On June 13, 1971, the New York Times published parts of the Pentagon Papers, which led to Watergate and eventually Nixon's resignation.
Yesterday, exactly 40 years later, the report was released in its entirety at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda (and a few other places, too).
For the first time ever, the public could read every word of the approximately 7,000-page document. Timothy Naftali
, director of the Nixon Presidential Library, said although he's not sure why it took so long, he's happy its now declassified.
"It seemed an anomaly; it seemed peculiar that 40 years later these materials had not been formally reviewed by the federal government for release." In fact, Naftali had firsthand experience of just how classified the document had been.
"When I wanted to use the cover of one volume of the Pentagon Papers as an illustration in the Watergate gallery, I couldn't because it was still formally classified."
Naftali, a tall, slender man in a diagonally striped, pastel-colored tie, rested his hands on his head and closed his eyes as he spoke yesterday.
"It's been a really busy day," he says of the swarm of media attention. A smiling woman pops her head in the door and tells Naftali that NBC is waiting on the phone. She asks if she should transfer the call immediately. Tim asks her to tell them he'd call back in a few minutes. He was talking to the Weekly, after all.
The day wasn't as busy for Pamla Eisenberg, though. She sat behind a desk in the research part of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, where the now-declassified document itself is located.
Guess how many people had come in to look at the Pentagon Papers by three-ish yesterday? Uh, none. Of course, a lot of folks probably checked out the scanned PDFs via the Internet. "You can do it online.
You can read it in your pajamas," Naftali says.
Partly because I could see the library employees really wanted someone to look at the Pentagon Papers and partly because I wanted to brag about being the first person (well, first member of the general public) to look at the Nixon library's declassified copy, I decided to delve in.
A woman wheeled out a cart with 11 gray boxes labeled "Declassified." The documents themselves were rather anticlimactic, but there was something kind of profound about looking down and seeing a definitive line drawn through the words "TOP SECRET-SENSITIVE.
They seem to have most everyone--including Naftali and Daniel Ellsberg
"I can tell you the truth, I don't know what they are," Naftali says.
The guessing game went viral, too. Here are a couple of the more entertaining Tweets with a "pentagon11" hashtag: "Justin Bieber was 'born' in Area 51; let mass testing begin" and "Newspapers will be dead by the time we declassify this stuff."