1969 October 1

Daniel Ellsberg Begins Copying the “Pentagon Papers”

 

Daniel Ellseberg, with his Rand Corporation colleague Anthony Russo, began copying the secret Pentagon Papers in Los Angeles on this day. The Papers, which they had obtained while working at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California, had been commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967 because of his growing doubts about the Vietnam War. The documents in the Papers revealed the secrets surrounding American involvement in Vietnam that led to the escalation of the war. In one of the major controversies of the Vietnam War, The New York Times published the first stories based on the Papers on June 13, 1971. The Nixon Administration obtained an injunction halting publication by the Times on June 15, 1971. In a landmark case on freedom of the press, New York Times v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled the injunction unconstitutional on June 30, 1971.

Ellsberg and Russo were prosecuted for taking the Pentagon Papers from the Rand Corporation, but in the middle of the trial, on May 11, 1973, the charges were dismissed because of revelations of government misconduct against Ellsberg. The misconduct included the break-in of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist on September 9, 1971, by the “Plumbers” unit of President Nixon’s White House. The purpose of the break-in was to find damaging information about Ellsberg.

One consequence of the dismissal of the charges against Ellsberg and Russo was that with respect to Edward Snowden (June 5, 2013) there is no directly relevant precedent for the criminal prosecution of someone who stole and leaked sensitive government documents.

Read Ellsberg’s first-person account: Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002)

Read the Pentagon Papers: http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/

Learn more: Tom Wells, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg (2001)

Watch an interview with Daniel Ellsberg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OF8nuvGyngU

Watch the documentary about Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America (2009)

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