Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks

May 9, 2011 by Bill Marimow


This is a guest post by Bill Marimow, a Pulitzer Prize winning Staff Writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Bill Marimow

The discussion at Tuesday’s session on “Transparency and Open Government” at the National Constitution Center was an invigorating and illuminating exchange of information and ideas. The audience asked the two of us – Acting Deputy Archivist Tom Mills and me -- some incisive and very timely questions about the interrelationship of the press and the government. One of the most sensitive questions concerned the avalanche of classified government information leaked to the press by Wikileaks.

Tom Mills pointed out that the person alleged to have provided the information to Wikileaks did so without authorization, and that made it an especially sensitive and delicate issue for the National Archives. I said that, in general, I believed that the more information the public had about government, the better a citizen could make an independent assessment of the performance of our elected officials and those who have been appointed to top positions. I also said that I thought The New York Times handling of the Wikileaks material was done with great care and skill.

That there are still portions of the Pentagon Papers that have not been made public

We later discussed the landmark Pentagon Papers case, and I quoted from an op-ed piece written for The Washington Post by former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold 18 years after the case had been heard by the U. S. Supreme Court. Griswold, who represented the Nixon administration in the case and tried to suppress publication of the papers, said that he had never seen any evidence that the release of the Pentagon Papers would jeopardize national security. Tom Mills pointed out – and he got a good laugh from our audience in doing so – that there were still portions of the Pentagon Papers that had not been made public, and that he would be working to declassify those documents.

All in all, the day was a poignant and welcome reminder to me that our government belongs to all of us – we, the people – just as much as it belongs to President Obama, Governor Corbett and Mayor Nutter, and that information about our government belongs to us.

To hear the full podcast, "Transparency and Open Government: What Does this Mean for Citizens" click here.

Sign up for our email newsletter