WASHINGTON — Call it the granddaddy of WikiLeaks. Four decades ago, a young defense analyst leaked a top-secret study packed with damaging revelations about America's conduct of the Vietnam War. On Monday, that study, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, finally came out in complete form.
Asked by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara to do an "encyclopedic and objective" study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1967, the team of three dozen analysts pored over a trove of Pentagon, CIA and State Department documents with "ant-like diligence," wrote Leslie H. Gelb, chairman of the task force that produced the study.
Their work revealed a pattern of deception by the Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and prior administrations as they secretly escalated the conflict while assuring the public that, in Johnson's words, the U.S. did not seek a wider war.
The National Archives released the Pentagon Papers in full Monday and put them online, long after most of the secrets spilled. The release was timed 40 years to the day after the New York Times published the first in its series of stories about the findings, on June 13, 1971, prompting President Richard Nixon to try to suppress publication and crush anyone in government who dared to spill confidences.
Prepared near the end of Johnson's term by Defense Department and private analysts, the report was leaked primarily by one of them, Daniel Ellsberg, in a brash act of defiance that stands as one of the most dramatic episodes of whistle-blowing in U.S. history.
As scholars pore over the 47-volume report, Ellsberg said the chance of them finding great new revelations is dim. Most of it has come out in congressional forums and by other means, and Ellsberg said he had plucked out the best information.
He told the Associated Press the value in Monday's release was in having the entire study finally brought together and put online, giving today's generations ready access to it.