Home Opinion From Pentagon...

From Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks: Where do we draw the line for revelation of administrative information


censorship-610101_640 (1)

By Sarah Johnson

History is replete with instances of suppression of media and crucial details from the public.

Among such cases, the Pentagon Papers and the Afghan War Diary, are notable for bringing forth the important question as to where  we draw the line for revelation of administrative information.

The Pentagon Papers case was a very crucial case concerning the first amendment. It concerned the  US government’s attempt to prohibit the New York Times (NYT) and the Washington Post from publishing portions of a government study on the Vietnam war and their rights to publish the information. Although the decision was in favor of upholding the New York Times’ right to freedom of the press, one may wonder what today’s Supreme Court would decide, knowing the effects of such an information release.

Today, different opinions exist with the case of WikiLeaks. The analysis of the time period as well as the judges within the Supreme Court show the reasons for their actions.

The Pentagon Papers concerned the publication of a 47-volume 7,000 page classified document under the department of defense’s history of political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. These papers included 4,000 actual documents and 3,000 worth analysis. Most of the papers were leaked to the New York Times. They were given to Neil Sheehan of the NYT in 1971 by a former state department official known as Daniel Ellsberg.

The New York Times then began to release these articles into the press. Almost immediately controversy and lawsuits by the United States government followed. The American government believed that the publication of the Pentagon Papers had irreversible effects. These effects included the prolonging of the Vietnam war itself and problems with negotiating the safe return of US prisoners held in Vietnam. This hindered the release of prisoners because Vietnam itself could get a hold of these classified documents.

However, the newspapers argued under the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, that they could release this information. This turned the case around to the rights of the newspapers to protect the first amendment and the duty of the executive branch to protect the nation and its people.

The Pentagon Papers asked if ‘a prior restraint’ on the press could be allowed under the protection of the first amendment. A prior restraint is allowing a restraint on the publication of information before it is published into the public.

The papers themselves had an impact on America. It revealed that the United States government expanded its role in the war by holding airstrikes and marine attacks. While Lyndon Johnson, the 36 President of the US, exclaimed otherwise, it  built a sense of distrust among the Americans towards their government.

This hurt Nixon’s war effort immensely and protests against the war spiked. President Nixon witnessed an uproar as well prior to their release. Speaking to the head of the NSA, Nixon said, “People have got to be put to the torch for this sort of thing… lets get the son-of-a-bitch in jail.”

Outraged by the “treason”, Nixon tried to get the NYT to voluntarily cease the publication of the articles. But the publication refused and  Nixon had to go to the courts. The same development occurred when the Washington Post published the papers as well. Subsequently, the Supreme Court combined both cases into one(New York Times V. United States).

Nixon’s reaction to the Pentagon Papers further encouraged the Americans not to trust him. Some even believe this was the reason for the loss of his administration and eventually the downfall of the Vietnam war.

The outcome of the case was decided by the Burger court. The Burger court consisted of nine men and the court decision itself was argued from June 26 1971 to June 30 1971. The Pentagon Papers case divided the Supreme Court giving a separate opinion from the nine judges, namely, Black, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Burger, Harlan, and Blackmum.

Each one of these judges gave their opinion and reasons for their decision in their commentaries.  The judges that voted for the right of the New York Times were Black, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White and Marshall. Others who voted against this were Burger, Harlan, and Blackmum.

However, all having different opinions, the concurring judges’ opinions could be classified under one idea separately. This idea was that the government “Carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the opposition of such a restraint” and that the government had failed to meet that burden.

Finally, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the New York Times. But both the Post and New York Times never published portions of the papers that the government claimed were the most sensitive.

Justice Brennan on the Burgers court within his commentary on his decision exclaimed, “I write separately in these cases only to emphasize what should be apparent: that our judgments in the present cases may not be taken to indicate the propriety, in the future, of issuing temporary stays and restraining orders to block the publication of material sought to be suppressed by the government.”

