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June 13, 2011

Forty Years On
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:12 PM * 22 comments

Forty years ago today, The New York Times leaked excerpts from the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers.

The Pentagon Papers, complete, were released today. There are no redacted bits. You can read them, all 7,000 pages, on-line.

In honor of the occasion, today and tomorrow, the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is being streamed on-line, free.

There are no secrets.


Comments on Forty Years On:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 08:19 PM:

Reportedly someone wanted to redact eleven words (all on the same page) from the current release of the Pentagon Papers, but was overruled.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 08:39 PM:

It's next to impossible to keep anything secret for an indefinite amount of time; but one can sometimes keep secrets long enough for practical purposes.

#3 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 08:47 PM:

Which eleven words, do we know?

#4 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Juan Cole quotes Dan Ellsberg saying that this would not have happened today because everything that Nixon did that caused him to commit to a cover up would have been legal now. Chilling thought.

#5 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 12:16 AM:

What I found even more astonishing was the CIA's recent declassification of spy stuff from the Great War. ( Lots of chemical analysis of formulas for German secret ink. If you look at the first pages of those documents, you'll see that someone in 1978 took the trouble to stamp them as confidential.

#6 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 12:57 AM:

"We're sorry, but this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions."

There are no secrets, but the internet has oceans.

On the subject of people who are dangerous and leak stuff, lulzsec seems to be the next step up from Wikileaks. They recently released data they claim is stolen from, basically their apache config and some other data on internal configuration.

I find lulzsec highly fascinating. From what I hear, a lot of IT security at big companies is a joke. I can't think of a better way to point out that the emperor is naked. But also, and here I may be showing my age, it's so sci-fi, you know? Recreational hackers breaking into government systems for the lulz. That tingling I feel? That's the beginning of future shock, I believe.

#7 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 05:44 AM:

Future shock? Really? Phone phreaking passed you by? You never saw War Games? You missed the 'Pentagon hacker' case? That's old shit, man.

#8 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 07:08 AM:

alex @ #7:

The activities may be Old Hat, but the publicity is, I think a slightly newer thing. There may also be a difference in motivation, but I can only infer the motivation between "the old" and "the new" at a fair bit of remove.

#9 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 10:41 AM:

Daniel Klein:

One problem is that security is hard to get right over a large organization. It's almost guaranteed that your IT security people will be in constant conflict with the normal users of the systems, who will find security restrictions annoying and sometimes won't be able to do their jobs properly without bypassing those restrictions. And every large organization has many, many systems in use, some legacy stuff that's been around for a decade or more and is poorly understood, but can't be gotten rid of because it's needed, some stuff that's known to have all kinds of security problems, but again, is hard to replace, and so on.

The result of this is that even when the corporate IT guys really do know their business, it's generally not enough to keep anybody moderately clued in out of their organization entirely.

#10 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 10:46 AM:

There's a beautiful irony in having Bradley Manning in prison (though apparently out of solitary and being treated better now), and the feds trying to find a way to get hold of Julian Assange, as we commemorate the leaking of the Pentagon Papers.

#11 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 11:16 AM:

Albatross @ 10

No, I have to disagree with that. There's nothing ironic about the distinction between legally obtaining release of materials, the confidentiality of which has become obsolete, and hacking or otherwise illegally obtaining materials which are presently considered confidential.

Whistleblowing is a career-ending move. People who whistleblow are generally very aware of that, by the time they do anything. While I wish we had more protections for whistleblowers, I also have some concerns about making it too easy and tempting to leak sensitive or confidential information whenever someone disagrees with a decision. There's a balance, and I'm on the side of shifting it in the direction of lots more sunlight, but within reason.

(That said, I think the more we require written and documentary discourse to take place in public, the more conversations will occur off-record in those smoke-filled rooms... It's a tricky thing to try to get a handle on.)

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 01:18 PM:


So, when Ellsburg gave those documents to the New York Times, how was that different from what Bradley Manning is supposed to have done? And how is Wikileaks' role now fundamentally different from that of the New York Times back then? These look to me like rather parallel cases. At least one guy who should know agrees with me.

