Daniel Ellsberg (left)
The WikiLeaks disclosures of top-secret government documents recall the time in 1971 when the intrepid Daniel Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times to hasten the end of the Vietnam War.
by Don Fulsom
In the summer of 1971, The New York Times published the "Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret Defense Department study critical of U.S. war efforts in Vietnam. The huge report had been methodically stolen and duplicated by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon analyst who had turned against the war. He leaked copies to Times reporter Neil Sheehan.
Newly declassified tapes show President Richard Nixon first realized the seriousness of the leak during a June 13th noontime telephone call from National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s top deputy, Alexander Haig:
Haig: This goddamn New York Times expose [is] of the most highly classified documents in the war.
Nixon: Oh, that! I see! I didn’t read the story. You mean that was leaked out of the Pentagon?
Haig: This is a devastating security breach of the greatest magnitude of anything I’ve ever seen.
By the time Nixon talked to Kissinger himself a short time later, the President was climbing the walls over the leak:
Nixon: That Henry, that to me is just unconscionable, this is treasonable action on the part of the bastards that put it out.
Kissinger: Exactly, Mr. President.
Nixon: Doesn’t it involve secure information, a lot of other things? What kind of—what kind of people would do such things?
Kissinger: It has the most—it has the highest classification, Mr. President.
Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.
Kissinger: It’s treasonable! There’s no question it’s actionable. I’m absolutely certain that this violates all sorts of security laws.
Next on the tape, the President gives his chief foreign policy advisor permission to call Attorney General John Mitchell to determine the options for prosecuting the newspaper.