The Pentagon Papers

Jun 13, 2011

The Pentagon Papers are released to the public – 40 years to the day after they were leaked.

The 7,000-page report on the Vietnam War, historical documents, and a videotaped personal remembrance by former LBJ Library Director Harry Middleton of LBJ's desire to open all archival materials are available at the LBJ Library and on its website www.lbjlibrary.org.

What: Press Conference
When: Monday, June 13, 2011, 11:00 A.M. CDT
Where: LBJ Library - Brown Room, 10th Floor 2313 Red River St.
www.lbjlibrary.org/about-us/plan-your-visit.html

Press materials:

  • Pentagon Papers will be on display.
  • DVD of interview with former LBJ Library Director Harry Middleton on LBJ's desire to open materials
  • Historical photos and documents
  • LBJ Library archivists are available for interviews.

Contact: LBJ Library Reading Room - (512) 721-0212. Link to digital copy of complete Pentagon Papers available online through the National Archives beginning at 11:00 a.m. CDT: www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/

Background: In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara created a task force to study the history of U.S. decision-making on Vietnam policy. Members of this top secret group, which grew to 36 people in all, used copies of classified documents from the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, and the White House, to compile a 47-volume report. They completed it in 1969, calling it United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, later commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. President Lyndon Johnson was not told about the study at the time it was conducted.

Daniel Ellsberg, who had briefly worked on the task force, and Anthony Russo obtained a copy of the report and made portions of it available to the New York Times and other media outlets. On June 13, 1971, the Times began publishing a series of articles about the Papers. U.S. Senator Mike Gravel also made a copy of parts of the Papers available. Based on national security concerns, the U.S. Justice Department obtained a court order to stop publication of the Papers, but on June 30, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to a free press overrode other concerns. The materials published in 1971 represented only a small portion of the 7,000-page report.

The LBJ Library obtained the Pentagon Papers in September 1969, when Robert McNamara gave the Library one complete set of the task force report. In May 2002, the LBJ Library declassified and released a portion of the report called the "Negotiating Volume." Back in 1971, Ellsberg and Russo decided not to release to the news media this portion of the Papers which dealt with negotiations to end the Vietnam War. The rest of the Papers, which fill nine boxes, have remained closed, locked in the vault at the LBJ Library.

Former LBJ Library Director Harry Middleton recalls that President Johnson was passionate about declassifying and releasing not only archival materials about the Vietnam War but all materials as quickly as possible. A videotaped interview with Middleton about LBJ's efforts to work with President Nixon to open papers is available on the LBJ Library website, www.lbjlibrary.org.

The declassification of the Pentagon Papers was done by the National Declassification Center at the National Archives and Records Administration and the LBJ, Kennedy, and Nixon presidential libraries.

LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove participated in the effort to open these historical documents. "Now, for the first time, we can read the report as it was written," said Updegrove. "Perhaps no 'smoking gun' will be found in this 7,000-page report, but it will undoubtedly contribute to our greater understanding of this conflict. When the LBJ Library was dedicated, just weeks before the leak of the Pentagon Papers, President Johnson said, 'It is all here: the story of our time—with the bark off.' And he committed the Library to opening materials as quickly and as fully as possible. He might be a little surprised that it has taken 40 years to get this report fully declassified, but I am sure he would be happy that it has finally come to pass."