL ELLSBERG. – Fox News, 6-13-11
The July 1, 1971, front page of The New York Times.
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