The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of the New York Times in 1971.A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers "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 report was declassified and publicly released in June 2011.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara created the Vietnam Study Task Force on June 17, 1967, for the purpose of writing an "encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War". The secretary's motivation for commissioning the study is unclear. McNamara claimed that he wanted to leave a written record for historians, but kept the study secret from the rest of the Johnson administration. Neither President Lyndon Johnson nor Secretary of State Dean Rusk knew about the study until its publication; they believed McNamara might have planned to give the work to his friend Robert F. Kennedy, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.
Instead of using existing Defense Department historians, McNamara assigned his close aide and Assistant Secretary of Defense John T. McNaughton, McNaughton's aide Morton H. Halperin, and Defense Department official Leslie H. Gelb to lead the task force. Thirty-six analysts - half of them active-duty military officers, the rest academics and civilian federal employees - worked on the study. The analysts largely used existing files in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and did no interviews or consultations with the armed forces, with the White House, or with other federal agencies in order to keep the study secret from others, including National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow.
McNamara left the Defense Department in February 1968 and his successor Clark M. Clifford received the finished study on 15 January 1969, five days before Richard Nixon's inauguration - although Clifford claimed he never read it. The study comprised 3,000 pages of historical analysis and 4,000 pages of original government documents in 47 volumes, and was classified as "Top Secret - Sensitive". ("Sensitive" is not an official security designation; it meant that the study's publication would be embarrassing.) The task force published 15 copies; the think-tank RAND Corp received two of the copies from Gelb, Halperin, and Paul Warnke, with access granted if two of the three approved.
Daniel Ellsberg knew the leaders of the task force well. He had worked as an aide to McNaughton from 1964 to 1965, had worked on the study for several months in 1967, and in 1969 Gelb and Halperin approved his access to the work at RAND. Now opposing the war, Ellsberg and his friend Anthony Russo photocopied the study in October 1969 intending to disclose it. He approached Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern, and others, but none were interested.
In February 1971 Ellsberg discussed the study with New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, and gave 43 of the volumes to him in March. The Times began publishing excerpts on June 13, 1971; the first article in the series was titled "Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement". The name "Pentagon Papers" for the study arose during the resulting media publicity.  Street protests, political controversy and lawsuits followed.
To ensure the possibility of public debate about the content of the papers, on June 29, US Senator Mike Gravel (then Democrat, Alaska) entered 4,100 pages of the Papers to the record of his Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds. These portions of the Papers were subsequently published by Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution provides that "for any Speech or Debate in either House, [a Senator or Representative] shall not be questioned in any other Place", thus the Senator could not be prosecuted for anything said on the Senate floor, and, by extension, for anything entered to the Congressional Record, allowing the Papers to be publicly read without threat of a treason trial and conviction. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the decision Gravel v. United States.
Later, Ellsberg said the documents "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates". He added that he leaked the Papers to end what he perceived to be "a wrongful war".
The Papers revealed that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, none of which had been reported by media in the US. The most damaging revelations in the papers revealed that four administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had misled the public regarding their intentions. For example, the John F. Kennedy administration had planned to overthrow South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem before his death in a November 1963 coup. President Johnson had decided to expand the war while promising "we seek no wider war" during his 1964 presidential campaign, including plans to bomb North Vietnam well before the 1964 Election. President Johnson had been outspoken against doing so during the election and claimed that his opponent Barry Goldwater was the one that wanted to bomb North Vietnam.
In another example, a memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration listed the reasons for American persistence:
Another controversy was that President Johnson sent combat troops to Vietnam by July 17, 1965, before pretending to consult his advisors on July 21–July 27, per the cable stating that "Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance informs McNamara that President had approved 34 Battalion Plan and will try to push through reserve call-up." In 1988, when that cable was declassified, it revealed "there was a continuing uncertainty as to [Johnson's] final decision, which would have to await Secretary McNamara's recommendation and the views of Congressional leaders, particularly the views of Senator [Richard] Russell."
Nixon Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold later called the Papers an example of "massive overclassification" with "no trace of a threat to the national security". The Papers' publication had little or no effect on the ongoing war because they dealt with documents written years before publication.
