This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=johnson_administration_1
The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. (Herda 1994) The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313)
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. (Reeves 2001, pp. 333; Moran 2007) Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. (Herda 1994)
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. (Moran 2007)
The New York Times publishes the first of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (see January 15, 1969 and March 1971). The Washington Post will begin publishing the papers days later. (Reeves 2001, pp. 330; Moran 2007) The first story is entitled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement,” and is labeled the first of a series. (Moran 2007) The opening paragraph, by reporter Neil Sheehan, reads, “A massive study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, conducted by the Pentagon three years ago, demonstrates that four administrations [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon] progressively developed a sense of commitment to a non-Communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort—to a much greater extent than their public statements acknowledged at the time.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 330)
Nixon Believes Publication May Discredit Predecessors, Not Him - President Nixon, who is not mentioned in the papers, at first is not overly worried about the papers being made public, and feels they may actually do him more good than harm. (Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) In a tape-recorded conversation the same day as the first story is published, Nixon tells National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that in some ways, the story helps him politically, serving to remind the voting public that the Vietnam War is more the product of his predecessors’ errors than his own. Nixon says that the publication just proves how important it is for his administration to “clean house” of disloyal members who might take part in such a “treasonable” act. (Moran 2007) “This is really tough on Kennedy, [Robert] McNamara [Kennedy’s secretary of defense], and Johnson,” he says. “Make sure we call them the Kennedy-Johnson papers. But we need… to keep out of it.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 331)
Kissinger Argues that Leak is a Threat to Nixon's Administration - However, Kissinger is furious, yelling to his staff: “This will destroy American credibility forever. We might as well just tell it all to the Soviets and get it over with.” Kissinger convinces Nixon to try to stop the Times from publishing the documents by in part appealing to his masculinity—Nixon would not want to appear as a “weakling” to his foreign adversaries, Kissinger argues. Kissinger himself fears that his former association with Ellsberg will damage his own standing in the White House. Kissinger says he knows that Ellsberg is a womanizer and a “known drug user” who “shot at peasants in Vietnam,” and that information can be used to damage Ellsberg’s credibility (see Late June-July 1971). (Reeves 2001, pp. 334; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) One of the arguments Kissinger successfully uses to stoke Nixon’s ire is that the papers were leaked by one or more “radical left-wing[ers]” to damage the administration’s credibility. Nixon calls the leak a “conspiracy” against him and his administration. (Moran 2007) Nixon soon attempts to stop further publications with a lawsuit against the Times (see June 15, 1971). The Post will also become involved in the lawsuit. (Herda 1994) Nixon initially believes former Kissinger aide Leslie Gelb, now of the Brookings Institute, is responsible for leaking the documents. Although Nixon does not know this, he is quite wrong. Gelb has always worried that the documents would cause tremendous controversy if ever made public. Only 15 copies exist: five in Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s safe; copies under lock and key at the Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries; several copies in the hands of former Johnson administration officials, including McNamara and his successor, Clark Clifford; and two at the RAND Corporation. Nixon widens his speculation over the leak, telling his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman that someone on Kissinger’s staff may have leaked the documents, or maybe some unknown group of “f_cking Jews.” Regardless of who it is, Nixon says, “Somebody’s got to go to jail for that.” It is Kissinger who quickly figures that Ellsberg was the leaker. (Reeves 2001, pp. 331-334)
President Carter’s nomination of Paul Warnke to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) galvanizes opposition from conservatives throughout Washington.
Long Record of Opposing Arms Buildup - Warnke, a trial lawyer who began his political career as general counsel to the secretary of defense under President Johnson and established himself as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, has a long record of favoring negotiations with the Soviet Union over confrontation. His 1975 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Apes on a Treadmill,” ridiculed the conservative idea that the only way to counter the Soviet nuclear threat is to build ever more nuclear weapons, and earned the lasting enmity of those same conservatives. “We can be first off the treadmill,” he wrote. “That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.” Carter also wants Warnke to head the administration’s negotiating team in the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) with the Soviets. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 101)
Conservative, Neoconservative Counterattack Creates Grassroots Element - The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) leads the opposition to Warnke’s nomination. Even before Warnke is officially nominated, neoconservatives Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchik write and circulate an anonymous memo around Washington accusing Warnke of favoring “unilateral abandonment by the US of every weapons system which is subject to negotiation at SALT.” The memo also cites the conclusions of the Team B analysts (see November 1976) to deride Warnke’s arguments against nuclear superiority. Shortly after the memo, one of the CPD’s associate groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) creates a “grassroots” organization, the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament (ECAUD), that actually functions out of the CDM offices in Washington. ECAUD, though an offshoot of the CDM, has a leadership made up of conservatives, including the American Conservative Union’s James Roberts, the Republican National Committee’s Charles Black, and the Conservative Caucus’s Howard Phillips. The directors of Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Republican National Federation, and the American Security Council (see 1978) are on the steering committee. And the executive director is Morton Blackwell, a hard-right conservative who works with direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Thus were the views of neoconservatives, hawks, and traditional conservatives given a populist base.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 101-102)
Contentious Confirmation Hearings - Scoblic describes the opposition to Warnke at his Senate confirmation hearings as “vicious.” Eminent Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze (see January 1976) lambasts Warnke, calling his ideas “demonstrably unsound… absolutely asinine… screwball, arbitrary, and fictitious.” Neoconservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) gives over his first Senate speech to blasting Warnke; Moynihan’s Senate colleague, neoconservative leader Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) joins Moynihan in criticizing Warnke’s nomination, as does Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). Another conservative congressman accuses Warnke, falsely, of working with both Communists and terrorists: according to the congressman, Warnke is in collusion with “the World Peace Council, a Moscow-directed movement which advocates the disarmament of the West as well as support for terrorist groups.” Heritage Foundation chief Paul Weyrich uses Viguerie’s mass-mailing machine to send 600,000 letters to voters urging them to tell their senators to vote “no” on Warnke. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 103-104)
Warnke Confirmed, but Resistance Established - Warnke is confirmed by a 70-29 vote for the ACDA, and by a much slimmer 58-40 vote to head the US SALT II negotiating team. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis later writes of “a peculiar, almost venomous intensity in some of the opposition to Paul Warnke; it is as if the opponents have made him a symbol of something they dislike so much that they want to destroy him.… [I]t signals a policy disagreement so fundamental that any imaginable arms limitation agreement with the Soviet Union will face powerful resistance. And it signals the rise of a new militant coalition on national security issues.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 104)
Effective Negotiator - Warnke will resign his position in October 1978. Though he will constantly be under fire from Congressional conservatives, and will frequently battle with administration hawks such as National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, he will earn the respect of both American and Soviet negotiators. In 1979, disarmament scholar Duncan Clarke will write that the Soviets come to regard Warnke as one of the toughest of American negotiators, with one Soviet official saying: “We always wondered why Americans would pay so much for good trial attorneys. Now we know.” Warnke will have a strong influence on the eventual shape of the final SALT II agreement (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 104) Upon his death in 2001, fellow negotiator Ralph Earle will say, “Arms control will be forever on the agenda due in large part to Paul and his articulation of the importance of the issues.” (Arms Control Today 1/1/2002)