Eleven Words in Pentagon Papers to Remain Classified

05.27.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Update (6/23/11): On June 13, the Pentagon Papers were published in their entirety. The last eleven words that remained classified were declassified prior to publication.

The Pentagon Papers that were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg four decades ago have been formally declassified and will be released in their entirety next month — except for eleven words that remain classified.

David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, announced the surprising exception to the upcoming release of the Papers at a meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board on May 26.

The nature of the censored words was not described, but the National Declassification Center said on its blog that all eleven of them appeared on a single page. (Update: The discussion of the eleven words has been deleted from the NDC blog post.) The Center also said that the release next month “will present the American public with the first real look at this historic document,” because it will be more complete and accurate than any prior edition of the Papers.

From a security policy point of view, the decision to maintain the classification of eleven words is questionable because it invites attention and speculation, not to mention ridicule, focused precisely on that which is withheld.

In any case, all of the Pentagon Papers except for the mysterious eleven words will be officially released in hard copy and online in digital format on June 13.

The decision to censor the eleven words was peculiar, Archivist Ferriero acknowledged.  He suggested that the redactions would lend themselves to an entertaining game of “Mad Libs,” in which players suggest humorous possibilities for filling in the blanks in a sentence.

The Archivist also reported that the National Declassification Center has now achieved the capacity to process 14 million pages of classified records per month for declassification, and that it is in fact declassifying 91% of the material that it is processing.

The Public Interest Declassification Board convened a public meeting Thursday at the National Archives on options for “transforming classification.”  The Board will continue to receive public comments on the subject on its blog until mid-June.