I agree that there are important areas where governments need secrecy. There are, however, also a huge number of places where secrecy is used to hide lawbreaking, corruption, abuse of power, featherbedding, empire-building, and incompetence. I think we, as a society, have the slider bar *way* over on the "secrecy" side, relative to where we should be. And our government does not, at present, behave in a way consistent with the idea that its citizens have many areas in which we should be able to keep secrets.

#13 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 03:36 PM:

Tomes have been written about the over-classification of government documents. I suspect the daily reports of Soviet Bear aircraft (TU-95) activities that I saw as a Radioman in Japan in 1973 are STILL classified as Secret.

#14 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2011, 11:40 PM:

An hour about the Pentagon papers-- the reason I'm posting this is a listen-and-weep moment-- Daniel Ellsberg thanks the interviewer (Marty Moss-Coane, I think) approximately 20 minutes into the hour for addressing the contents of the papers. Apparently most interviewers don't.

#15 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 01:23 AM:


And I would not be surprised to find that the mission reports I read of US bombing in Cambodia in 1967 are still classified Top Secret, although the main purpose of that classification was to keep US citizens from finding out that our government was lying to us about what we were doing in Southeast Asia.


There's no question in my mind that the dial is turned 'way too far over towards classification. The number and lifetime of classified documents has been increasing on a high power law, or maybe even exponentially, for the last several decades, even though the original law says that classification for each document is supposed to be reviewed on a regular basis, and decreased or removed whenever possible. At this point there are probably too many documents (in the millions, I'm sure) to review with any kind of care, so it's easiest to keep them all classified just in case.

#16 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 01:43 AM:

Bruce: "there are probably too many documents"

"Don't you know there's a WAR on, man?!?"

#17 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 04:04 AM:

the more we require written and documentary discourse to take place in public, the more conversations will occur off-record in those smoke-filled rooms...

That's the point. If you deny conspirators the ability to communicate via the written word, it takes a powerful tool away from them and thus limits the scale and efficiency with which they can conspire.

(By "conspire" I mean "act as a group in a way that the public would be annoyed with if they knew".)

For all that Julian Assange is a bit of a dick, this is something he understands. One of the key reasons he publishes is to decrease the efficiency of conspiracy, by increasing the conspirators' fear of future exposure.

#18 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 04:27 AM:

To amplify Doug Burbidge's comment...

The reason that discourse currently takes place in writing rather than in one-on-one face-to-face meets in smoky rooms is not sportsmanship. It's not an agreement that as long as we outsiders demand to see only some certain percentage of documents, our lords and masters will continue to write down their crimes.

Our enemies write things down because they have to. They can't run their empires without documentation. If we can prevent them from documenting their work, if we can make them fear that sunlight, they will talk in smoky rooms, yes. It won't stop them from hiding. But it will drastically reduce the amount of damage they can do.

It's similar to suggesting that without guns, criminals will just knife each other. Well, yes they will, but that'll mean fewer and less severe wounds. We can still count that a victory.

#19 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 10:48 AM:


Sorry, you're right. I was coming at it from the wrong end.

#20 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2011, 08:06 AM:

Devin in #3: Those eleven words that remained classified (redacted) all this time... you think they have finally been released in the clear? No, they're still redacted in this version. Google-News (pentagon-papers eleven-words) to see articles confirming this.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2011, 01:21 PM:

Those stories about how eleven words would still be redacted are from the 26th/27th of May. When the Pentagon Papers were released on 13 June, those words were no longer redacted. From an interview with Alex J. Daverede III (chief of the production division at the Archives’ National Declassification Center) on 13 June:

I know there was some controversy over plans to redact 11 words. But they will not be redacted, correct?


Why not?

Declassification is a dynamic process. People find out new things all the time. New information comes to light and every declassification decision has to be decided by any information we receive. People involved with the information obtained new information and determined the words no longer needed redaction.

#22 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2011, 03:18 PM:

James in 21: Then I wonder why that same Google-News search (pentagon-papers eleven-words) didn't turn up any subsequent article announcing the declassification, or for that matter what the eleven words were. Did no news agency think to find it newsworthy?!

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