Thirty-five years ago this weekend, Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It is now well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the top-secret documents in June 1971. But less well known is how the Beacon Press — a small, nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association — came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their publication led the press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of harassment, intimidation, near-bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Today, we hear the story from three men at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; Mike Gravel, the former Alaska senator who is now a Democratic presidential candidate, who tells the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record and got them to the Beacon Press; and Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which owned the Beacon Press and agreed to risk publication of the Pentagon Papers. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a remarkable story. Thirty-five years ago this weekend, Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It’s now well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the top-secret documents in June '71, but less well known is how the Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their publication led the press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of harassment, intimidation, near bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution. This is a story that's rarely been told in its entirety.
Last weekend, I moderated an event at the Unitarian Universalist conference in Portland, Oregon, commemorating the publication of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance today. Today, we hear the story from three men at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; we will also hear from Senator Mike Gravel — that’s right — the former Alaska senator who is now a Democratic presidential candidate — he’ll tell the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record and got them to the Beacon Press; finally, Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
We begin with famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger once described as “the world’s most dangerous man.”
DANIEL ELLSBERG: There were 7,000 pages of top-secret documents that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates — I, for one — who had participated in that terrible, indecent fraud over the years in Vietnam, lying us into a hopeless war, which has, of course — and a wrongful war — which has, of course, been reproduced and is being reproduced right now and may occur again in Iran. So the history of that, I thought, might help us get out of that particular war.
Let me skip over the intervening 22 months then, really, which passed after I first copied the Pentagon Papers, when I was trying to get them out, and the senators and others who were not up to the task of putting them out, people who were otherwise very admirable and very credible in their antiwar activities: Senator Fulbright, Senator McGovern, Gaylord Nelson, Senator Gaylord Nelson, various others. Except for Nelson, Fulbright, McGovern and Senator Mathias, some of the best people in the Senate, had, in fact, contrary to the way it’s often reported, not refused to bring out these papers when I discussed them with them. Each one agreed to bring them out and then thought better of it over a period of time, said they just couldn’t do it, take the risk — in effect, in other words, “You take the risk, but I’ve got an important position here, and I can’t ruffle the waters here.”
I read in — I did give them to The New York Times — sorry, to Neil Sheehan, but with no assurance that they would come out in the Times, and for reasons not clear to me still, Neil, who, again, acted very admirably and credibly, as did the Times, which took a great risk in deciding to publish the papers, did not tell me they were bringing them out. I’m not clear to this day quite why that was. But so I continued up — while they were working to get the papers ready for publication in the spring of 1971, I was still worrying and trying to see where I could get them out. I approached Pete McCloskey, who, again, agreed to do it, but took efforts to get them officially from the Defense Department before he did that. He was very supportive of me during my trial later.
And I also thought then — I read in the paper about a Senator Gravel, whom I really didn’t know much about, from Alaska, who was conducting a filibuster against the draft, which was exactly what should have been done. By the way, I had raised as a litmus test — I probably never told Mike this — I had raised the idea of a filibuster with a number of senators as a litmus test to see whether they were the kind of person who might go one step beyond that and maybe put out these papers. And in every case I got serious answers — they weren’t frivolous — but the point was, as Senator Goodell put it to me, “Dan, in my business, you can’t afford to look ridiculous. You cannot afford to be laughed at.” And he said, “If I could find other people who would join me, I would do it.” I heard that, by the way — I’ll mention — each name I’m mentioning here is very — the top people in the Senate. Senator — oh, darn, at my age I forget some of these names — but anyway, other senators said much the same: “If I could find somebody else to go with me, I would do it, but I can’t do it by myself. I would look foolish. I can’t afford that.”
So here was a senator who was not afraid to look foolish, basically, and that’s the fear that keeps people in line all there lives. Don’t get out of line. It’s the kind of thing you learn at your mother’s knee to get along, go along — your father’s knee. And don’t stick out, don’t make yourself look, you know — don’t raise your head, sort of this thing, and look ridiculous. But he wasn’t afraid to do that on a transcendent issue like the draft in the middle of this war. So I thought, “OK, maybe this is the guy.” I hadn’t met — I had met the other ones before, I knew them. So I didn’t know him. I said, “OK, he’s doing a filibuster.”
