WikiLeaks vs. The Pentagon Papers


Floyd Abrams:

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg decided to make available to the New York Times (and then to other newspapers) 43 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the top- secret study prepared for the Department of Defense examining how and why the United States had become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. But he made another critical decision as well. That was to keep confidential the remaining four volumes of the study describing the diplomatic efforts of the United States to resolve the war.

Not at all coincidentally, those were the volumes that the government most feared would be disclosed. In a secret brief filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. government described the diplomatic volumes as including information about negotiations secretly conducted on its behalf by foreign nations including Canada, Poland, Italy and Norway. Included as well, according to the government, were “derogatory comments about the perfidiousness of specific persons involved, and statements which might be offensive to nations or governments.”

The diplomatic volumes were not published, even in part, for another dozen years. Mr. Ellsberg later explained his decision to keep them secret, according to Sanford Ungar’s 1972 book “The Papers & The Papers,” by saying, “I didn’t want to get in the way of the diplomacy.”

Julian Assange sure does. Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?

Mr. Ellsberg himself has recently denounced the “myth” of the “good” Pentagon Papers as opposed to the “bad” WikiLeaks. But the real myth is that the two disclosures are the same.

The Pentagon Papers revelations dealt with a discrete topic, the ever-increasing level of duplicity of our leaders over a score of years in increasing the nation’s involvement in Vietnam while denying it. It revealed official wrongdoing or, at the least, a pervasive lack of candor by the government to its people.

WikiLeaks is different. It revels in the revelation of “secrets” simply because they are secret. It assaults the very notion of diplomacy that is not presented live on C-Span. It has sometimes served the public by its revelations but it also offers, at considerable potential price, a vast amount of material that discloses no abuses of power at all.

Mr. Abrams should know what he’s talking about. He represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case.

So Abrams says that WikiLeaks is not the Pentagon Papers. I’ll go even farther and say that the Pentagon Papers is not the Pentagon Papers.

Some people think the Pentagon Papers were key to ending the war in Vietnam. But they were released in 1971, three years after the Tet Offensive which was the major turning point in public opinion. People today forget that Nixon ran for President in 1968 on a promise to end the war. By 1971 the Paris Peace Talks were well under way.

The Pentagon Papers were officially titled “United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense.” They were commissioned in June 1967 by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara:

McNamara claimed that he wanted to leave a written record for historians, but kept the study secret from the rest of the Johnson administration. Neither President Lyndon Johnson nor Secretary of State Dean Rusk knew about the study until its publication; they believed McNamara might have planned to give the work to his friend Robert F. Kennedy, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

Instead of using existing Defense Department historians, McNamara assigned his close aide and Assistant Secretary of Defense John T. McNaughton, McNaughton’s aide Morton H. Halperin, and Defense Department official Leslie H. Gelb to lead the task force. Thirty-six analysts—half of them active-duty military officers, the rest academics and civilian federal employees—worked on the study. The analysts largely used existing files in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and did no interviews or consultations with the armed forces, the White House, or other federal agencies to keep the study secret from others, including National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow.

The Pentagon Papers were the military’s version of history. They were prepared for political purposes and many of the “secrets” they revealed weren’t really secrets.

The Papers revealed that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, none of which had been reported by media in the US.

The Cambodians and the Laotians knew we were bombing targets in their country. So did thousands of pilots and other military personnel. The North Vietnamese knew about the bombings and the raids on their coast. The Chinese and Soviets knew all these things too.

These things were being reported in the media outside the United States. Just like in 2002 and 2003 when the international media were telling a different tale about Iraq.

So once again we have our media “revealing” things that would have been revealed long before if they were doing their jobs.

BTW – Ellsberg didn’t go straight to the New York Times:

Now opposing the war, Ellsberg and his friend Anthony Russo photocopied the study in October 1969 intending to disclose it. He approached Nixon National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern, and others, but nobody was interested.


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26 Responses

  1. Bringing this comment by Dancing Oppossum up from the last thread:

    More stuff we wouldn’t have known about but for WikiLeaks:

    On February 25, 2010, State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley lied when he told a press conference that he wasn’t aware of any request from Dubai for assistance in tracking the Mossad killers of Mahmoud al-Mabouh…
    Wikileaks has just released a February 24, 2010 cable in which the embassy relays the specific credit card numbers used by 14 of the 27 known Mossad suspects to State with a request for assistance from authorities investigating the killing, and confirms that the UAE foreign minister made the exact same request directly to Secretary Clinton on February 23rd…

    Yesterday, I reported that incoming Mossad director Tamir Pardo was prepared to concede Israeli responsibility for the Dubai hit. To any who might view this as an Israeli official seeking to take responsibility for Israeli misdeeds or some such…Wikileaks is rumored to be about to publish cables in which the lid is blown on Mossad involvement. So it’s no skin off Pardo’s back if he admits to a crime which was about to be exposed anyway by others.

