Author Topic: The Deceit and Conflict Behind the Leak of the Pentagon Papers  (Read 1231 times)

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The Deceit and Conflict Behind the Leak of the Pentagon Papers

Fifty years on, Daniel Ellsberg praises the Times journalist who misled him.

By Ben Bradlee, Jr.
April 8, 2021

Fifty years ago this spring, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a seven-thousand-page top-secret history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The study revealed systematic lying to the American people by four U.S. Presidents, from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson. The Nixon Administration tried to halt publication by the Times and the Washington Post, but was thwarted by the Supreme Court in a landmark victory for press freedom. A federal judge’s subsequent dismissal of criminal charges against Ellsberg, which carried a sentence of up to a hundred and fifteen years in prison, was seen as a validation of whistle-blowing.

All of this is well known. But the death, in January, of Neil Sheehan, the Times reporter to whom Ellsberg leaked the papers, brought new revelations, which have altered the heroic narrative surrounding the historic leak. The process was more contentious, combative, and duplicitous than was previously understood. In hours of interviews recently, Ellsberg revealed new details about his struggle to leak the papers, including that he provided portions of them to officials at a left-wing Washington think tank before the Times published. He vented about the extent to which Sheehan had deceived him about the newspaper’s intentions to publish the papers without ever telling him that the decision had already been made. And he provided new information about how Sheehan had surreptitiously made a copy of the papers, defying Ellsberg’s direct request that he not do so. When Ellsberg later gave Sheehan a copy of the papers, the journalist did not reveal that he already had one. “It turns out that Neil and I were both very much in the dark in 1971 as to what the other was thinking and doing, and why,” Ellsberg said recently.