Why was Sandy Berger shoving the nation’s secrets into his pants and his socks? Why was he asking the Archive’s monitor to leave the room so he could make sensitive phone calls (and have we checked the cell phone records)? Why was he taking frequent trips to the men’s room (and what was he taking with him)? Most importantly, what were the exact documents and where did the documents go?
I have to admit. When I first heard about Sandy Berger’s taking of classified documents from the National Archives I was shocked. No, not because a former Clinton Administration official was once again having an “issue” with important documents, though these were extremely classified in nature. I’d seen it all before as President Bill Clinton’s Air Force Aide (one of five officers chosen to carry the “Nuclear Football”) from 1996 to 1998. This was obviously a trend in the Clinton modus operandi: Rose Law Firm billing records, Vince Foster Files, FBI files, DNC contributors, the names of those purchasing nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, phone records of Monica’s calls, and on and on. Important documents under the Clintons had a penchant to walk.
What surprised me was how shockingly stupid Berger had been. Sandy’s an unmade bed, a rumpled suit, who somehow was bequeathed the position as Clinton’s national security advisor. That particular fact always escaped me. He always seemed to be bit out of his element, over his head, not quite in command, if you know what I mean. That being said, he’s no moron either. Not a bad guy, generally. A public relations nightmare, maybe. One fry short, no.
Something else is obviously amiss here. Berger understood very clearly the sensitivity, the importance of classified documents. He’d handled the nation’s most secret documents on a daily basis. He very clearly instructed his staff on the proper handling of classified information. In fact, the most junior government worker with a security clearance understands that there is zero tolerance, absolutely no allowance, for the compromise of classified information. Indeed, the Situation Room in the White House, Berger’s office, is behind a vaulted steel door. Why? Because of all the highly protected classified documents.
Berger would not “inadvertently” do anything with top secret papers. He knew better. He wouldn’t inadvertently walk out with them (particularly if he had to shove them into his Fruit of the Looms). He wouldn’t then peruse them at home and not realize he had inadvertently stuffed them into his pants. He wouldn’t then lose them knowing he’d perused them after shoving them into his pants.
His staff at the NSC went to great lengths to protect the intelligence reports they produced. That’s why the normal procedure at the Clinton White House was to have either a senior NSC official hand deliver Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) and other critical intelligence documents to the president or have the military aide do it. That’s where I came in. Only trusted agents were asked to move the important documents.
Dems will tell you that Berger took only copies, that the originals are still maintained at the Archives. It was all about the “Millennium Plot,” which was, after all, a self-proclaimed Clinton success (in fact, a prevented tragedy due solely to the vigilance of a U.S. border guard, not Richard Clarke’s fascinations). That’s the rub. The original documents have nothing to do with it.
Intelligence reports in the Clinton White House worked thus: initial reports were sent to the president to apprise him of significant events, trends, or extremely important intelligence suppositions that the NSC, CIA, FBI and NSA felt he should see. In turn, and important to Berger’s odd behavior, the President would write notes in the margins of the originals — sometimes directions, sometimes questions.
These documents would return to the NSC (see Berger) for explanation and/or action. Berger would answer back. The President would respond again. A single original document would be revised several times with notes going back and forth. That’s what Bill and Sandy were looking for. Not the originals produced by Clarke necessarily, or the NSC, et al. No, they were out for the subsequent documents with the real story, the insight, Clinton’s direction and Berger’s action. That’s precisely where the 9/11 Commission finger would eventually point.
That’s precisely why Berger would do something so incredibly stupid.
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