So at some point — and we were just discussing this. It’s not even clear in my mind when I had a discussion I’ll mention in a moment, but I do remember very clearly that not knowing that the Pentagon Papers were about to be published by The New York Times on June 13th — the night of June 12th, they came out, I was in Boston at the time — and nobody had told me that this was happening, so I had them in my apartment for the first time ever. I had never allowed them to be in our apartment, lest the FBI swoop down and get them. That was my nightmare. I had a number of copies stashed with different people, so I could say, even from jail, you know, “OK, get that one out or get this out,” with my 10-cent call that I was allowed, that they couldn’t stop it. But I never allowed it to be in my apartment. For once, I had it there because — and Mike did not even know this — because I intended to communicate with his office on Monday to go to Washington, not knowing they were coming out in the Times, and offer this thing to this man who was conducting the filibuster.
So I was quite shocked to learn from a friend in the Times that the building was locked down. They were worried about an FBI raid and an injunction, because they were copying this seven — they were putting out this big study, which I hadn’t been told. So I go, “Well, that’s very interesting.” And meanwhile, I had these papers in my apartment. The FBI might come any minute, and I had already had a scheduled meeting with Howard Zinn that night, with our families — his wife and my wife — to go to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And so, I called Howard, didn’t say it over the phone, but I said, “I’ll come to your apartment. We’ll go from your place,” and I went there with the papers, and asked him if I could dump them in his apartment for that night, which he said, you know, “Fine.” I had already shown him. He was one of two people I’d shown — Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, both — some of these papers earlier.
So, the papers came out that night, and we got them at midnight in Harvard Square. There wasn’t a lot of attention on Sunday to them, which everybody was surprised at in The New York Times. The TV didn’t pick it up, and so forth. But on Monday they had got attention, and the key thing was that John Mitchell, the attorney general, then asked a request of The New York Times that they cease publication of this criminal act, stop this. Remember, they had lost their law firm already, Lord & Day, on the grounds that their lawyers had told them this was treason and a criminal act, and they wouldn’t represent them. And Mitchell was confirming that and telling them that they must stop.
Well, they went ahead; they did not obey the request. So the next day, Tuesday, they enjoined The New York Times for the first time in our history. We know from the tapes now that Nixon had asked Mitchell on the tape — I’ve heard this — the day before, on Monday, Mitchell wanted to put the Times on notice. And, of course, Nixon says, “Have we ever done this before?” And Mitchell says, “Oh, yes, many times.” Terrific legal advice from the bond lawyer. It had never been done in our history and, of course, led to a constitutional battle, which Nixon lost and the attorney general lost. But they did enjoin it, and so the question was what to do next.
I hadn’t been identified yet, but I decided, on the base of one other person who suggested it to me, that I give it to The Washington Post. And meanwhile, I had called up Gravel’s office — I was still able to use a phone, not my home phone, but I went out to a pay phone — and said to the person there, “Is your boss interested in putting out the Pentagon” — I didn’t say the “Pentagon Papers” — “Is your boss intending to keep up this filibuster? Is he going to stay there?” They said, “Oh, absolutely.” I said, “Well, I’ve got some material that could keep him reading till the end of the year, if he’s interested in it, you know.” And that being the number one story at the moment, he sort of guessed what it was. And I think Mike will go on from there. He went on and informed Mike of this possibility. But the question then was how to get them to him. I could no longer travel, as I’d planned to do.
So I’ll end with this story, which will tie in with — Mike can take up the story from there. The question was how to get it to him. I was not in a position to travel at this point. So I did arrange with a former colleague from RAND, Ben Bagdikian, an editor of The Washington Post who had spent a year or two at RAND as a consultant — mic’s down? Can you hear me? OK — Ben Bagdikian, I said, I knew. So I called him up and arranged to have him come to Boston — yeah, it was a colorful story, which I think is told in the thing you have there. He came to Boston, Cambridge. We took a room at the Treadway Inn near Harvard Square, and my wife and I brought these boxes of ill-assorted papers, tremendous stuff we hadn’t collated ideally, to him, and we spent the night with him collating and putting them in an order that he could take back with him. And in the morning he had this big box. He didn’t have — he needed a cord for the box and asked the Treadway, and the motel owner said, “Well, somebody’s been tethering a dog outside. I can give you the dog cord.” So we tied up the box, and he went off and put it on.
