July 21, 2004
WHAT WAS SANDY BERGER THINKING? A lot of us are wondering that. Claire Berlinski sends these thoughts:
Greetings from your underperforming Paris correspondent. Your question about Berger -- "what the hell was he thinking?" -- is the subject of my novel about stupid security lapses in the intelligence community. (Loose Lips -- Now out in paperback!) I very much suspect that the answer is, "He just wasn't thinking." He may perhaps have been thinking, "Gee, this chair is really hurting my butt, I guess I'll just take these papers home and read them on my nice comfy couch." Of course there may be a more interesting story here, but before reaching for the conspiracy theory, it's wise to keep in mind that unfathomably stupid security blunders are remarkably common, even among people who should obviously know better. It appears to be surprisingly easy, psychologically, for people with access to classified material to become careless. Just as people who drive every day tend to become inured to the fact that automobiles are in fact fast-moving, highly lethal weapons and deathtraps, people who handle sensitive material every day tend to forget that loose lips really do sink ships. It's no excuse, of course.
Worth keeping in mind; simple stupidity explains an awful lot in this world. Meanwhile Virginia Postrel continues to champion the Berger-as-bumbler theory, which certainly has a lot of credibility:
I'm an odd defender of Berger, who used to make me wince at his incompetence when he was national security adviser. He's a good argument against the return of the not-very-deep Democratic foreign policy team--but not because of purloined notes.
Either way, Berger -- and Kerry -- look bad.
UPDATE: On the other hand, Sylvain Galineau notes a problem with the 'honest mistake' theory:
In other words, Berger made an "honest mistake" once, was told about it, and did it again. And again. Stuffing documents in his clothes to bypass security protocols which, for classified documents in such facilities, usually involve a search of your bag(s) and/or briefcase(s) on the way out.
Is this the pattern of an "honest" one-off mistake?
I wonder if there were surveillance cameras? The video might be interesting.