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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Recalling Beacon Press's role with the Pentagon Papers.

A letter to the editor in the Boston Globe this week recalled the role of Beacon Press, the independent press owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association, in publishing the Pentagon Papers. The Rev. Edwin A. Lane writes:

H.D.S. Greenway raised the question of "a free press, and the government's right to keep its secrets" (op-ed, Jan. 17). A central issue is the government's abuse of the classification procedure for political protection when national security is not an issue.

When The New York Times and The Washington Post began publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they were stopped by the government. Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska then read them into the Congressional Record, but the government refused to print them. Gravel then sought a private publisher and, after he was turned down by more than 30, Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association, agreed to publish them.

This resulted in the following: a phone call from President Nixon urging Beacon director Gobin Stair not to publish them; the tapping of my phone when I was chairman of Beacon's board; and government agents secretly going through Beacon's and the UUA's bank records, gaining access to who made donations.

The Pentagon Papers were the political story of how we got involved in the Vietnam War. They did not contain material that threatened national security. Indeed, Beacon offered to delete selected material if the government asked us to do so on a national security basis. The government refused.

A court procedure for permission to engage in surveillance of citizens is essential both to protect citizens' rights and to make governmental decision-making transparent to public scrutiny.

EDWIN A. LANE, Wellesley
The writer was chairman of the board of Beacon Press when Beacon published the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

("The Pentagon Papers and government surveillance," Edwin A. Lane [letter], Boston Globe 1.24.06, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 26 January 2006 at 7:17 AM

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h sofia:

January 26, 2006 09:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

What a testimony; thanks for sharing with the non-Boston audience.

This article makes me think of fear and intimidation. Just the threat of being investigated is enough to deter some people from doing important activist work, or from speaking up about illegal or unethical things they've witnessed. I remember college-aged Muslim friends I had who concealed their activist activities in university from their parents because their parents were from countries where being engaged in a political demonstration against some aspect of the current power structure could mean disappearing, imprisonment or death.

Some of them took to covering their faces during rallies after several of their parents received mail with clippings of my friends' photos in the school paper along with letters that basically asked, "Do you know what your child is doing while s/he is away at college?" A few had "helpful" police or government officials contact their parents to "warn" them about their kids getting into "trouble" or mixing in with "radicals" at school. These things really happened - this is not fiction! And they happened in the early to mid 1990s.

We must have a society in which people need not suffer any fear of the law because of their non violent political activities.


January 26, 2006 11:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

It is interesting that the time of needing a small press for this sort of thing is past. If something akin to the Pentagon Papers was to surface today, and be surpressed the same way, it would be a download the day it became public. And that would be it. I'm certainly glad that small presses helped provide this function in the past - but I'm even more glad that they no longer need to.

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