If a bank teller walked out of the vault with a few hundred dollars stuffed in his pants, took the money home, and kept it until the authorities came looking for it, would you believe him if he said it was an accident?
Of course not.
Would you be surprised if the authorities discovered the teller no longer had all the money he took–and that he claimed he “accidentally discarded” some of it?
Of course not. That is the sort of far-fetched story you would expect from a thief.
And that is also why Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger could soon face a day in court.
Berger, to be sure, is no bank teller. He was National Security Adviser to President Clinton throughout Clinton’s second term. In that position, he was routinely entrusted with this nation’s most highly classified national security information, and was expected to use it to devise policies for keeping the United States safe from foreign enemies. But, today, Berger is looking and acting exactly like a desperate thief caught in a desperate act.
Berger did not take a few hundred dollars like some common criminal. He took some of the most sensitive classified documents in the possession of the United States government. Reportedly, they were the varying draft versions of a report written by former National Security Council aide Richard Clarke that critiqued how the Clinton Administration had dealt with al Qaeda’s Millennium Plot to attack the United States on or about Jan. 1, 2000. The documents reportedly discussed al Qaeda capabilities and U.S. vulnerabilities to future terrorist attacks, and made recommendations on how to move forward.
This is the sort of document that, if compromised, could provide an anti-American war plan for terrorists, or cost the lives of U.S. intelligence sources or, by revealing methods of intelligence collection, weaken already poor U.S. counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering.
At a minimum, Berger did tremendous harm to U.S. security by mishandling these documents in a literally unimaginable way. But he may have done far worse. Deputy Atty. Gen. James Comey told the Washington Times: “It’s against the law for anyone to intentionally mishandle [a] classified document either by taking it to give to somebody else, or by mishandling it in a way that is outside the government regulations.”
The Associated Press, which broke the story July 19, reports that Berger was assigned by former President Clinton to review Clinton Administration documents to determine which ones should be turned over to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the 9/11 Commission.
Berger visited the National Archives last summer and fall to sift through documents. Officials told AP that “National Archives employees told [FBI] agents they believed they saw Berger place documents in his clothing while reading sensitive Clinton Administration papers and that some documents were then noticed missing.”
The Washington Post reported July 22 that after Berger visited the archives in September, Archives employees were suspicious. “The government source said the Archives employees were deferential toward Berger, given his prominence, but were worried when he returned to view more documents on October 2,” the Post reported. “They devised a coding system and marked the documents they knew Berger was interested in canvassing, and watched him carefully. They knew he was interested in all the versions of the millennium review, some of which bore handwritten notes from Clinton-era officials, who had reviewed them. At one point an Archives employee even handed Berger a coded draft and asked whether he was sure he had seen it. At the end of the day, Archives employees determined that that draft and all four or five other versions of the millennium memo had disappeared from the files, sources said.”
The Post reported that unnamed sources said that “Berger was witnessed stuffing papers into his clothing.” Berger denies this, although he admits removing handwritten notes from the Archives in his clothing and accidentally taking highly classified documents in a leather portfolio and then losing some.
“In the course of reviewing over several days thousands of pages of documents on behalf of the Clinton Administration in connection with requests by the September 11 commission, I inadvertently took a few documents from the Archives,” Berger told AP. “When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded.”
It is unclear whether there are surviving copies of these documents. The AP reported: “The Archives is believed to have copies of some of the missing documents.” Berger’s lawyer told the AP, as the AP put it, “Berger believed he was looking at copies of the classified documents, not originals.” A senior Republican congressional aide told HUMAN EVENTS he believed the National Archives retained custody of the originals. National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper did not return phone calls seeking to confirm this.
Berger, says AP, has been told he is the subject of a criminal investigation.
“What could those documents have said that drove Mr. Berger to remove them without authorization from a secure reading room for classified documents?” House Speaker Dennis Hastert asked July 20. “What information could be so embarrassing that a man with decades of experience in handling classified documents would risk being caught pilfering our nation’s most sensitive secrets?”
The 9/11 Commission report released July 22 revealed that Clarke wrote Berger in January 2000 that Clinton Administration efforts had “not put much of a dent” in al Qaeda and that there were “sleeper cells” and “a variety of terrorist groups” already in the U.S.
The administration did little about it.
House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.) has announced his committee will investigate the Berger scandal. That’s good. But if investigation shows Berger purposely took the documents, it’s not good enough. If that’s the case, Justice must indict Berger. He may keep saying, “I made an honest mistake.” But that’s something a jury may need to decide.