5 Things You Didn't Know About the Pentagon Papers

On June 13, 1971, The New York Times begins to publish sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret Department of Defense study of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  Here are 5 things you probably didn't know about the Pentagon Papers...


The Pentagon Papers Were Not Officially Unclassified Until 2011. # The Pentagon Papers contained enormous amounts of information on American involvement in the Vietnam War that was unknown to the public. An incomplete version of the Pentagon Papers was released in 1971; however, the study remained classified until 2011. It contained 47 volumes with 3,000 pages and an additional 4,000 pages of documents. The release of the Pentagon Papers came 40 years after it was initially leaked to the newspapers.

Information from the Pentagon Papers Released by The New York Times Was a Test of the First Amendment. # The Vietnam war began on November 1, 1955, and did not end until April 30, 1975. Photo source: WikiCommons The New York Times began publishing articles about the leaked Pentagon Papers in 1971; however, a short time later, the Department of Justice obtained a restraining order saying that further material could not be published. The case went in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled that publication of the information was justified and illustrated the press’ freedom under the First Amendment. Other newspapers began to publish parts of the Pentagon Papers, and one U.S. Senator read from them during a subcommittee hearing after that.


The Pentagon Papers Showed Extensive Involvement of the U.S. Government in the Vietnam War. Information in the Pentagon Papers showed that numerous administrations had been lying to the American public about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. This included President Johnson’s plan to escalate involvement in the war in 1964, although he had claimed that the war in Vietnam would be scaled back. Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy had also misled Americans about the country’s involvement.

A Supreme Court Decision Resulted in Criminal Charges. Following the verdict by the Supreme Court, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo were indicted for espionage, conspiracy and the theft of government property for leaking the Pentagon Papers. The charges were dismissed by the court because of evidence gathering that was deemed illegal and misconduct by the government defense, including a break-in of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in an effort to discredit him.

One of the Boxes Containing the Leaked Material Had to Be Placed Into the Cargo Hold. Ben Bagdikian, a journalist with the Washington Post, was in charge of bringing the two heavy boxes containing the Pentagon Papers and delivering them to the home of the editor, Benjamin Bradlee. While one box was securely tied, the other wasn’t, so Bagdikian found a length of rope near the hotel’s swimming pool where people were known to tie their dogs and secured the second box. He had purchased a second seat on the airplane, but had nowhere else to place the second box, so he ended up having to check it in as baggage.

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