My wife and I looked at the television before we went home. We had been all night on this now. This was about 7:00, 8:00, 7:30 in the morning, and there was our home being — with some FBI agents knocking on the door on live television. And they were knocking on the door, so we thought, “Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best time, you know, to go back home, actually.” And what had happened was that Sid Zion, who was mad at the Times for having fired him, had rather quickly found out who their source was, and to get back at them, he had revealed it on a radio show, the Barry Graves show, the night before. So the FBI was at my door, and having seen it on television, I was now in a position to not be caught and to put out the other copies.
Well, the reason — so we didn’t go home. We went underground in Cambridge. For the next 13 days, the FBI conducted what the papers said was the biggest manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping, and they were — we were in Cambridge — they were all over the world, in the south of France, in [inaudible] in California. I had a feeling there was a good deal of junketing going on, actually, by the FBI looking for us, but meanwhile we were putting it out to these other newspapers.
And I will mention, as one last point here, it’s always the Times and the Post who are mentioned, of course, as having had the courage to go along with this, as we spent the 13 days putting it out. That’s why I was evading the FBI. I had other copies, and I was putting them out. Actually, there were four injunctions, also The Boston Globe and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, before they gave up on injunctions, or there would have been more. Altogether 17 other newspapers published those papers. And oddly, they don’t seem to mention it much in their own histories. They don’t commemorate this, as we’re commemorating the Beacon Press right now, but they should. That was a wave of civil disobedience across the country by publishers who were being told that they were violating the Espionage Act, they were committing treason, they were hurting national security. They read the documents we gave them and decided they didn’t agree with that as Americans and patriots, and they published them. So it was institutional civil disobedience of a type — I don’t really know of any country or any other journalists, and that’s a kind of freedom and courage we need to celebrate and we need to continue. So, thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Coming up, presidential candidate Mike Gravel picks up the story from there.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska, yes, the Democratic presidential candidate today. In 1971, he received the Pentagon Papers from Washington Post journalist Ben Bagdikian, who in turn had gotten them from Daniel Ellsberg.
MIKE GRAVEL: Let me just pick up where he left off, because it really — there’s a lot of little vignettes, and I’ll talk fast, but I want to get all the details out, because I know what you want to know is the inside skinny. You can read the broad lines, but it’s what happened to both our lives at the time that —
Dan calls my office. He talks to Joe Rothstein, who was my administrative assistant. My administrative assistant — I was down in the Senate gym getting a massage. I was on the table. And, of course, you can’t have staff come into the Senate. This is hallowed ground, so — into the Senate gym. So he’s knocking at the door. He says, “I’ve got to see the senator! It’s an emergency!” And he works his way in to get into the massage stall, and the masseur pulls back a little bit, and he whispers down in my ear. He says, “Somebody wants to give you the Pentagon Papers.” I said, “Man! Where is he?” He says, “He’s going to call us back.” So, man, I get dressed up real quick. We bolt back to the office. And I’m sitting in my office waiting for this call.
Along comes this voice. He says, “Senator, would you read the Pentagon Papers as part of your filibuster?” I says, “Yes. Now please hang up.” The reason for that is I have a background in intelligence. When I was 23 years old, I was a top-secret control officer. I could classify and I could declassify, and I was 23 years old.
So, now here are the papers coming at me. I had a sense of what they were, was a history, a history, and, of course, I had read what the Times had published. And so, lo and behold, Dan and I have other conversations. To tell you the truth, our memories are a little vague. He informed me about something that I didn’t know, and occasionally I had done that with him, when he was doing his memoir, Secrets. We’d spend near a couple days: “Oh, is that what — that’s your interpretation of what you think we did?” “Yes.” “Well, no, that’s my” — “Oh, no, we did it that way.” And what happens, that’s human beings. We all have a different read on some of the details.
