Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg) Trial (1973)

"[T]he sonofabitching thief is made a national hero and is going to get off on a mistrial, and the New York Times gets a Pulitzer Prize for stealing documents...What is the name of God have we come to?"

--President Richard Nixon (Oval Office discussion, May 11, 1973)

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, growing concerned that the long war in Vietnam was unwinnable, first considered in late 1966 commissioning a study of the history of U. S. decision-making in Indochina. By June of the next year, the Secretary decided to proceed with the study, which McNamara said should be an "encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War." He believed, he later said, that a written record of the key decisions that led to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam would be of great value to scholars. Morton Halperin, one of McNamara's top aides, was chosen to direct the study. Much of the day-to-day responsibility for supervising the study was delegated to Leslie Gelb.

The McNamara study staff was given access to McNamara's personal files, memoranda from the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department records, and to specially requested information from the CIA. The frequently rotating professional staff for the study came from the Pentagon, the State Department, universities, and "think tanks" such as Rand. One of the first person recruited to help with the study was Daniel Ellsberg, a former Rand and Pentagon employee with six years of Vietnam-related experience. Ellsberg's work for the study focused on the Kennedy Administration's Vietnam policy in 1961.

In early 1969, the "Pentagon Papers" (formally, History of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-1968) study was complete. The massive work, examining Indochina policy from 1940 to 1968, consisted of 7,000 pages bound into forty-seven volumes. Pentagon officials classified the study "Top Secret" and published only....