Daniel Ellsberg psychiatrist filing cabinet - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-15
The filing cabinet from the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding which was broken into by E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Eugenio Martinez, Felipe de Diego, and Bernard Barker on September 3, 1971.
The five men were employed by the White House, and the break-in authorized by John Ehrlichman -- Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.
Fielding was a psychiatrist. The men were trying to find information that would show that Dr. Daniel Ellsberg was mentally unstable. In part, they wanted evidence that they could use to have Ellsberg tossed into an insane asylum. But, in part, they wanted evidence that would discredit Ellsberg.
In 1962, Ellsberg (a former U.S. Marine) got his PhD in economics from Harvard University. He worked for the RAND Corp., a major California-based think tank. As a RAND employee, he was assigned to the Pentagon -- where he worked in the office of the Secretary of Defense. He later worked for two years in Vietnam under General Edward Lansdale.
By 1967, opposition to the Vietnam War was at a fever pitch and building. President Lyndon Johnson asked Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to compile a history of the war, so that the administration could use it to not only justify the decisions it had made to go to war but also to help future presidents and military leaders understand how the nation had become so embroiled in the conflict.
This study, completed in 1968, became known as "the Pentagon Papers."
Ellsberg turned against the war in 1969. In October 1969, he and a friend (Anthony Russo) began secretly photocopying the entire 20,000-page, 47-volume study. It was a laborious process. Photocopiers made only about 4 pages a minute. Ellsberg and Russo would sneak a volume of the top-secret study out of the building, and spend all night copying it. They would return it in the morning before anyone noticed it was gone.
Ellsberg initially offered the Pentagon Papers to Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Senator William Fulbright, Senator George McGovern, and others, but no one wanted to touch the explosive document. (They also did not report Ellsberg to the FBI.)
In February 1971, nearly 18 months later, Ellsberg told "New York Times" reporter Neil Sheehan about the study, and gave him 43 of the 47 volumes.
The "New York Times" began publishing excerpts from the study on June 13, 1971. It was explosive stuff: It showed that the Kennedy administration carefully planned the assassination of the president of Vietnam (contrary to claims), that President Johnson deliberately lied to the American people that he had no intention of expanding the war to other countries in Southeast Asia, that the U.S. was planning to bomb North Vietnam even as it denied doing so, and that the only reason the U.S. was there was to "avoid humiliation".
The Nixon administration tried to censor the press. The "New York Times" ceased publication, but appealed. Meanwhile, the "Washington Post" began publishing its own excerpts (from copies Ellbergs gave to editor Ben Bradlee) on June 18. The Nixon Justice Department also ordered the paper to stop printing, but the D.C. federal court refused to give the government what it wanted.
On June 30, 1971, in "New York Times v. Nixon" -- perhaps one of the most important freedom of the press cases in U.S. history -- the Supreme Court decided six-to-three that the government had failed to prove its claim that censorship of the press was justified by national security. The bans on publication were lifted.
Even had the Court ruled otherwise, it wouldn't have mattered. On June 29, U.S. Senator Mike Gravel began reading the Pentagon Papers into the "Congressional Record." Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution says that no member of Congress can be prosecuted for anything said on the floor of Congress or entered into the "Congressional Record." The Nixon administration sued Gravel anyway, but the Supreme Court held in "Gravel v. United States" (June 29, 1972) that Gravel's right to read the papers was protected.
Ellsberg and Russo faced charges of theft and conspiracy under the Espionage Act of 1917. Their trial began in January 1973. On April 26, the break-in of Fielding's office was revealed to the court. On May 9, the court learned that the FBI had illegally bugged Ellsberg's telephone without a court order. Furthermore, the judge supervising the trial, William Byrne, Jr., admitted that he had met with Ehrlichman -- who offered him the directorship of the FBI.
Based on these revelations, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo on May 11, 1973.
As a result of these revelations, Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman (Nixon's cheif of staff), Richard Kleindienst (the attorny general), and John Dean (Nixon's chief counsel) were forced to resign. All of them would later be convicted of crimes related to the Watergate scandal. Egil Krogh (one of Ehrlichman's assistants) pled guilty to conspiracy for helping to plan the break-in, and White House counsel Charles Colson was found guilty of obstruction of justice for trying to cover it up.
Dr. Fielding decided to take his filing cabinet home as evidence of the break-in. He stored it in his basement. In the 1990s, his widow, Elizabeth Fielding, donated it to the Smithsonian.
Although 90 percent of the Pentagon Papers had been published in one way or another by 1975, the federal government continued to claim they were top-secret. It only declassified them in 2011. There were no revelations in the final few pages to be revealed. The government had kept them classified merely out of spite.