secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

The Pentagon Papers

Back in March or so of 2011 the Pentagon Papers Project at the National Declassification Center (NDC), National Archives, announced the declassification of the remaining Pentagon Papers, formally known as the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force. The National Archives Blog observed that while the Senator Gravel edition of the Papers, published by Beacon Press in 1971, is the most “comprehensive public version,” issues such as missing source documents and redaction of the Government Printing Office’s (GPO) 1971 edition justified the declassification. In addition, the NDC reported the Gravel edition does not contain

 …three volumes of the original narrative report nor did it publish most of the source documents that appeared as Part V of the original report.  In addition, Ellsberg did not leak any of Part VI, the segment of the report that deals with the peace negotiations with North Vietnam.  The GPO version of the report was heavily redacted, but it is the only official version of the report that is available to the public.  Our target in the Pentagon Papers Project is to significantly surpass the amount of information made available in either the Senator Gravel Edition or the GPO publication.

When the declassification was first announced, Secrecy News asked:

But one wonders why a “project,” complete with inter- and intra-agency coordination, is necessary at all to process defense policy records that were mostly made public 40 years ago.  A better use of public resources would be to wave a wand and simply declare the records open.

Through the declassification of these specific, previously excluded materials, perhaps we can hope for further insight into the engineering and failings of the Vietnam War; this would be of supreme historical value. And, if for nothing else, declassification contributes to the continuing history of the Papers, which is really an account of the struggles around freedom of information in the United States.

As an aside, Allison Trzop’s excellent thesis, Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers, documents the dramatic publishing history of the Papers. Trzop reports among other events, Senator Mike Gravel’s relentless commitment to locate a publisher for the Papers (the esteemed senator contacted over “thirty publishing houses before finding one willing to risk working on the papers,” p.15), the FBI’s surveillance and investigation of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) bank records (UUA administered Beacon Press), and the GPO’s rush to reprint the Papers twelve days after the release of the Gravel edition.

Trzop also reminds us of  Beacon Press editor-in-chief Arnold Tovell’s comment on the GPO version: “the federal government’s version is absolutely useless . . . It’s got no page numbers” (p. 25). From first glance of the newly released materials,  there doesn’t appear to be an index included as a separate file; perhaps there is an index included within each doc. Either way, thank heavens for CTRL + F.

 Also see

Sims, J.C. (1993). Triangulating the boundaries of the Pentagon Papers.  William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 2(2), Retrieved from

Update 6/15: Daniel Ellsberg’s essay “Why the Pentagon Papers Matter Now” gives further insight into the release of the Papers. See OpEd News,


Written by S.

June 14, 2011 at 4:30 am