June 17, 1967:
Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara commissions the “Vietnam History Task Force” to compile a documentary and analytical history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. The commissioning is his only involvement with the project. Morton Halperin and Les Gelb are in charge of the project. Over the next year and a half, more than 36 researchers, including Richard Holbrooke and Daniel Ellsberg, will each work to write portions of the history.
February 29, 1968:
Secretary McNamara resigns to head the World Bank, partly because of disagreement about war policy.
December 25, 1968:
Daniel Ellsberg and Henry Kissinger spend four days at the New York Hotel Pierre as part of the transition reviewing A-to-Z options for Vietnam; Ellsberg’s recommendation about withdrawal is omitted from the final report sent to the President.
January 15, 1969:
Pentagon Papers are completed, with 47-volumes: 2 million words, 4,000 pages of documents and 3,000 pages of analysis. Only 15 copies are ever made:
2 copies are held by RAND; 2 in the National Archives; 2 at the State Department; 1 for new Defense Secretary Clark Clifford; 1 for Sec. McNamara; and 7 remain at the Department of Defense.
January 20, 1969:
President Nixon is inaugurated.
January 21, 1969:
38 volumes of the papers are deposited with RAND Corporation in Washington D.C.
March 4 and August 29, 1969:
Daniel Ellsberg transports the papers from Washington DC to California for RAND in two installments.
September, October, and November, 1969:
Daniel Ellsberg and his RAND colleague Anthony Russo copy the Papers in offices of Lynda Sinay. Ellsberg’s children often aid in the copying. Ellsberg leaves RAND offices at 11:30 p.m. with a briefcase full of documents, photocopies them, and replaces them in the RAND safe early each morning.
October 12, 1969:
Ellsberg and several RAND colleagues write a letter to the Washington Post opposing the administration’s Vietnam policies and statements.
A portion of the Papers is delivered to Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he refrains from using them until they are officially released to him by the Defense Department. Fulbright writes to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird requesting the documents.
December 20, 1969:
Secretary of Defense Laird refuses to release the Papers to Sen. Fulbright.
Ellsberg leaves RAND for MIT, and is assigned to an office directly across from war architect William Bundy. Ellsberg befriends Professors Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, with whom he shares the Pentagon Papers and who will eventually compose a volume of analytical essays to accompany their publication.
During the tumultuous month, the U.S. Bombs Cambodia, prompting resignations of key government officials; the Kent State shooting stirs campus unrest.
May 13, 1970:
Ellsberg testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but does not disclose information in the papers.
Ellsberg discloses his analysis, in light of his information in an essay ‘Escalating in a Quagmire’ presented at a conference of the Political Science Association.
Ellsberg meets with Secretary Kissinger to discuss his concerns. Kissinger offers Ellsberg a position as an advisor, which he refuses.
Ellsberg publicly confronts Kissinger at an MIT conference about casualty reports.
March 7, 1971:
Boston Globe carries Washington correspondent Thomas Oliphant’s story headlined “Only 3 Have Read Secret Indochina Report; All Urge Pullout,” referring to Halperin, Gelb and Ellsberg. This is first public reporting that the Report exists.
March 21, 1971:
Reporter Neil Sheehan of the New York Times checks into the Treadway Motel in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. Ellsberg leads him to an apartment where he is given the Papers. Sheehan has them photocopied in Boston returns to Washington.
March 28, 1971: Sheehan’s essay about the possibility of war crimes trials for American officials is published in the edition of the New York Times Book Review.
March 31, 1971:
Ellsberg again visits Fulbright, urging use of documents.
April 5, 1971:
Sheehan and Times editor Gerald Gold rent rooms at the Jefferson Hilton in Washington, five blocks from the White House, and begin reading the documents and planning the reports.
Ellsberg gives a portion of the papers to Rep. Pete McCloskey, but they were never used.
The headquarters for the New York Times‘ “Project X” move to five rooms on the 11th Floor of the New York Hilton, near Times Square. Sheehan is joined by Hedrick Smith, Ned Kenworthy, and Fox Butterfield.
General Counsel James Goodale presses for publication against the advice of outside counsel Lord, Day & Lord, whose senior partner had written the classification regulation that the Times would be violating. Goodale pushed for a one-day special supplement so as to avoid any prior restraint, but this was rejected by Times editors.
Top Times editor James Reston, who had regret the soft coverage of the Bay of Pigs invasion, promised that if the Times refused to print, he would do so in the small newspaper he owned, the Vineyard Gazette.
