Thursday, December 21, 2006

Closing the books on Sandy Berger

The pathetic story of Sandy Berger appears to finally be playing out. A report by the National Archive's inspector general lays out his findings. I can't find an actual copy of the report, so I'm relying on various stories describing it.

Here is apparently what happened.

Berger is known to have taken five copies of the same classified document, relating to the Clinton administration's response to various terrorist threats linked to the new Millenium -- the so-called "Millenium plots." The copies contained slight variations, reflecting the input of various agencies, but were substantially the same.

The Archive has consistently asserted that he took only copies, and that they retain the originals of everything in question.

He also smuggled out notes he had taken, in violation of Archive procedures that require such notes to be checked.

It's possible that he took other documents in previous visits. But that remains unknown, partly because of the deference ("special treatment", as the report calls it) that Berger received, as well as the rather disorganized document-tracking system used by the Archives. Berger denies it, and nobody has accused him of doing so.

He said -- and the report agrees -- that he took them to help him prepare for upcoming testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

When he got back to his office, he discovered that three of the documents were identical and destroyed them.

When Archive employees later confronted him about the thefts, he first denied taking them, then admitted he had done so. He returned the remaining copies as well as his notes.

He was later fined $50,000, sentenced to 100 hours of community service and had his security clearance revoked. The relatively light sentence reflected the fact that it was a plea deal and that his motive was banal, his methods comical and the damage light to nonexistent.

One can argue that stealing classified documents deserves a harsher penalty. But even setting aside the sad details of this particular case, the reality is that a trial could have compromised national security and so the government's leverage was limited.

Without excusing Berger's actions -- he committed a crime; he deserved to be caught and punished -- it's also worth noting what the report apparently didn't say: in short, it didn't corroborate most of the lurid speculations and rumors surrounding the case.

1. Berger did not stuff documents in his socks or down his pants.

2. There's no indication that the stolen copies contained margin notes or other handwritten additions that the originals did not have -- whereas there are various authoritative statements that they did not. As the Wall Street Journal, of all sources, pointed out in 2005.

In short, the idea that there was some sort of coverup or conspiracy lacks any evidence or sense whatsoever. What kind of conspiracy destroys copies of documents?

Berger broke the law; he was caught; he's being punished. As it should be.

I'll post a link to the full report if I ever find one. The AP got the report through a Freedom of Information Act request; surely it won't be long before the text finds its way online.

Update: Here's the full (though heavily redacted) report (pdf).

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that he took a break at night---went outside with documents hidden on his person and hid them under a construction site where he later retrieved them. And did you mention he lied about them when first confronted about them? "Slight variations" on the copies means there were differences. That implies most likely hand-written notes and comments. Clinton typically wrote lots of notes in the margon memos. ins

In his testimony before the 9/11 Commission, John Ashcroft urged the panel to find out why the Clinton administration did not act on the recommendations and blueprint provided with that after-action memo provided by Richard Clarke. He also urged them to find out why that memo wasn't provided to the Bush administration during the transition.

You can continue to defend and make excuses for Sandy, but truth remains that his actions are very, very suspicioius and warrant further investigation.

I see that now CNN, MSNBC, and other liberal media outlets are jumping on this story. Let's see if they are just content to defend and make excuses for Sandy. Sandy has set himself to not be believed and he's caused more suspicion to be cast over the Clinton administration.

JP5

12/21/2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I have never once defended Berger. All I've done is debunked the "coverup" conspiracy theory. I don't like Berger; I just dislike unfounded allegations.

The details you mention are in the main link. All they do is detail the methods Berger used to steal documents.

"Slight variations" in no way implies "handwritten comments." When documents are circulated among government agencies for review and comment, those agencies make changes, which are incorporated in later versions of the report which circulate to other agencies. That's how such documents are built.

The WSJ link specifically addresses that point, noting that all the documents reviewed by Berger were copies printed off of a hard drive -- not working copies that people would have made unique markings on.

So you appear to be trying to hang a coverup allegation on the words "slight variation" in a WaPo story. That's thin gruel indeed.

12/22/2006 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the articles I've read indicate they are not so sure he didn't get some of those working copies. I don't think they can ever be absolutely sure. And of course, he made sure that we'll never know. And because of his actions, a large majority of people will always believe something nefarious took place. Especially when one considers what risks he was willing to take. If it quacks like a duck, it's usually a duck. It's the exact same kind of actions that brought down a President named Richard Nixon. People always assumed the worst----as they were right to do.

JP5

12/26/2006 5:48 PM  

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