Fifty years ago this week, The New York Times began publishing excerpts of the Pentagon Papers — 7,000 pages of top-secret documents outlining the Pentagon's secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam since the 1940s.
The leak exposed years of government lies about the war, revealed that even top officials believed it was unwinnable, and would end up helping to end the Vietnam War and lead to a major victory for press freedom.
The Times exposé was based on documents secretly photocopied by Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who both worked as Pentagon consultants at the RAND Corporation.
Ellsberg, who had been deeply involved in the Vietnam War as a defense analyst, decided to risk life imprisonment to reveal the truth about Vietnam. "I'd been lied to. The whole country had been lied to.
The Congress had been lied to as to what the situation was," Ellsberg says. He says top officials knew for years that the war had "very little likelihood of helping anyone, but leading just to an escalating stalemate."
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