The long and short of it is, he called me in a few days, and he was angry. He was on the phone, and he says, “Why the hell haven’t you used the papers?” And I says, “Why the hell haven’t you got them to me? I don’t have them. I haven’t heard anything.” So he goes back to Ben Bagdikian, and Ben then contacts my office.
Well, quite candidly, I didn’t know who Ben was, but he wanted to get to meet with me. So we meet somewhat secretively on the front steps of the Capitol behind a column in broad daylight during the session. So Ben is standing there. We’re talking about how we’re going to move the papers across, and then out comes Bob Dole, who was one of my enemies, but we’re on the same committee, and he walks up, and Bagdikian is slipping behind a column so he can’t be seen. And so, I get rid of Dole fairly fast, and so we go back.
And Bagdikian had this plan. We’re going to meet someplace out in the country, you know, Rock Creek Park in a dark — I say, “Wait a second, Ben. I’ve got to tell you. I’ve got a little more experience in this than you have. What we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to transfer the papers: You’re going to come at 12:00 at night under the marquee of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. At 12:00 you park your car there. I will come up with my car. You’ll open your trunk. I’ll open my trunk. And I’ll pop the papers in, and I’ll race off. That’s the way we’ll do it, before God and country, and they won’t even know what happened.”
Well, what happens? A group of Alaskan natives walk by, “Oh, there’s our senator,” and they all want to come up and talk with me. And I’m trying to peel them away: “Well, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to run.” And so, I got in my car. We did that. We transferred the papers. I sped away, parked my car, came back in, and Ben and I had a coffee.
I took the papers home. Where are you going to put them? I brought them home. That’s the first time I told my wife at the time, Rita, I says, “I’ve got the Pentagon Papers right here.” And, of course, the whole world was looking, trying to chase him down and catch him and get the papers. She says, “What are you going to do with them?” “We’re going to put them under the bed, and we’re going to sleep on them. That’s what we’re going to do.” We did.
Next morning — I’m dyslexic, and so I couldn’t read all those papers if it took me a year. And so, what happened, I started calling staff in. And I said, “Look at, you’re going to come in. You bring a toilet kit. Don’t tell your wife what you’re doing. You’re just coming to the senator’s house.” And I met them at the door, and I said, “Look at, I’ve got the Pentagon Papers. You come in, you can’t leave until I leave. But I won’t think ill of you if you don’t come in, because there’s risks that we don’t know anything about.” And so, every one, to the person, said, “Senator, let me have it.” So about four or five people for two days were sleeping on the living room floor, and we would go through the papers.
The style that I used in going through it, I was reading my little portion of it, the first part of it, which is the most historic and the most interesting part. But the others would — I said, “Whenever you come across a name, come and show me the name.” I would then read around the context and make a judgment if this should be excised or not. And when we excised, we didn’t just take a pencil, we took scissors and cut it out, so there would be no misunderstandings.
Now, I’ve got to bring the papers from my home to the Capitol, and so I buy two flight bags, you know, those old flight bags without wheels. I buy two of those to honor the papers. And so, I spend the money, pack them up with two bags like that, and so I’m going to take them to the Capitol. But now I’m concerned, so I call the Vietnam Veterans of America, and I say, “Look at, I’ve got a problem. I need somebody to guard my office. And what I want, I want the most disabled veterans you can find.” And, lo and behold, I trudge in — and I wouldn’t let my staff touch the papers — so I trudge in with my two big bags, heavy, and, of course, staff is walking with me, and the cops, they’re looking. Why the hell is the senator carrying the bags and the staff is not carrying his bags? So we walk down to the end of the hall, and there are about six, seven soldiers in uniform, you know it, ponytails, badges all over, all in wheelchairs. And they could do wheelies. And all they could do — they didn’t know what I had. All they said: “Go get ’em, Senator! Go get ’em!” I was just about to cry, with the commitment of these human beings. And they guarded the office. No, but they would have thrown their bodies at anybody that tried to break in.
