ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
But first, on this 40th anniversary, the government has released - for the first time - all 7,000 pages of the report, with no redactions. And we asked NPR's Tamara Keith to take a look.
TAMARA KEITH: A.J. Daverede wheels a cart loaded with document boxes into his office at the National Archives.
BLOCK: This is them. Eleven boxes constitute the entirety of the report of the Vietnam Task Force. And, you know, you just start here, box one.
KEITH: Daverede works the National Declassification Center. And the fact that he is able to open these boxes in the presence of someone without top-level security clearance is an accomplishment. On the blue paper cover of the report, it says Top Secret: Sensitive. And until today, it was.
BLOCK: This is the real Pentagon Papers. This isn't a reprint. This isn't a redacted copy. This isn't what, you know, the New York Times had. This is the real deal.
KEITH: Daverede, who grew up during the Vietnam War, was instrumental in making every word of the papers finally available to the public.
BLOCK: I saw it in the stacks. The box labels were pretty clear of what it was. Then, I started cracking boxes, started looking through at what agencies were concerned about and saying: Nah, that really doesn't need to be protected anymore. We should ask about these things.
KEITH: It took months of negotiations, with about a dozen government agencies, to get the papers declassified. A lot of the information has already been released - famously when defense contractor Daniel Ellsberg leaked it to the New York Times, and later in a heavily redacted version from the government. The papers catalog the nation's involvement in Vietnam, starting in the 1940s through 1967.
BLOCK: There wasn't a document that was a bombshell.
KEITH: Tim Naftali is director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
BLOCK: In a sense, it was the cumulative effect of seeing how the U.S. government put itself on this road to a foreign policy quagmire.
KEITH: The impact of the release of the papers, back in 1971, on the course of the Vietnam War has been debated. But Naftali says the impact on President Richard Nixon is more of a straight line. Forty years ago today, President Nixon woke up and looked at the front page of the New York Times. The day before, his daughter had gotten married.
BLOCK: The New York Times had a picture of the president with Tricia Nixon Cox. That was on the left-hand side. And on the right-hand side, there was a large headline about the release of a secret Vietnam archive.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED TELEPHONE CALL)
U: General Haig, sir. Ready.
GENERAL ALEXANDER HAIG: Yes, sir.
P: Hi, Al.
KEITH: In this call, at around noon on June 13, 1971, President Nixon spoke with Alexander Haig, assistant to the national security adviser. There's occasional profanity. Nixon asked about casualty numbers from Vietnam - and then this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED TELEPHONE CALL)
P: Nothing else of interest in the world today?
SIEGEL: Yes, sir, very significant, this goddamn New York Times expose of the most highly classified documents of the war.
P: Oh, that? I see. I didn't read the story, but you mean that was leaked out of the Pentagon?
KEITH: Nixon created a special White House unit, known as the Plumbers, to investigate the leak. Tim Naftali says their break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist was the beginning of the end for Nixon.
BLOCK: That's where he puts himself on the road to resignation.
KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.