Saturday, December 23, 2006

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What the f%$@ was Sandy Berger thinking, redux

I was dumbfounded by Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents when it was originally reported, but was "willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives."

The latest round of reporting makes that second part impossible. From the Associated Press:

President Clinton's national security adviser removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer and later tried to find the trash collector to retrieve them, the agency's internal watchdog said Wednesday.

The report was issued more than a year after Sandy Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removing the documents.

Berger took the documents in the fall of 2003 while working to prepare himself and Clinton administration witnesses for testimony to the Sept. 11 commission. Berger was authorized as the Clinton administration's representative to make sure the commission got the correct classified materials....

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that National Archives employees spotted Berger bending down and fiddling with something white around his ankles.

The employees did not feel at the time there was enough information to confront someone of Berger's stature, the report said.

Later, when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he lied by saying he did not take them, the report said.

Brachfeld's report included an investigator's notes, taken during an interview with Berger. The notes dramatically described Berger's removal of documents during an Oct. 2, 2003, visit to the Archives.

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

"He headed toward a construction area. ... Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone," the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

"He was aware of the risk he was taking," the inspector general's notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

In October 2003, the report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator's notes said, "Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught."

The notes said that Berger had "destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash."

For more details click here and here. This is the kind of case where the accused either pleads incompetence or malevolence. In this case, he might have to go with both.

Question to readers: will this new news cycle in any way affect Berger's current venture, Stonebridge International?

UPDATE: Pajamas Media has posted the Inspector General's report online.

posted by Dan on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM


Give me a break. Berger obviously removed incriminating or highly embarrassing evidence. He should be in jail and this should be all over the papers and the evening news, for at least a week, every night.

Now, nothing will happen to Berger's private career, because most likely he was not just protecting himself, but the Clinton administration. They will take care of their own.

Dan needs to get out more.

posted by: Akidcanseethis on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Nope. Not obvious at all.

What Berger is described doing sounds strangely similar to a dead drop.

Berger had clearance, and could access the documents if he wanted to. He had no reason to transport documents off-site so he could review them.

The most probable reason to transport documents out of the archives would be to show it to someone who didn't have clearance and who wasn't likely to get it. Destroying the documents later would eliminate physical evidence (fingerprints, etc) that could be used to determine who it was.


posted by: rosignol on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Whatever the case, this should have gotten more attention and sooner. I shouldn't be reading this on Dan's blog but it should be front and center on CNN and Fox.

The media has so far dropped the ball on this.

posted by: Ian on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

So the idea is that he's hiding something about the Clinton administration's role in national security matters?

posted by: Brian on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Well, politicals, who get their clearances practically automatically, tend to have a completely insufficient respect for the security process.

I suppose I could somehow believe that Mr. Berger thought "this shouldn't be classified anyway, and I can study this for my testimony better at home." I still find it really hard to square it with the idea of removing all the copies of the documents.

This kind of spectactular idiocy and unconcern with proper security procedures is not unknown in a political appointee. However, even given those very generous assumptions of idiocy, his punishment was far too light. Three years? So that he could get a clearance in September 2008, just in time for a new Democratic Administration? Ridiculous.

posted by: John Thacker on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

This story is what, like four years old?

It must have been material that only made Berger look bad, because if it had been about the Clenis it would have been its own course at journamalism schools by now.

posted by: Babar on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

This particular aspect of the story -- that he not only smuggled the documents out, but actually hid the damn things at something strongly resembling a drop site -- really is new and disturbing, as Kevin Drum agrees ( ). Berger was obviously up to something significant connected with the Clinton Administration's policy toward al-Qaida, but I'm damned if I can figure out what.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 12.23.06 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

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