In "The Post", about 10 minutes in, Daniel Ellsberg is cutting away the footer from each page of the documents he's about to leak. Later in the film, we learn that this is because of the TOP SECRET marking that's present there. However, this does not explain it for me. Is there a real-world motivation behind this action (perhaps as a result of the way the American law is stated), or was it made up by the script writers? Is it just supposed to provide plausible deniability? After all, anyone reading the documents would realize they're probably not supposed to be seen by the public.

Note: this question explains that the footer has to be removed because the confidentiality stamp is there, but does not expand on the why.

  • @Paulie_D oh, interesting. Do you happen to have any links to the relevant paragraphs?
    – Maya
    Nov 8, 2018 at 17:58
  • 1
    You meant "Pentagon," right? lol Nov 9, 2018 at 9:18
  • 1
    @PhilNDeBlanc I changed the title of the question. Good catch! (Clever username too! Reminds me of Justin Thyme.) Nov 9, 2018 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


Actually there is a possible reason given in the answer you linked

*I'm unsure as to the reason why but I suspect that this is to give some protection to anyone receiving the copies from legal issues. If they didn't know they were classified then they have some defence if prosecuted.

I am not a lawyer and the issues here are quite complex but I found an article ( for fans for the movie it's an interesting read) which covers a lot of the background.

Essentially, although Ellsberg was (arguably) not stealing the information (as he was cleared to read it), disclosure of it to non-cleared parties was probably illegal,

But, if he removed the TOP SECRET indicator the receiving party could claim that they did not knowingly receive &/or publish classified information,

Whether the claim would be validated would be a matter for the courts and that opens up another can of worms for the government already affected by the leak.

The Papers..

...represented an unprecedented breach of the national classification system, and anyone in possession of it could face criminal charges, not only of stealing government property but perhaps espionage or, ultimately, treason. Indeed, that was the opinion reached by the Times’ long-time law firm, Lord Day & Lord. Senior partner Louis M. Loeb objected to the idea of publishing leaked military secrets in wartime, which he considered irresponsible and unpatriotic, and he warned that the government would be sure to prosecute the newspaper and its top executives.

The Pentagon Papers at 40

Eventually, of course, the general leak to many papers was eventually adjudicated as that the public had the right to know and that pretty much settled it

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .