News | Oct. 30, 2019

Document of the Month: The Pentagon Papers

By Dr. Colin Williams DLA Historian

Few people know DLA was involved with the recovery of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret history of the Vietnam Conflict commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. The Pentagon Papers were written with the help of RAND, a U.S. Air Force think tank. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND analyst who had worked on the study, stole the reports and shared them with the New York Times and Washington Post.

Ellsberg’s identity was not at first known. What was known was the organization responsible for overseeing RAND’s security protocols: the Defense Supply Agency (Defense Logistics Agency today). As an Air Force component, RAND followed procedures written by the Office of Industrial Security, then a component of DSA.

After Ellsberg leaked the papers, the Office of Industrial Security sent military officers to retrieve copies stored at RAND’s Santa Monica headquarters and District of Columbia office. DSA then investigated Ellsberg’s national security breach. As indicated by this inaugural “Document of the Month,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Wallace H. Robinson Jr., DSA director, had to brief the agency’s findings to Pentagon and White House staff.

Robinson’s position was that both Ellsberg and RAND had violated procedures so egregiously that the Office of Industrial Security could not be held responsible for their actions. Four findings support this conclusion. First, RAND transported copies of the study from its Washington Office to its California headquarters without informing DSA. Second, once transferred, the study was never registered. As Robinson pointed out in his briefing, it is hard to inspect something you do not know exists. Third, Ellsberg had access to the volumes for 15 months with an old clearance and no need to know.

Finally, as indicated by this document, RAND officials likely knew what Ellsberg was doing and let him get away with it. But without any way of knowing what was going on, the Office of Industrial Security could not have prevented attempts to subvert its protocols.

Read the full report as a PDF.