In a follow on to the announcement that the NDC Director Sheryl J. Shenberger made in her Second Bi-Annual Report, I am presenting an outline of the Pentagon Paper Project.
A Short History
There is a considerable body of literature that discusses what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, so I will not go into any details of this fascinating story. Suffice it to say that during June 1967, then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a task force to write a history of the U.S. decision making during the Vietnam Conflict using primary source documents. McNamara appointed Leslie Gelb to lead the task force, which ultimately employed 36 staff members and took eighteen months to complete. Gelb’s organization published a 47 volume document known as the Report of the OSD (Office of Secretary of Defense) Vietnam Task Force and given the title United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967. The entire report was classified at the Top Secret level, although certain volumes of the report contained public statements that were considered unclassified.
The Department of Justice and OSD investigations into the leak of the classified report determined that at least fifteen original copies were made (it’s not clear if more than fifteen were printed) with the distribution made roughly as follows:
RAND (2 copies)
State Department (2 copies)
NARS (National Archives and Records Service, now NARA) (2 copies with one copy going to the Kennedy Presidential Library and one copy going to the Johnson Presidential Library)
Robert McNamara (1 copy)
Clark Clifford (1 copy)
Paul Warnke (1 copy)
Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (1 copy)
OSD safe (5 copies)
The basis of the Pentagon Papers Project at the National Archives at College Park is two record series from Record Group 330, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Both of the series originated in OSD’s Office of General Counsel. This material is supplemented by two small series in RG 60, Records of the Department of Justice, which contain records pertaining to DOJ’s Pentagon Papers case. The two OSD record series include possibly three complete sets of the OSD Vietnam Task Force report. One of the sets in the series served as the basis of the redacted version of the report that was submitted to Congress and was published by the Government Printing Office (GPO) in 1972. The rest of the OSD series contain backup documentation for the original report along with records concerning OSD’s investigation into the leak of the report. The DOJ series contain one of the RAND copies of the report along with some investigatory material. The DOJ copy of the report may well be the document copied by Daniel Ellsberg, although further investigation will be required to make that determination.
The Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Libraries also have their own copies of the report, although the provenance of these copies differs somewhat from what the DOJ investigators determined as stated above. The Kennedy Library’s copy is identified as Robert McNamara’s, while the Johnson Library’s copy once belonged to Clark Clifford. The provenance of the Nixon Library’s copy is unknown at this time.
The object of the Pentagon Papers Project is to release as much of the OSD and DOJ record series as possible. Our priority is focused on processing the report first, so that we can release as much as possible of the report held in four different NARA locations (the Kennedy Library, the Johnson Library, the Nixon Library, and the National Archives at College Park ). As soon as the processing of the report is complete, then the declassification of the backup documentation and the investigation documentation will begin. The DOJ series are being handled separately in accordance with standard archival practice.
One matter to keep in mind concerning the Pentagon Papers is that there is no complete record of the report in the public domain. The most comprehensive public version of the report, the Senator Gravel Edition published by Beacon Press in 1971, did not publish three volumes of the original narrative report nor did it publish most of the source documents that appeared as Part V of the original report. In addition, Ellsberg did not leak any of Part VI, the segment of the report that deals with the peace negotiations with North Vietnam. The GPO version of the report was heavily redacted, but it is the only official version of the report that is available to the public. Our target in the Pentagon Papers Project is to significantly surpass the amount of information made available in either the Senator Gravel Edition or the GPO publication.
The project is both an interagency and intra-agency effort. NARA is working closely with its partners in the intelligence and defense communities, and the Department of Justice to ensure that we make available as much of this historical collection as possible. In a similar fashion, NARA’s National Declassification Center and Office of Presidential Libraries are collaborating to ensure that we make these records available to as wide a segment of the research public as possible.
I look forward to updating everyone on the progress of this exciting project.