More than four decades after they were secretly leaked to the media causing a firestorm of debate about the First Amendment, federal officials on Monday released all documents connected to the report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, better known as the “Pentagon Papers.”
The Pentagon Papers are top-secret government documents that show a pattern of governmental deceit about the Vietnam War.
The National Archives and Records Administration worked for nearly a year to prepare the release of the 47-volume, 7,000-page document. There are 48 boxes of declassified pages.
Approximately 34 percent of the report is now available for the first time, federal officials said.
The public can view the sensitive documents online or at the presidential libraries of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
The documents disclosed, once top-secret information about the Vietnam War, includes the complete account of peace negotiations, significant portions of private conversations and classified decisions, which have never been available for the public eye.
In June of 1971, small sections of the report, which were referred to as the “Vietnam Archive,” were leaked to the press and widely distributed. However, the publications of the report that resulted from these leaks were incomplete and suffered from many quality issues, federal officials said.
“The conditions under which the copies of the report were made and distributed, coupled with the speed with which the copies were distributed and the urgency to publish the material, meant that the newspaper and magazine releases of the papers covered only a small piece of the report,” said the National Archives and Records Administration in a statement issued on Monday.
Alex J. Daverede III, chief of the production division at the Archives’ National Declassification Center, said in a statement Monday to The Washington Post that he has “no doubt that there’s unpublished material that we let loose today.”
“Declassification is a dynamic process. People find out new things all the time,” Daverede said in the interview.
“It’s good to just have it all out there, because it’s the story of an administration in crisis and it’s a view from inside, at least the things that they were saying to each other.”
The audio and transcripts of President Richard Nixon’s first recorded conversations after the first publication of the Pentagon Papers began are also now available online.
There are about 3,646 conversations totaling approximately 443 hours of Nixon tapes.
One of the tapes reveal one of Nixon’s conversations proving the creation of his “Special Investigative Unit,” the “plumbers” who were supposed to fix the Pentagon Papers leaks.
These are the men who pulled their first break-in at the Los Angeles office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in September 1971 and went on to infamy at the Watergate.
One particularly priceless quote by Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, sums up the historic impact of the Pentagon Papers:
“But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”
The Pentagon Papers are available online at: http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/