Mr. Sheehan, believing the newspapers were « the people’s property » and paid for with « their children’s blood, » as has been quoted, broke the deal, had copies made, and brought a set to New York, where the teams Times reporters and editors worked around the clock in a hotel suite for weeks preparing the hoard of national secrets for publication. Mr. Ellsberg did not learn of Mr. Sheehan’s duplicity until June 13, 1971, when the Times published the first of nine installments of excerpts and analytical articles in the Pentagon Papers. The reaction was quick.
Attorney General John N. Mitchell, citing espionage and conspiracy statutes, warned The Times that it jeopardized national security and said the paper faced ruinous legal action. Editors, lawyers, and Times editor Arthur O. Sulzberger conferred, and publication resumed. After the third installment, however, the Justice Department obtained an injunction suspending publication.
Mr. Ellsberg, meanwhile, leaked the papers to other publications, including the Washington Post. The government sued. The Times and The Post took their cases to the Supreme Court, which reversed the injunction on June 30, allowing publication to resume. The case reinforced a constitutional doctrine that the press, absent a national emergency, should not be subject to censorship prior to publication.
The Pentagon Papers revealed not only that successive presidents had escalated the war, but that they were aware it was not likely to be won. The documents also revealed widespread cynicism among senior officials towards the public and contempt for the war’s enormous losses. Mr. Ellsberg called the conflict « an American war almost from the start ».
The White House soon began pursuing Mr. Ellsberg, who had gone into hiding. Under President Nixon’s internal affairs adviser, John D. Ehrlichman, a unit called « plumbers » was formed to plug leaks and carry out covert operations, including burglaries at Mr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (they were not found malicious files), and in 1972 at the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate complex in Washington. The arrest of the thieves started an unraveling that led to Mr. Nixon’s resignation in 1974.