After the release of the Pentagon Papers, Goldwater said:
Senator Birch Bayh, who thought the publishing of the Pentagon Papers was justified, said:
Prior to publication, the New York Times sought legal advice. The paper's regular outside counsel, Lord Day & Lord, advised against publication, but house counsel James Goodale prevailed with his argument that the press had a First Amendment right to publish information significant to the people's understanding of their government's policy.
President Nixon's first reaction to the publication was that since the study embarrassed the Johnson and Kennedy administrations, not his, he should do nothing. However, Kissinger convinced the president that not opposing publication set a negative precedent for future secrets. The administration argued Ellsberg and Russo were guilty of a felony under the Espionage Act of 1917, because they had no authority to publish classified documents. After failing to persuade the Times to voluntarily cease publication on June 14, Attorney General John N. Mitchell and Nixon obtained a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease publication after three articles. Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger said:
On June 18, 1971, the Washington Post began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers; Ellsberg gave portions to editor Ben Bradlee. That day, Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Rehnquist asked the paper to cease publication. After it refused, Rehnquist unsuccessfully sought an injunction at a U.S. district court. The government appealed that decision, and on June 26 the Supreme Court agreed to hear it jointly with the New York Times case. Fifteen other newspapers received copies of the study and began publishing it.
On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court decided, 6–3, that the government failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required for prior restraint injunction. The nine justices wrote nine opinions disagreeing on significant, substantive matters.
Thomas Tedford and Dale Herbeck summarize the reaction of editors and journalists at the time:
Ellsberg surrendered to authorities in Boston and admitted that he had given the papers to the press. He was later indicted on charges of stealing and holding secret documents by a grand jury in Los Angeles. Federal District Judge William Matthew Byrne, Jr. declared a mistrial and dismissed all charges against Ellsberg [and Russo] on May 11, 1973, after several irregularities appeared in the government's case, including its claim that it had lost records of illegal wiretapping against Ellsberg conducted by the White House Plumbers in the contemporaneous Watergate scandal. Byrne ruled: "The totality of the circumstances of this case which I have only briefly sketched offend a sense of justice. The bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case."
Times v. United States is generally considered a victory for an extensive reading of the First Amendment, but as the Supreme Court ruled on whether the government had made a successful case for prior restraint, its decision did not void the Espionage Act or give the press unlimited freedom to publish classified documents. Ellsberg and Russo were not acquitted of violating the Espionage Act; they were freed due to a mistrial from irregularities in the government's case.
In March 1972, political scientist Samuel L. Popkin, then assistant professor of Government at the University of California, San Diego, was jailed for a week for his refusal to answer questions before a grand jury investigating the Pentagon Papers case, during a hearing before the Boston Federal District Court. The Faculty Council later passed a resolution condemning the government's interrogation of scholars on the grounds that "an unlimited right of grand juries to ask any question and to expose a witness to citations for contempt could easily threaten scholarly research."
Gelb estimated that the Times only published about 5% of the study's 7,000 pages. The Beacon Press edition was also incomplete. Halperin, who had originally classified the study as secret, obtained most of the unpublished portions under the Freedom of Information Act and the University of Texas published them in 1983. The National Security Archive published the remaining portions in 2002. The study remained formally classified, however, until 2011.
On 4 May 2011 the National Archives and Records Administration announced that the Papers would be declassified and released to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California on 13 June 2011. The release date included the Nixon, Kennedy, and LBJ Libraries, and the Archives office in College Park, Maryland.
The full release was coordinated by the Archives's National Declassification Center as a special project to mark the anniversary of the report.
The NDC worked with the agencies having classification control over the material to prevent the redaction of the last 11 words of the Papers that would not have been made available.
The Pentagon Papers (2003) is a historical film directed by Rod Holcomb about the Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg's involvement in their publication.The film represents Ellsberg's life, beginning with his work for RAND Corp., and ending with the day on which his espionage trial was declared a mistrial by a federal court judge.
(2009) is a documentary film directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith.The film follows Daniel Ellsberg and explores the events leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
. How We Got Here: The '70s. David Frum. 2000. Basic Books. New York, New York. 0-465-04195-7. 43.