40 Years Later—Full Declassification of “One of the Worst-Kept Secrets in History” – National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 348 – Published on The National Security Archive, by John Prados, June 10 – Update June 13, 2011.

… Different Versions of the Pentagon Papers:

The full version of the Pentagon Papers contains a wealth of new material. Unlike the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series (the official historical record of U.S. diplomacy), which has also covered this period in its published volumes, the Papers focus on specific, thematic subjects in considerable detail. Also distinct from FRUS, which is assembled by professional historians at least 30 years after the fact, the Pentagon Papers were compiled by defense analysts in the immediate aftermath of the events they cover, when developments were still fresh in their minds and they could put their hands on relevant material. In comparison with the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) print of 1971, which until today was the only officially released version of the Pentagon Papers, the declassified volumes will illuminate findings of the Pentagon Papers analysts and data that have long been suppressed. To give just one example, the study contains a selection of data on the war in both North and South Vietnam covering the period of and immediately after the U.S. ground intervention (1965-1967), which is represented in the HASC edition simply by summary charts. 

The original study contains an estimated 2,000 pages of documents, many of them pertaining to U.S. strategy during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. The HASC edition contains very few documents dated later than 1963, thus excluding almost all the Johnson evidence, and some Kennedy material. In addition, the HASC version of the Papers was heavily expurgated, in particular on such subjects as a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, cross-border operations, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization matters, U.S. bombing policy, and some materials on U.S. training of the South Vietnamese military.

Another important comparison is with the version of the Pentagon Papers that Daniel Ellsberg actually leaked, which obviously never passed through the hands of government censors. These were published as The Senator Gravel Edition: The Pentagon Papers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971). Editors of the Gravel edition either lacked access to, did not have space for, or were not as interested in certain other material. The Gravel edition also lacks the statistical section mentioned above, plus it is much less ample for the early period in Vietnam, excluding documents for the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and the Geneva conference. In contrast to the HASC version, the Gravel edition contains many documents dated after 1963, but without an item-by-item juxtaposition it will be impossible to tell what is new and what is not. It is in fact possible that documents in the Gravel edition were extracted from the narrative of the original or from a different source altogether.

Neither previously released version of the Papers includes the background papers written by project analysts. This very significant material will be entirely new. The Gravel edition also lacks the footnotes that were separately gathered, and of course both editions omit the Diplomatic Volumes. Again, careful dissection will be required to highlight other new advances in our knowledge.

What Are We Posting Today?

Our updated posting today consists of  both audiotapes and documents that are central to the larger story of the Pentagon Papers. The Nixon administration sought to restrain the press from covering the substantive content of the Pentagon Papers. Here we post audiofiles and transcripts of the telephone conversations in which Mr. Nixon and his associates determined to seek that prior restraint. The resulting court cases against the New York Times and the Washington Post went to the Supreme Court. We are posting a set of the legal briefs that were filed with the Court along with the audiotape of the argument before the Supreme Court. The Government’s claims as to the damage to U.S. national security alleged to be caused by the revelation of the Pentagon Papers were presented in an affidavit from Solicitor General Erwin W. Griswold. We post that memorandum plus an analysis of the specific allegations written by Archive senior fellow John Prados.

In addition, we post the declassified text of a little-known complement to the Pentagon Papers that was compiled at the Department of State. As a result of its participation in creating the Diplomatic Volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the State Department was aware of this secret Pentagon project. Secretary of State Dean Rusk took the opportunity to order a similar retrospective review of the handling of Vietnam intelligence by its Bureau of Intelligence and Research. This broad study had a stature similar to that of the Pentagon Papers and deserves to be examined alongside it. The State Department Papers never leaked and thus are hardly known. They will be completely new to most readers. (full long text and Notes 1 – 2).

Link: see The New York Times, June 7, 2011.

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