But wait, you may ask, didn't The New York Times publish the first in a series of stories on the papers exactly 40 years ago today? Don't we already know what's in this "secret government study chronicling deception and misadventure in U.S. conduct of the Vietnam War," as The Associated Press puts it?
Well, yes. But that's not necessarily the point.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon whistleblower who was the papers primary leaker, tells the AP that it's unlikely many new secrets will be spilled. But Ellsberg believes the value in today's document dump, the AP says, is "in having the entire study finally brought together and put online, giving today's generations ready access to it."
The Times, meanwhile, says the papers "will now appear in the context in which they were first written, along with several volumes that have not been published, including a section on the United States training the Vietnamese national army, a statistical survey of the war from 1965 to 1967 and some supporting documents."
The Washington Post reports that "in making the papers available online, the Archives could provide researchers with a more holistic way of understanding a remarkable chapter of U.S. history."
And advocates of open government say the release ends a sad chapter. As the Post adds:
"The fact that the Pentagon Papers were still secret is an embarrassment to the United States government," said John Prados, a senior fellow at George Washington University's National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization. "You've been able to read them for 40 years, but they're still secret."