Pentagon Papers are now online
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.
Monday, that study, the Pentagon Papers, finally came out in complete form.
It’s a touchstone for whistle-blowers everywhere and just the sort of leak that gives presidents fits to this day.
Almost from the opening lines, it was apparent that the authors knew they had created a hornet’s nest.
In his Jan. 15, 1969, confidential memorandum introducing the report to the defense chief, the chairman of the task force that produced the study hinted at the explosive nature of the contents.
“Writing history, especially where it blends into current events, especially where that current event is Vietnam, is a treacherous exercise,” Leslie H. Gelb wrote.
Asked by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara to do an “encyclopedic and objective” study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1967, the team of three dozen analysts pored over a trove of Pentagon, CIA, and State Department documents with “ant-like diligence,” Gelb wrote.
Their work revealed a pattern of deception by the Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and prior administrations as they secretly escalated the conflict while assuring the public that, in Johnson’s words, the United States did not seek a wider war.
The National Archives released the Pentagon Papers in full Monday and put them online, long after most of the secrets were spilled.