I had the papers, so I go to the floor of the Senate. Now, I had made a deal with Alan Cranston. I had to get — I wanted to read in the filibuster. Now, I had a little bit of ego trip going on here: I wanted to break Strom Thurmond’s record in filibustering. And the draft was going to expire at the end of the month, so I wanted to get two days, about close to 48 hours, break his record. Now, how are you going to do that? Most people don’t know when Huey Long and those guys used to debate, what they’d do is — they’re drinking a lot of water — they pee right on floor, right on the Senate floor. Make no mistake about it. But I’m a little more cultured than that. So what I do is I rig myself up. I go to the doctor’s office. I tell him what’s going on, tell him I’m going to filibuster. And so, he rigs me up with a colostomy bag with a little hose down to my ankle. And my administrative assistant’s job is going to bleed the colostomy bag.
Then, it gets better than that. We now go to — I’ve got to get somebody to chair, because you can’t control the floor if you don’t control the chair. So I go to Alan Cranston, my closest friend. I say, “Alan, I need help.” “Well, what do you need, Mike?” “I’ve got the Pentagon Papers.” “Oh my god, Mike! You need more than help. You’ve got problems,” so he says. I said, “Alan, you don’t have to do anything to risk. You don’t have to touch the papers. You just get in the chair by 5:00. We’ll turn around, and you just stay in that chair as long as I’m filibustering.” And that was our plan. And so, I said, “Now go down to the doctor’s office and get a colostomy bag.” He does that. And, of course, I had a rubber mat. It was very interesting to go into the dynamics of that.
So, lo and behold, I come to the floor of the Senate. I’m trudging in with these papers. I put them next to my desk. And I was a freshman, so I was way on the side. And so, Muskie had come up to me for some committee — we were on the same committee. He’s talking to me. He looks down at these two black bags, and he says, “Mike, are those the Pentagon Papers?” And I look up at him with a blank stare. It was just a joke on his part. But I’m looking at him, “My god!” So, lo and behold — here, I’m a nice guy, so what I wanted to do, I know I’m going to be talking for a couple days, so I want to tell the staff of the Senate that, “Hey, you better call your wife, because you’re not getting out here shortly.”
And so, what I do is I lay on a quorum call. Now, if you’re familiar with the procedures in the Senate, a quorum call, they have to now stop — they have to start calling the roll. And there was only one other senator in the chamber. That was Griffin. The Democrats had gone to a banquet. The Republicans had gone home. And so, there’s two senators in the chamber. So I lay on a quorum call. Griffin walks up to me, and he says, “Mike, what are you going to do?” I says, “Well, you know, I’m just continuing my filibuster on the draft.” But I had always done that because Mansfield had set up a two track. Mind you, I filibustered for five months. It could only happen because Mansfield set it up without anybody seeing his velvet hand. And so, I says, “Well, you know.” He says, “But wait, what are you doing at night?” I said, “Well, the draft is about to expire, and I just want to really make a big show.”
He goes back to his desk, and he’s thinking and he’s thinking. Then, of course, I wait 30 minutes to let the staff notify that they’re going to be there a good part of the evening. And, lo and behold, I make a unanimous consent to remove to quorum call. He objects. The minute he did that, I knew I had just been harpooned. And all I could think is, my mind: Good men don’t win. Good men don’t win. I was so angry. He came up to me, and he says, “Well, Mike, what are you doing?” And I started swearing at him, you cannot believe. Well, by that time, he knew something was really afoot. So he went to the Republican cloak room, said, “Stay away from the Senate,” telling all the Republicans. I’m sending my troops to go out there and get the Democrats to come back from the banquet. Well, that goes on for 'til about 9:30, 10:00, and we could not get a quorum. I'm stuck.