Brennan saw the future could change, that opinions of the current Supreme Court and the government could eventually overturn their decision.

This is prevalent in the case of WikiLeaks. Within the case of NY Times v USA , the Court’s decision also never specified when prior restraint on the press may be allowed. This brings about the controversy within WikiLeaks.

On July 25,2010 a document known as the “Afghan War Diary” containing more than 91,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan was made public through WikiLeaks. The Afghan war diary painted a bad picture of military gains in the Afghan territory, showing that the Taliban’s strength had increased despite the United States’ investment into the war. This, yet again, sowed the seeds of distrust with the government.

Secretary of Defense, Gates stated that the document could have, “potentially dramatic and dangerous consequences.” This leak also did not gain public support. Human rights organizations and press organizations believed that it was irresponsible to publish the documents.

In reaction, the United States pursued a trial against the WikiLeaks founder.

Both cases had brought about the idea of the Right of the people to know vs the Right of government to withhold information. The impact of the Ellsberg’s release inspired whistleblowers around the world. Currently, there are active journalists and “hacktivists” still seeking out truths and lies within the government.

When Ellsberg was asked about the similarities between the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks article he stated, “The documents look very familiar to me. Different places and names, but they are describing a war that is as thoroughly stalemated as was the case forty years ago in Vietnam.

It shows similarities and begets the same question– whether the information should be made available to the public.”


Next Story

New York Times Devotes Entire Front Page to COVID-19 Victims

The names of 1,000 of the COVID-19 victims were published on the front page of New York Times

New York Times
The New York Times dedicated its front page to the names of COVID-19 victims. Pixabay

The New York Times has devoted its entire front page to the names of 1,000 of the COVID-19 victims as the US approaches nearly 100,000 virus deaths, the current highest in the world as suggested by COVID-19 Information & Resources.

The Sunday edition’s front page comprises a simple list of names and personal details taken from obituaries around the US, the BBC reported.

The headline is “US deaths near 100,000, an incalculable loss”, with a sub-heading that reads: “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.”

New York state, the epicentre of the US coronavirus pandemic, has recorded 385,000 confirmed cases, with 23,195 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

New York Times
Newspaper article titled “A New Physics Based on Einstein” published in ”The New York Times” on November 25, 1919. Wikimedia Commons

Also Read: New York State Allows Gatherings of up to 10 People

New York City accounts for 197,000 infections and 16,149 fatalities.

As of Sunday, the US registered the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 1,622,670 and 97,087, respectively. (IANS)

Next Story

Google Buys Indian-Origin Professor Shwetak Patel’s Health Monitoring Start-up

The start-up turns smartphones into medical devices and collects various health statistics

Shwetak Patel, Google
Google has acquired Senosis Health, a Seattle-based health monitoring start-up founded by University of Washington Professor Shwetak Patel (Representative image). Pixabay
  • The start-up turns smartphones into medical devices and collects various health stats
  • Using functions on a smartphone including its accelerometer, microphone, flash and camera, the Senosis apps can monitor lung health and hemoglobin counts, among other things
  • It marks the latest acquisition for Patel, whose past start-up ventures have landed in the hands of companies such as Belkin International and Sears

San Francisco, August 17, 2017: Google has acquired Senosis Health, a Seattle-based health monitoring start-up founded by University of Washington Professor Shwetak Patel, the media reported. The start-up turns smartphones into medical devices and collects various health stats, The Verge reported on Tuesday.

Using functions on a smartphone including its accelerometer, microphone, flash and camera, the Senosis apps can monitor lung health and hemoglobin counts, among other things, the report said. For example, to measure the hemoglobin, Senosis’ app uses the phone’s flash to illuminate a user’s finger.

ALSO READ: There’s a place for you at Google: CEO Sundar Pichai to girl innovators

It marks the latest acquisition for Patel, whose past start-up ventures have landed in the hands of companies such as Belkin International and Sears, according to Geekwire.com which first reported the acquisition on Sunday. Patel, who founded the company with four others, is a professor at University of Washington’s computer science and engineering faculty.

