The government attorney who argued in the Supreme Court against publication of the "Pentagon Papers" in 1971 on the grounds that it would threaten national security now says that he has "never seen any trace of a threat to national security" since the papers became public. Erwin N. Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general was the Nixon administration's chief attorney arguing against publication of the papers concerning the war in Vietnam, wrote in yesterday's opinion section of The Washington Post that there is "massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another." Griswold, 84, said in an interview that he decided to write the article because the government is once again arguing, this time in the Iran-contra trial of former White House aide Oliver L. North, that national security is threatened by release of classified documents. On June 26, 1971, he told the Supreme Court that the continued publication by The New York Times and The Washington Post of the papers, the secret Pentagon history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, "will affect lives . . . the process of the termination of the war . . . the process of recovering prisoners of war." The court rejected Griswold's argument by a vote of 6 to 3. Contacted yesterday at his law office here, Griswold, who had been dean of Harvard Law School for 21 years before he became President Richard M. Nixon's solicitor general, said: "There's a good deal of difference between foresight and hindsight, and as of that time, I thought there was substantial risk" of a break in national security. For lawyers and journalists who participated in the historic two-week struggle between the government and the news media, Griswold's comments stirred recollections of the elaborate lengths to which government attorneys went to stop publication of the voluminous documents. "This is a stunning remark now from the man who led the government's efforts to keep the Pentagon Papers secret," said Sanford J. Ungar, author of "The Papers & The Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers." Ungar, who is dean of the School of Communication at American University, added, "Basically, this tells us that the Nixon administration wasted our money and our emotions for those dramatic 17 days in June." Executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee of The Washington Post said that Griswold's statement is "a classic example" of how long it takes the truth to emerge. "Now you have as good an answer to the question as you'll ever get: Did the Pentagon Papers damage national security? They did not," Bradlee said. He said it is hard now to envision the "hysteria around us then" about publishing stories from the 4,400 pages. The decision by The Times, The Post and other newspapers to publish the secret Pentagon documents, Bradlee said, "generated an enormous amount of hate mail." Griswold said that at one point while he sought to stop publication of the documents, he prepared a secret brief as part of his argument to the Supreme Court. He made 12 copies -- one each for the justices, one for the clerk of the Supreme Court and one each for lawyers for The Times and The Post. Griswold said that the government official in charge of security of the documents wanted to know whether the clerk was cleared for the documents. As for the newspapers' lawyers, Griswold said, he was told: "That's the enemy. That would be treason." James Goodale, who was vice president and general counsel of The New York Times during that period, said yesterday that at each level of the judicial process on the way to the Supreme Court, Griswold and other government attorneys appeared to be adding new documents that they believed should be kept under wraps and appeared to be playing one judge against another as the case leapt from New York to Washington. "When you get into a national security case, the government will use any means it can to screw up the case, by changing its mind about what is subject to national security and what is not and using its power of classification to disrupt the process," said Goodale. Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, who heard the case at the U.S. District Court here and is now the judge in the North trial, "knows that because he, in fact, was a victim" during the Pentagon Papers trial, Goodale said. Griswold wrote that aside from short-term classification and details of weapons systems, "there is very rarely any real risk to current national security from the publication of facts relating to transactions in the past, even the fairly recent past." "This is the lesson of the Pentagon Papers experience, and it may be relevant now," he wrote.