Rothstein comes up to me, and he says, “Senator, we’re stuck. There’s nothing we can do here.” So I grabbed — and he says, “But our attorneys think they’ve got a plan B.” So we grab the bags, trudge back to the office again. By this time, the Vietnam vets are out there, they know there’s something really serious afoot, because there’s a lot of media following us. And so, I go in, sit down. “What’s our plan?” “Well, Senator, it’s interesting. There’s not much hope, but we do have one precedent that we could follow.” And that’s the precedent, believe it or not, the House Un-American Activities Committee, for those of you who know what that means.
He says, “What they were doing is they would go around the country and they would immediately call a hearing so that they could grab somebody, pull him up, swear him in, and get him to talk.” He says, “With that precedent, what you could do” — and now, mind you, I’m a freshman — “you’re chairman of a committee, a subcommittee,” — and, of course, that committee was the Buildings and Grounds Committee. So, lo and behold, they say, “What you could do is you could convene a hearing of this committee, and you would be still within the umbrage of the Senate.” And so, I said, “Fine. Let’s do that.” But what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have somebody to testify. So we type up the notice that I’m chairman, I’m calling a hearing, slip it under the doors of all these senators who are not there, that I’m notifying them of the hearing, so that that’s covered legally. And then the peace group calls up a Congressman Dow from upper New York. He doesn’t know what it’s about. All they tell him on the telephone: “Senator Gravel needs you to come and testify at a very important hearing.” He gets dressed — he was an elderly fellow — gets dressed, comes down, and we convene.
By this time, we’re upstairs in one of the Senate chambers, a committee room, and the whole phalanx of the media. And then Congressman Dow comes up, and I’m sitting there with my two black bags and my staff assistant. And the congressman — and I gavel the meeting to order. “Congressman, can I help you? Now, I understand you want to testify.” He says, “Yes. I’d like to get a federal building in my district.” And I say, “Congressman, let me interrupt you right there. I know you need a federal building in your district, and I’d love to give you a federal building in your district, but I’ve got to tell you, our government’s broke. We don’t have any money to give you a federal building. And let me tell you why we’re broke: because we’re squandering all this money in Southeast Asia. And let me tell you how we got into Southeast Asia.” And I haul out the papers, put them on the table, and I’m reading.
It gets better than that. I read for an hour. Now, here again, I’m dyslexic, but there’s no way on God’s green Earth I’m going to read — but I’m reading it. Now, keep in mind I hadn’t slept for about three or four days. And so, I’m reading, and I break out sobbing. It’s about 12:00 at night, and I am sobbing, and I can’t get control of myself. Here’s what was going through my head. A journalist on one of the networks the next morning: “Well, this was a bizarre occurrence the night before. You know, Gravel was very bizarre. He cried.” And so, what I was sobbing over — I had been to Walter Reed a month or more before to walk around, and I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it emotionally to look at the wounded. And so, I can handle macro problems, but not micro, and so, lo and behold, I kept saying to myself, “My god! I love my country. My country is committing immoral acts. We’re killing human beings. There’s no reason for it.” And I’m sobbing, and as I’m dyslexic, I’m reading rote. You know, I couldn’t follow the words in front of me. So Rothstein comes up to me. He says — and the understatement of the year — he says, “Senator, I think you’ve lost it.”
And so — and I keep sobbing, and then he goes back, and I try to get a hold of myself, and I can’t. And so he comes back. He says, “Senator, why don’t you put it in the record.” And then I sobered up immediately and said, “Oh, yes. I got power. I’m the chairman of this committee. So I move and ask unanimous consent to put all these papers that I was going to read into the record, to put them in the record automatically.” Bang! They’re in the record. That’s how it officially got into the record of the United States of America.
And obviously, the media, by that point, they’re out there going really — so I put the papers back in. We’re trudging back to my office. The media is following us. “We want the papers! We want the papers!” So we cut a deal with them. “Look at, we’ve got a copy of the papers, because we want to hang on to a set. And as we copy them, we’ll turn them to you. You set up a pool, and then you go copy them and distribute them to the world.” That’s what happened all night long. And that’s what made the Supreme Court decision moot, which was at 11:00 or 12:00 that very day. And what they did is they said you could not put on prior restraint, but what you could do is, if you published, you’d be at risk. And that’s what happened. Those that had published took the risks, but they weren’t prepared to take the risks after that.