June 11, 1971:
Times Publisher Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger gives final approval for Pentagon Papers article and leaves for London vacation.
June 12, 1971: James Reston dictates his Sunday column, “The McNamara Papers” over the phone for publication from his mountain home in Vermont.
June 13, 1971:
The first story appears in the Sunday New York Times with a 24-point type headline “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement” by Neil Sheehan.
The first article focused on the Tonkin Gulf incident of August 1964. It describes how the U.S. conducted extensive actions, causing the South Vietnamese to raid Northern targets with the express purpose of provoking a response that would be used to justify greater U.S. participation in the war.
June 14, 1971:
The second installment of the Pentagon Papers series is published. It focused on the February 1965 decision to bomb North Vietnam, describing how the last stage of planning was initiated on the day Johnson was elected despite is campaign promises not to escalate the military action. The story revealed how some aides felt that a strong show of force would be necessary to prevent South Vietnam from collapsing, but also feared that a strong retaliation would be equally dangerous; to prevent collapse, they committed to support Saigon. The article describes the decision process that led to the bombing campaign. Attorney General John Mitchell telegrams Times publisher Sulzberger threatening Espionage Act prosecution if the Times does not stop publication on the ground that it would cause “irreparable injury to the United States”
James Goodale seeks aid of Yale Law Professor Alex Bickel and First Amendment litigator Floyd Abrams as counsel to the Times.
Murrey Marder, diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post receives a 200-page excerpt from the Papers from an unknown source in Boston, but the Times publishes the same content in the next day’s installment.
June 15, 1971:
The third installment of the Pentagon Papers series is published. It describes the decision to commit ground troops, which was made on April 1, 1965, two months after the bombing campaign. It began with 3500 Marines, and then 18,000-20,000 ground troops; the report describes how by June, 200,000 troops had been requested by General Westmoreland over Ambassador Maxwell Taylor’s objections. Johnson approved the deployment on July 17.
Bickel argues the case against injunction in the federal district court in Manhattan before Judge Murray Gurfein. Gurfein, who is hearing his first case as a judge, grants a temporary restraining order barring publication.
The Department of Justice announces that it will investigate criminal penalties in association with the leak and the publication.
Secretary of State William Rogers blames the disclosure for harming U.S. relations with its allies.
June 16, 1971:
New York Times ceases publication, running instead the headline: “Judge, at Request of U.S., Halts Times Vietnam Series Four Days Pending Injunction.”
Ellsberg offers the Pentagon Papers to the three television networks, but all refuse, citing FCC license vulnerability.
Ben Bagdikian, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, who had been studying media at RAND during the same time Daniel Ellsberg was there, contacted him and arranged to pick up the papers.
June 17, 1971:—The events described in Top Secret transpire.
Ben Bagdikian arrives at the home of Ben Bradlee, and with a gathered team of reporters and editors, dissects the papers, seeking to write a story the following day. Teams of reporters work feverishly. Publisher Katharine Graham approves publication over the telephone during a party being held at her home despite strong objection by counsel.
The Times releases a list of its documents, but not the documents themselves, to the Justice Department. Gurfein rejects the government’s request for the copies.
June 18, 1971:
The Washington Post publishes its story “Documents Reveal U.S. Effort In ‘54 to Delay Viet Election” by Chalmers Roberts. Roberts, who had personally attended the 1954 Geneva Conference, was able to report that the decision to cancel the elections in South Vietnam scheduled for 1956 was entirely the decision of Diem, though the U.S. had pushed for delay. The story also showed that a 1954 defense estimate suggested that the war could be won with seven divisions, and that in 1969 the total troop commitment was more that half a million troops (nine divisions).
The Department of Justice immediately sought a restraining order and permanent injunction. Judge Gerhard Gesell, who had himself been a reporter before becoming a judge, refused even a temporary restraining order.
Bickel argues before Judge Gurfein that the Post‘s decision to publish is an undue hardship on the Times. The restraining order is not lifted.
June 19, 1971:
Gurfein rules in favor of the newspapers against the government and denies the publication injunction.
Judge Irving Kaufman of the Second Circuit immediately blocked publication during judicial review of Gurfein’s decision.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Judge Gesell to hold a hearing on the government’s motion against the Post, and restrained publishing until the hearing.
June 20, 1971:
The Boston Globe reporter Thomas Oliphant contacts Daniel Ellsberg and, in consultation with editor Thomas Winship from his Vermont vacation home, agrees to publish the Papers.
