Pentagon Papers Released

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[President Richard M. Nixon: "I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow"]

Marco Werman: The end of Richard Nixon's Presidency came on August 8th 1974. The beginning of the end came three years earlier, when Daniel Ellsberg leaked parts of a top secret report on the Vietnam War to the "New York Times". The Pentagon papers revealed that Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had secretly escalated the conflict and lied to Congress about it. Nixon feared that Ellsberg's leak would undermine the administration. Nixon told as Attorney General as much in a taped phone call:

[President Richard M. Nixon: "We can't be in a position of ever allowing ââ?¬"just because some guy is going to be martyr, of allowing the fellow to get away with this kind of wholesale thievery, or otherwise it's going to happen all over the government."]

Werman: Nixon wasn't kidding around;

[President Richard M. Nixon: "I just say that we've got to keep our eye on the main ball. The main ball is Ellsberg. We've got to get this son of a bitch."]

Werman: They tried ;agents of the White House broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist to steal records in hopes of discrediting him. That was a prelude to the Watergates scandal and Nixon was forced to resign. Today, the Pentagon papers were officially released ;forty years to the day after the first "New York Times" story. P. J. Crowley was Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for the State Department until March of this year. Mr. Crowley had to resign when he criticized a treatment of the suspect in the leak of secret documents by WikiLeaks. Mr. Crowley is at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. What do the Pentagon papers mean to you?

P. J. Crowley: The Pentagon papers probably aid genuine case of whistle-blowing by Daniel Ellsberg who was commissioned with studying lessons learned from the Vietnam War, felt that release of the papers might inform public opinion and lead to a change in U.S. policy with regard to the Vietnam War.

Werman: Well, there are obviously major differences between Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected of passing on classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. But there is something of an analogy; I think a lot of people feel weren't the Pentagon papers, the WikiLeaks documents of their day?

Crowley: The difference is, first Vietnam dealt with one subject and Daniel Ellsberg among others was very conversant in those issues and had a policy interest in seeing a change. Bradley Manning is alleged to have given thousands and thousands of classified documents to Julian Assange and they deal with a wide range of subjects; that's not whistle-blowing because for WikiLeaks to be whistle-blowing it would infer that U.S. policy in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East ;it's all wrong. No one can credibly make that claim and in the classic case of whistle-blowing it is someone who is revealing information to right or wrong, to change or policy. WikiLeaks says that the release of documents is about transparency; those are two very, very different concepts.

Werman: I guess what I'm asking is why does it matter what the motivation was?

Crowley: Because ultimately you are talking about two individuals. Allegedly, Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg who released classified information to the public. Both of those represent a potential crime. The difference is that in U.S. Statutes there are [?] for whistle-blowers, but if you're not a whistle-blower then you are a subject to prosecution and that is exactly the situation that Bradley Manning finds himself in today.

Werman: The United Nations recently declared that Internet access is a fundamental human right. Where do you think WikiLeaks fits into that?

Crowley: Well, the right that people have to connect with technology and have unfettered access to information ;I support the idea that that is a fundamental right, but that's different than the charge that people who work for the government have to protect classified information. Every organization that is successful, including governments, have secrets and I think it is implausible for those who support WikiLeaks to suggest that we should exist in a world where there are no secrets.

Werman: So, there are instances in which you do not support the public's right to know?

Crowley: Well, the U.S. is the most transparent society in the world. You can have a valid debate about Afghanistan or Iraq or a range of subjects without releasing classified information, usually in classified circumstances it's less the information itself that is sensitive than the source of that information and the need to protect [?] the source so the U.S. can have a perspective of what's happening in other countries around the world.

Werman: P. J. Crowley was Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs until March of this year. Thanks very much Mr. Crowley.

Crowley: A pleasure, Marco.