We scoured the country, and this is where the meeting comes in with Beacon. We scoured the country, could not find one major or minor, or anybody, that would touch the Pentagon Papers. We had some inkling that maybe MIT Press would, so with my staff, Fishman and one other attorney, we go to Boston. Whoever was handling it — and I don’t recall — at the time, he said, “Senator, I’ve got bad news for you. MIT Press won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.” And then I’m just crestfallen, like we’re going to check how to get back to Washington. He said, “But I’ve got some good news for you: Beacon Press has got the money, and they will publish it. And Gobin Stair and Bob West are downtown in Boston waiting for you, if you want to come down and make the deal with them.” And I said, “Let’s go!” And we had a press conference shortly thereafter. And that’s when we announced that we were going to do it.
I was a Unitarian even before all this happened in Alaska, but I can’t tell you what I feel for Beacon Press, for the Unitarians and for Dan Ellsberg. Dan quoted and likes to say that when I went in the service, I was going in to be a spy, but I wasn’t getting any action, so I went in to be a combat infantry platoon leader. And on the patch on my shoulder said, “Follow me.” Well, when I saw Dan do what he did, all I could think of: Here’s a guy that’s walking up the hill, taking his life in his own hands, and the least I could do is follow Dan Ellsberg.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Alaska senator and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel, who got the Pentagon Papers into the public record. When we come back, the man who allowed the Beacon Press to take the risk of publishing the top-secret documents.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Beacon Press. While every other publishing house Senator Gravel had approached and refused to publish the Pentagon Papers, West agreed, despite the considerable political and financial risks involved.
ROBERT WEST: My first involvement with the Pentagon Papers was on a midsummer day in 1971, when the director of Beacon Press, Gobin Stair, came into my office. He told me about the 35 publishers who had refused to publish them, and he requested my approval for Beacon Press to do it. I gave my approval that day, and we started down a path that led through two-and-a-half years of government intimidation, harassment and threat of criminal punishment.
Beacon published the Pentagon Papers that October, after having publicly announced its intention in August. In September, Gobin was visited by two intelligence agents from the Defense Department who, in a meeting Gobin described to me as intimidating, tried to dissuade him from publishing the papers. He also received a phone call from President Nixon, who, after saying what a decent fellow Gobin was, pointedly suggested that he was sure Gobin would not want to get into trouble by proceeding to publish them.
One morning in early November, a vice president of our bank called our UUA treasurer to advise us that FBI agents had secretly been working at the bank for the last seven days. They were there with a subpoena from the federal grand jury that called for copies of all UUA financial records, which meant every check written and every check deposited into UUA accounts over a period of four-and-a-half months, amounting to thousands of checks, including those of all individuals who contributed to our denomination.
Senator Gravel immediately brought contempt proceedings against the government and succeeded in halting the FBI investigation and examination of our bank records for two months. But agents were authorized to resume their scrutiny on January 10. The next day, the UUA filed suit against the FBI, the Justice Department and the grand jury, seeking to stop the investigation. We emphasized the grounds of religious freedom and freedom of association, as well as freedom of the press. And we succeeded in halting it on a temporary basis.
But before all the events had run their course in 1974, we were in federal courts on numerous occasions, including the Supreme Court. FBI agents served grand jury subpoenas on Gobin Stair and our UUA treasurer, and then withdrew them. The U.S. attorney in Boston filed a memorandum in court that indicated the strong likelihood that Beacon Press officials would be prosecuted for criminal activity. And Gobin Stair was subpoenaed to appear at the Ellsberg trial in California, with me next in line.
Ultimately, the mistrial that was declared in the Ellsberg case meant we did not have to appear at the federal trial in California. The federal court in Boston never allowed the FBI investigation of our bank records to continue, and no one associated with Beacon Press or the UUA was prosecuted for criminal activity.
What the government did to us as a continental religious denomination was unprecedented in the history of our nation. The Justice Department investigated our entire denomination’s financial affairs and threatened our association’s staff members because one of our departments, Beacon Press, published one book that was controversial, a text that was already in the public domain.