June 21, 1971:
In the Times case, the Second Circuit extends the restraining order and ruled for an en banc hearing.
In the Post case, Judge Gesell still refuses the restraining order after holding the hearing. The Circuit Court granted a stay for an en banc appeal. Solicitor General Griswold will argue before the D.C. Circuit.
The Boston Globe receives the Papers, and have six hours to prepare them for publication. Matt Storin (who would later become editor of the paper), leads the team of staff members processing the documents and writing the story.
June 22, 1971:
The Boston Globe publishes “Secret Pentagon Documents Bare JFK Rule in Vietnam War,” which detail Kennedy’s direct approval for covert military operations, and Johnsnon’s turn to Vietnamization.
The Department of Justice immediately seeks a restraining order against the Globe, which is granted, and the documents are ordered to be impounded by the court. In response, Winship moves the document to a locker in Logan Airport.
June 23, 1971:
In Washington, the D.C. Circuit court ruled in favor of the Post‘s right to publish, but continued the temporary restraining order to give leave for appeal to the Supreme Court.
In New York, the Second Circuit ruled that the Times could resume publication only of materials by the Government not toe be dangerous to national security, and ordered Gurfein to hold hearings to determine which parts were publishable. Both parties appealed. In Boston, Judge Anthony Julian amends his order and allows the papers to be locked in a safe at the First National Bank of Boston with access only by the Globe‘s attorney.
In Los Angeles, a federal grand jury is convened to hear charges on the criminal aspect of the leak.
The Chicago Sun-Times begins publishing its own account of the Papers, but the Justice Department does not move to prevent it.
June 24, 1971:
Several other newspapers across the country begin publications, but no Justice Department action follows.
June 25, 1971:
The Supreme Court grants certiorari on both Times and Post cases, on a 5-4 vote. Justices Hugo Black, William Brennan, William Douglas, and Thurgood Marshall dissent.
June 26, 1971:
Oral Arguments are held in the Supreme Court. The government’s proposal for in camera arguments is rejected by a vote of 6-3. Alexander Bickel, James Goodale, and Floyd Abrams represent the Times; William Glendon represents the Post, and Solicitor General Erwin Griswold represents the Government.
In Los Angeles, a warrant issued for Ellsberg’s arrest. Ellsberg’s attorneys announce he will surrender on Monday.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch comes under a restraining order for its publication.
June 28, 1971:
Ellsberg surrenders to the U.S. Attorney in Boston, charged with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents. He is released on $500,000 bail.
Congress receives its copies of the Papers, which were immediately locked away.
June 29, 1971:
Alaska Senator Mike Gravel attempts to read the Pentagon Papers into the Senate record as part of his filibuster of the draft, but is denied by parliamentary procedure. He then calls a hearing of his Public Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee in the middle of the night and reads them into the record for three hours, eventually breaking down; he submits the remaining portion into the record as part of the proceeding.
June 30, 1971:
The U.S. Supreme Court allows publication, 6-3, upholding the Times and Post’s right to publish. The Globe and Post-Dispatch‘s restraining orders are dissolved.
The U.S. Attorney indicts Ellsberg in Los Angeles for two counts of theft and espionage.
The Los Angeles grand jury subpoenas Anthony Russo; he refuses to testify and is jailed for six weeks.
Dec. 29, 1971:
A Second superceding indictment is issued in Los Angeles naming Russo and Ellsberg as co-defendants and co-conspirators on 15 counts: Ellsberg, with five counts of theft, six counts of espionage, faces a total of 105 years. Russo, with one count of theft and two counts of espionage, faces 25 years.
July 29, 1972:
The Ellsberg defense team appeals to the Supreme Court due to violations committed against them of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Nov. 13, 1972:
The Supreme Court denies certiorari on the wiretap appeal 7 to 2.
Dec. 12, 1972:
A mistrial is declared in the Ellsberg case on grounds of delay
May 11, 1973:
Charges are dismissed against Ellsberg and Russo after Judge Byrne received a memorandum from Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert claiming: “On Sunday, April 15, 1973, I received information that on a date unspecified, Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt burglarized the offices of a psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg to obtain the psychiatrists’ filings.”
Sept. 4, 1973:
A Los Angeles grand jury indicts four men involved in burglary of psychiatrist Lewis Fielding’s office, including John Ehrlichman and G. Gordon Liddy.
June 21, 1974:
Charles W. Colson is sentenced to 1 to 3 years at the Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama for his role in the Fielding break-in.