News Release

Pentagon Papers: Lessons for Today


Forty years ago today, on June 13, 1971, the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, top-secret government documents that showed a pattern of governmental deceit about the Vietnam War. In the weeks that followed the Nixon White House worked to stop the Times and other newspapers from publishing the Papers, with the Supreme Court ultimately ruling against prior restraint. Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers and later that month got them to Sen. Mike Gravel, who late in the evening of June 29 to June 30 entered them into the Congressional Record; he was conducting a filibuster against the draft.

Gravel is a former two-term senator from Alaska; his books include A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man’s Fight to Stop It. He said today: “It’s particularly ridiculous that the government is putting out a version of the Pentagon Papers now because the government approach to Ellsberg and myself is being echoed in their approach to Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the WikiLeaks revelations. Our oaths bind us to loyalty to the Constitution and not to government officials who lie us into wars.”


Footage of Gravel from 1971 placing the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record

Gravel talking about publishing the Pentagon Papers with Ellsberg in 2007

Today’s Guardian has a piece by Ellsberg titled “Why the Pentagon Papers Matter Now,” which states: “The declassification and online release Monday of the full original version of the Pentagon Papers — the 7,000-page top secret Pentagon study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam 1945-67 — comes 40 years after I gave it to 19 newspapers and to Senator Mike Gravel (minus volumes on negotiations, which I had given only to the Senate foreign relations committee). Gravel entered what I had given him in the congressional record and later published nearly all of it with Beacon Press. Together with the newspaper coverage and a government printing office (GPO) edition that was heavily redacted but overlapped the Senator Gravel edition, most of the material has been available to the public and scholars since 1971. (The negotiation volumes were declassified some years ago; the Senate, if not the Pentagon, should have released them no later than the end of the war in 1975.)

“In other words, today’s declassification of the whole study comes 36 to 40 years overdue. Yet, unfortunately, it happens to be peculiarly timely that this study gets attention and goes online just now. That’s because we’re mired again in wars — especially in Afghanistan — remarkably similar to the 30-year conflict in Vietnam, and we don’t have comparable documentation and insider analysis to enlighten us on how we got here and where it’s likely to go.

“What we need released this month are the Pentagon Papers of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen and Libya). We’re not likely to get them; they probably don’t yet exist, at least in the useful form of the earlier ones. But the original studies on Vietnam are a surprisingly not-bad substitute, definitely worth learning from.”

Ellsberg recently said: “ALL the crimes he [Nixon] committed against me — which forced his resignation facing impeachment — are now legal. That includes burglarizing my former psychoanalyst’s office (for material to blackmail me into silence), warrantless wiretapping, using the CIA against an American citizen in the U.S., and authorizing a White House hit squad to ‘incapacitate me totally’ (on the steps of the Capitol on May 3, 1971). All the above were to prevent me from exposing guilty secrets of his own administration that went beyond the Pentagon Papers. But under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, with the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendment Act, and (for the hit squad) President Obama’s executive orders, they have all become legal.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 421-6858; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167