The relevance of our experience, those 35 years ago, to secrecy and deception in government today is patently obvious. For example, three of the issues and principles that were involved in our court actions were misuse of power of the Justice Department, invasion of privacy, and misuse of secrecy by the government. All of those clearly apply to what is happening today.
In his 1972 dissenting opinion in the Gravel case, Supreme Court Justice Douglas said, “The story of the Pentagon Papers is a chronicle of the suppression of vital decisions to protect the reputations and political hides of men who work an amazingly successful scheme of deception on the American people.” And he went on to say in that decision that he had no choice but to hold that it was the government that is lawless, not the press.
In 1971, Senator Gravel wrote, “The Pentagon Papers show that we have created a new culture, protected from the influence of American life by the shield of secrecy.” In that same year, Beacon Press Editor-in-Chief Arnold Tovell spoke of the Pentagon Papers aiding those who try to unravel exactly how a well-meaning nation could have committed such a colossal blunder in its foreign affairs.
In closing, I would cite these words from my annual report to the 1973 UUA General Assembly, words that could be spoken just as appropriately in this general assembly today: We in this denomination have confidence in a democratic process. We want to make known our determination to resist every government intrusion upon constitutional liberties and to encourage others also to resist. We, as a religious movement, are qualified by our nature, by our heritage, and indeed by our recent experience, to play a significant role at this time in our history to help resist and reverse the ominous trend affecting constitutional liberties. We can, and we will.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert West, you also paid a personal price — is this right? — because your brother worked for the FBI at the time.
ROBERT WEST: Yeah. He was a career — 30-year career FBI agent, and he’s 10 years older than I am. And there was a time when if I was going through Washington International Airport, I would just call him up and say hello. He worked out of the FBI agents’ office in Alexandria. And he — one night he told me he would appreciate it if I wouldn’t call him anymore. But I will say this for him: After he retired, we became very close friends, and the man was a liberal. He wound up writing letters against President Bush and against the Iraq War in the newspapers in different parts of Florida. He was a different person. And he was so looking forward to my book coming out, because the longest chapter in it is about the Pentagon Papers, and he kept asking me about it in phone calls. And he died a week before the book was published.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, why don’t you pick it up from there, and that is how what you did then relates to today. In the last few years, you have been calling for people, who like you 35 years ago were inside the system, to step outside and to release an equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. Do you think they exist — the papers and these people who could step forward?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, of course, the papers exist. The Pentagon Papers, the equivalent of them, exist in safes in Washington, all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA and the State Department and elsewhere. Are there people who realize what the meaning of those — the full meaning of those papers in their safes? Yes. We know from many leaks and memoirs that have come out that there were people in the White House and the CIA and the Pentagon who realized that we were being lied into war. They realized that as early as 2001.
So my message, Amy, over the last two years has been to officials in that position, of whom there are hundreds, not only in 2001 and 2002, hundreds right now who could prevent a war with Iran that is on the tracks right now, that they know, and that they know would be disastrous. They could put that out with the authority of their position, but especially of documents, at the risk — the certainty — of losing their clearances, which would almost certainly — which would mean losing their career with the executive branch, possibly, very likely, subjecting them to prosecution, possibly to conviction, possibly to prison. And by taking that risk, they would have a high chance of averting a catastrophe that would lead to the deaths of tens, hundreds of thousands of people and disastrously reduce our security. They know that. So by taking their own personal risk, like the 5,000 people who went to prison as draft resisters in Vietnam, and by the people here who took risks with their institution and their privacy, by taking that risk they could avert this.
So my message is to them: Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait 'til the war has started. Don't wait 'til the bombs have fallen against Iran, or earlier Iraq. Don't wait ’til the engine of this war is unstoppable. Before the war, take the risk. Reveal what you know to be the truth. Reveal the truth under the lies of your own bosses and your superiors. Obey your oath to the Constitution, which every one of those officials took, not to the commander-in-chief, not to superior officers, but to the Constitution of the United States, which they know is being violated.
AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Unitarian leader Robert West, and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel.