The New York Times revealed this Friday the ins and outs behind the Pentagon Papers exclusive on the Vietnam War obtained by his journalist Neil Sheehan, who died this Thursday, January 7 at the age of 84 and who wanted to keep them a secret until his death.
The Pulitzer Prize winner, who was a correspondent in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1966, died at his home in Washington from complications from Parkinson’s disease, his wife Susan told the newspaper.
Sheehan managed to get a former Defense Department analyst in opposition to the conflict, Daniel Ellsberg, will leak thousands of secret reports that showed how U.S He was involved in the war for two decades while hiding from society his doubts about the possibility of winning.
The largest leak of classified documents in the nation’s history in 1971 resulted in a series of Times exclusives that Richard Nixon’s government tried to stop by ordering a temporary blockade, which was lifted in a landmark Supreme Court decision on press freedom.
Sheehan refused for years to explain how he obtained the Pentagon Papers until 2015, when he agreed to be interviewed at his home by a newspaper reporter on the condition that the story did not get out while he was alive.
The veteran journalist recounted that he defied the explicit instructions of Ellsberg, his confidential source, who illegally copied all government documents and told him that he could read them, but not replicate them.
Sheehan noted that the former analyst did not “give” him the papers, but instead he took them secretly from the apartment in Cambridge (Massachusetts) where he kept them, he also copied them illegally and took them to the Times.
Initially, they agreed that Ellsberg would give them to him and that, if the newspaper agreed to publish the story, he would do his best to protect his identity, but at the last moment he backed down because he assumed that he would “lose control” of the papers as soon as come to the newsroom.
The ex-analyst went on vacation for a few days and allowed the journalist to stay in his apartment to read and take notes, reiterating that he could not make copies, at which point he followed the advice of his wife, a New Yorker reporter: “Pass it on Xerox “.
“He had known Ellsberg for a long time and thought he would operate under the same rules he used to: the source controls the material. He didn’t realize that I had decided, ‘This guy is just impossible. You can’t leave him in his hands. It’s too important and too dangerous“Sheehan told the NYT.
The correspondent locked himself up to work in a Manhattan hotel with a growing team of reporters and editors while he dragged Ellsberg off without knowing that months ago he had given an excerpt of the documents to one of his colleagues, who was preparing a book. .
It was that colleague, Anthony Austin, who hadn’t told anyone in the newspaper and realized that they were going to step on the exclusive, who warned Ellsberg that the first publication of the Pentagon Papers in the Times was imminent. , on June 13, 1971.
Ellsberg tried to contact Sheehan, but this ignored her calls until she learned the exclusive was in press and that it would be too late to intervene, so he asked a publisher to tell him when 10,000 copies had been printed, he recalled.
“I had to do what I did,” the journalist declared in the 2015 interview to justify his deception to Ellsberg, who was torn between his desire to make the documents public and his fear of going to jail, he explained, and could have given information to someone unintentionally. “It was sheer luck that he didn’t sound the alarm on the whole damn thing,” she added.