    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/12/26/wikileaks-state-department-lied-denying-dubai-asked-for-assistance-in-tracking-mossad-assassins/

    h/t to mondoweiss

    • First of all there is no proof given that Mr. Crowley lied. He may just not have been in the loop.

      But assuming he lied, what does this prove? What is the significance?

      The story was out, the media was just seeking confirmation.

      BTW – If he lied then he did so at Hillary’s orders.

      • OMG, diplomats lying. Say it ain’t so. I just assumed when diplomats and leaders of different countries met they were 100% honest and up front about their motives, interests, and partners. I just can’t believe this isn’t so. (do I need a snark font?)

  2. Cryptome:

    The original Wikileaks initiative is dead, replaced by a bloated apparatus promising 260,000 cables at slower than a snail’s pace. At the rate of 20 cables a day it will take 13,000 days to finish — some 35 years.

    The original merits of Wikileaks have been lost in its transformation into a publicity and fund-raising vehicle for Julian Assange as indicated in the redesign website which billboards him.

    Its once invaluable, steady stream of documents, packaged in its own, no-frills format, is now a tiny dribble of documents apparently regulated by a compact with a few main stream media which amplify the material well beyond its significance. Days go by when nothing new is offered except outpouring of manufactured news about Assange and a slew of trivial news and bombastic commentaries for and against the initiative.

  3. Bill Weinberg:

    Enough with the Julian Assange hero worship

    The most blatantly irritating thing is abject demonization of the women who have made the charges of sexual abuse against Assange. In any other context, the summary dismissal of a woman’s rape accusations would be seen as utterly politically incorrect. But Assange gets away with anti-feminist rhetoric that would do Rush Limbaugh proud.

    • Absolutely. It’s astonishing to me to hear people who are supposedly feminists doing this.

      Things to keep in mind. Whistle blowing is a good thing. But there’s also responsibility on the original leaker, any go betweens, and the final outlets. Question everything. Where does the support come from, where are the leaks really coming from, who benefits. And if you see a worshiped leader at the top of anything, you should be pretty fricking skeptical.

      I smell a rat.

  4. New CNN Poll…..”.who they trust most on major issues of the dayamong independents: 41 percent chose congressional Republicans, and only 31 percent chose Obama.”

    Lordy!

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/whitehouse/cnn-poll-shows-americans-like-obama-s-policies-but-doubt-they-will-succeed-20101229

  5. What troubles me is very little information in the hundreds of thousands of cables is actually new. Most of it is available elsewhere on the Internet. And so far none of them address the real (strategic) reasons the US is at war in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nothing about the Pentagon agenda to foster the secession of oil and mineral rich Balochistan from Pakistan as a US client state – just like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics. Nothing about CIA support for the Baloch separatist movement. Nothing about the CIA training young Baloch separatists in bomb making and other terrorist activities to disrupt operations at the Chinese-built Gwadar Port (intended to transport Iranian oil and natural gas via Pakistan to China). I blog about this at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/11/28/afghanistan-and-the-road-runner/

    • There are a lot of unseemly things we all suspect regarding oil, dollar vs. euro, and other entanglements in our middle east wars and some have even leaked out a bit from other sources, so it’s very interesting that none of that sort of thing has come out via wikileaks. It’s very telling that a major thrust of what’s coming out seems to lend support for a war in Iran. Something smells fishy.

    • oh lordy, more stuff I have to feel stupid for not understanding. I was just starting to get a grip on all the other stuff I don’t understand. I have never even heard of these people and places.
      I wish I had gotten a dominate left brain rather than a dominate right brain. Now I am going to get out my globe and study and google and stuff so I don’t feel so stupid.

      Thanks for the comment, really, I like to learn new things.

      sincerely Teresa

    • Thanks for the link to your blog.

      From the map at your site I am reminded of the area that the oil pipeline is supposed to be built.
      They seem to have a large part of that area but are clearly surrounded. How can anyone think that a pipeline can be built in such an environment?

      Cute video to bring home the point of not really gaining anything despite the claims.

      And I agree, at this point those cables are more interesting for what is missing than what they offer.

  6. Karma, most of my information on Balochistan came from an article I helped Khalid Baig translate from Urdu. Here is a link to his original article: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Talibanization-The-Whole-by-Khalid-Baig-100901-169.html
    In the article he mentions the Afghanistan pipeline simply isn’t usable – the Taliban keep blowing bits of it up.

    • Thanks for that link as well.

      I followed more of the ones on your article and once again that map of middle east pops up. While researching the PNAC years ago, their goals to redraw the Middle East seemed very similar to that map by Lt Col Peters.

      http://metaexistence.org/usagenda.htm

      During the 2008 elections many Dems were convinced that the Obama/Biden ticket would actually reduce the war effort and they would not bomb Iran. Which, as you know, had war drums beating for months on end with Dubya’s Admin.

      I tried offering that map and remind them that Obama said Afghanistan was the ‘good war’. And that Biden was of the mind that Iraq needed to be split into three countries. Both of their views are represented by this map, as well as, dovetailing nicely into Dubya’s neocon views. Views which also require war with Iran since their borders are decreased in order to form these new countries.

      Never got a response on that front but this map has been in my thoughts for a while.

      Thanks again for links to your site, I will visit more often. What an amazing story about leaving the US, creepy might be more fitting.

      • Just in case anyone was wondering here is a link with the current boundaries and those of the Lt Col’s map.

        Which imply a lot of upheaval to redraw the boundaries.

  7. And so the corporate elite can start the new year with a cosy feeling that they are not, after all, threatened. The truth is out there, but everyone is refusing to see it anyway.

  8. So, uh, why no inclusion of statements that Ellsberg’s made on WL? It’s not because it was “exactly the right thing to do” doesn’t fit with the meme, is it?

    And i’m not defending Assange or elevating WL to some sort of revolutionary glory (nor am i a revolutionary, pseudo or otherwise…just a gardener who turned down a job offer with the DoS because i have a friggin’ conscience). What i am saying is that maybe we’d all be better served by a conversation about whether the extreme level of secrecy is necessary in an open, democratic Republic; if the USG is serving the will and best interest of its people in terms of foreign policy; and how these leaks fit into the context of things we already know.

    Having an inkling, or already surmising something is not the same as having proof that the inkling was correct.

    I also fully support any work to find out who’s supporting WL financially and what motivations they may have. That’s not the same as saying, “Well, we don’t know so it must be bad.” In fact, that line of reasoning is exactly Assange’s reasoning…and it’s faulty no matter who employs it.

    Now, commence with the childish flame war against anyone who doesn’t see things exactly as you see them.

  9. OMG, diplomats lying. Say it ain’t so

    This diplomat was a press representative, speaking to the media. About a matter of international law where extremely serious charges have been levied against Israel by our allies (Britain, France, Germany) who asked for OUR help in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

    What is the point of having a press conference if the pr guy is just going to lie? And yes, he was either deliberately kept out of the loop or he was ordered to lie. Why is a representative of the State Department lying to the press and the public?

    And more important, why do you think that’s OK?

    Gee, the US doesn’t want the whole world to know that Dubai wanted our help against the Israelis.

    You clearly don’t know anything about the related story or you wouldn’t be acting so ingenuous and wide-eyed about why this is a major discovery. And no, it isn’t just Dubai that wanted our help. It was our other supposed allies, who I mentioned above, Britain and France. They wanted our help in a matter of major international importance and we turned them down…and then we lied about it.

    Yeah, I sure as f*** want to know about this. Why don’t you? Do you prefer being kept in the dark?

  10. Some background:

    The Dubai assassination involves, among other things, passport theft:

    <Ministers are understood to be furious that an alleged hit squad which murdered a Hamas leader in Dubai last month cloned the passports of six unsuspecting Britons, who are now living in fear of reprisals….

    Several of the six Britons whose identities were stolen have spoken of their shock at being accused of murder, and of their fears that they could be in danger if Mossad did carry out the assassination…

    Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: “If the Israeli government was party to behaviour of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations. If legitimate British passport holders were put at risk it would be a disgrace.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/7258631/British-threat-to-Israel-over-Dubai-Hamas-assassination.html

    The little adventure in Dubai severely compromised the passport security systems of Germany, France, England, Ireland and other countries and impeded Interpol’s efforts to track down several dangerous, wanted fugitives. The assassination itself was clearly illegal under international law and Dubai requested a full investigation and even called for arrest warrants.

    These countries all asked for our help. We said no and then lied about it. Why?

  11. Sorry about formatting errors there!

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