AH, THOSE “11 WORDS”!
Well, our top choice didn’t last long! Those who looked at the Archive posting on the now-infamous “11 Words” will know that my candidate for the dubious honor was a passage from a 1954 Saigon embassy cable. That dispatch revealed the CIA already in contact with political forces in South Vietnam that would be used to consolidate the power of Saigon leader Ngo Dinh Diem. The 11 Words are a passage which United States government censors wanted to cut out of the Pentagon Papers even though they had been in the public domain ever since 1972, because the offending material had been passed by the Pentagon’s own authorities at that time. They subsequently appeared in the official (redacted) version of the Pentagon Papers published by the Government Printing Office on behalf of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
One key factor in the selection, I explained, was that the censors today must have some actual “expectation of secrecy”—ie that the information would actually be protected by its deletion now. The 1972 government edition was a small print run, and although a CD version of that publication exists, interest in the Pentagon Papers’ actual contents has declined to a degree that it was a fair guess the electronic version is not widely distributed either. The CIA-Saigon passage appeared in a document that was not reprinted in the much more accessible Beacon Press (Senator Mike Gravel) edition of the Pentagon Papers. So I settled on that choice. Now an alert reader, the historian Edward Miller of Dartmouth College, has reminded me that the document in question was actually published—in volume 2 of the Foreign Relations of the United States series on Indochina from 1952 to 1954. That breaks my criterion of expectation of secrecy.
The Archive posting contained ten other possibilities for the 11 Words. Any one of them could be the 11 Words. Indeed the CIA-Saigon item itself may still actually be the winning candidate. But at over 7,000 pages there is an enormous amount of material and the 11 Words could be anything. Hence, the National Security Archive’s “11 Words” contest.
The National Security Archive is now preparing to post a complete set of all editions of the Pentagon Papers, matching pages of the newly declassified edition with those of the HASC version and with the comparable sections of the Senator Mike Gravel (Beacon Press) edition of the study. Pages of the different official editions and the comparable passages of the Gravel edition will be simultaneously viewable. The posting will come with an index that cross references all material in all the editions and notes discrepancies between the original and the Gravel edition. Archivista Carlos Osorio created the web framework that will permit us to display these images, while Archivistas Wendy Valdes did yeoman work in arranging the parallel simultaneous display of the pages, and Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis has been the lead analyst in compiling the index. Their work will soon be available to all.
The National Security Archive invites readers to submit their own nominees for the 11 Words. The best entries will receive a prize. Keep your eyes peeled for the comprehensive posting of the Pentagon Papers. We look forward to your nominees for the notorious 11 Words!