According to a biography at University of Washington website, Patel was a founder of Zensi, Inc., a demand side energy monitoring solutions provider, which was acquired by Belkin, Inc in 2010. He is also a co-founder of a low-power wireless sensor platform company called SNUPI Technologies and a consumer home sensing product called WallyHome.

WallyHome was acquired by Sears in 2015. A recipient of many awards, his past work was also honored by the New York Times as a top technology of the year in 2005. (IANS)

Next Story

Hackers Release documents and files Indicating US National Security Agency (NSA) Monitored Global Bank Transfers

The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity

An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, VOA

April 15, 2017: Hackers released documents and files Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks.

The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems.

The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity.

The NSA could not immediately be reached for comment.

NewsGram brings to you current foreign news from all over the world.

Holes in Windows

Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen.

“Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers,” the company said.

The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama’s staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws.

Bangladesh heist

Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank.

“The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said.

The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day. Belgium-based SWIFT downplayed the risk of attacks employing the code released by hackers Friday.

SWIFT said it regularly releases security updates and instructs client banks on how to handle known threats.

“We mandate that all customers apply the security updates within specified times,” SWIFT said in a statement.

SWIFT said it had no evidence that the main SWIFT network had ever been accessed without authorization.

It was possible that the local messaging systems of some SWIFT client banks had been breached, SWIFT said in a statement, which did not specifically mention the NSA.

When cyberthieves robbed the Bangladesh Bank last year, they compromised that bank’s local SWIFT network to order money transfers from its account at the New York Federal Reserve.

NewsGram brings to you top news around the world today.


The documents released by the Shadow Brokers on Friday indicate that the NSA may have accessed the SWIFT network through service bureaus. SWIFT service bureaus are companies that provide an access point to the SWIFT system for the network’s smaller clients and may send or receive messages regarding money transfers on their behalf.

“If you hack the service bureau, it means that you also have access to all of their clients, all of the banks,” said Matt Suiche, founder of the United Arab Emirates-based cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, who has studied the Shadow Broker releases and believes the group has access to NSA files.

The documents posted by the Shadow Brokers include Excel files listing computers on a service bureau network, user names, passwords and other data, Suiche said.

“That’s information you can only get if you compromise the system,” he said.

Cris Thomas, a prominent security researcher with the cybersecurity firm Tenable, said the documents and files released by the Shadow Brokers show “the NSA has been able to compromise SWIFT banking systems, presumably as a way to monitor, if not disrupt, financial transactions to terrorists groups.”

Thwarting terrorists

Since the early 1990s, interrupting the flow of money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere to al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other militant Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries has been a major objective of U.S. and allied intelligence agencies.

Mustafa Al-Bassam, a computer science researcher at University College London, said on Twitter that the Shadow Brokers documents show that the “NSA hacked a bunch of banks, oil and investment companies in Palestine, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, more.”

He added that NSA “completely hacked” EastNets, one of two SWIFT service bureaus named in the documents that were released by the Shadow Brokers.

Reuters could not independently confirm that EastNets had been hacked. And EastNets, based in Dubai, denied it had been hacked in a statement, calling the assertion “totally false and unfounded.”

EastNets ran a “complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities,” according to a statement from EastNets’ chief executive and founder, Hazem Mulhim.

Check out NewsGram for latest international news updates.

Snowden documents

In 2013, documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said the NSA had been able to monitor SWIFT messages.

The agency monitored the system to spot payments intended to finance crimes, according to the documents released by Snowden.

Reuters could not confirm whether the documents released Friday by the Shadow Brokers, if authentic, were related to NSA monitoring of SWIFT transfers since 2013.

Some of the documents released by the Shadow Brokers were dated 2013, but others were not dated. The documents released by the hackers did not clearly indicate whether the NSA had actually used all the techniques cited for monitoring SWIFT messages.