Pentagon Papers, Minus 11 Words, To Be Released

Originally published on June 6, 2011 3:51 pm
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Well, this piqued our curiosity, so, we've brought in John Prados. He's a senior fellow at the National Security Archive. And, John Prados, why declassify the Pentagon Papers now?

JOHN PRADOS: So, the fact that the papers are still secret today in the face of this overwhelming backlog of 400 million pages of classified material the United States government is still holding on to is an embarrassing fact for the United States government. After all, it's 40 years - as you say - since this material was in the public.

LOUISE KELLY: It's the anniversary. Now, just to remind people: the Pentagon Papers were the Pentagon's top-secret account of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. They were very embarrassing to the Johnson administration, to the Kennedy administration. How much of them really remained classified? I mean, how much are we actually likely to see that's new?

PRADOS: It's actually the case that the government itself put out a version of the Pentagon Papers through the House Armed Services Committee, but that was very heavily deleted. So...

LOUISE KELLY: Heavily redacted.

PRADOS: Redacted, that's right. What we are going to find out is what's in those gaps between what the Beacon Press was actually able to publish and what the government admitted into the record in its own version.

LOUISE KELLY: Now, we mentioned 11 words are going to stay secret. Any idea what they might be?

PRADOS: You know, the Archives for the United States wants to starts a Mad Lib contest to see who can figure out what they are. My speculation - and it is speculative - is that the 11 words concern either a National Security Agency posting of employees to Vietnam or a South Vietnamese official who was on the payroll of the CIA.

LOUISE KELLY: So, some name that they still don't want out there.

PRADOS: Some name and some association - both those things. I mean, if it were just a name, you'd only need three or four words.

LOUISE KELLY: I mean, it seems counterintuitive, because the fact that they're keeping these 11 words secret only makes people more curious about it. Here we are talking about it. Everybody's going to be trying to figure out what's...

PRADOS: That's exactly right.

LOUISE KELLY: ...the words to be.

PRADOS: That's exactly right. It's self-defeating. If they had simply released the material, no one would ever had noticed it because the Pentagon Papers are 7,800 pages long and that's worse than finding a needle in a haystack.

LOUISE KELLY: Thanks very much.

PRADOS: My pleasure.


LOUISE KELLY: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.