July 21, 2004
HMM. THIS SEEMS HARD to square with the "honest mistake" theory:
A government official with knowledge of the probe said Berger removed from archives files all five or six drafts of a critique of the government's response to the millennium terrorism threat, which he said was classified "codeword," the government's highest level of document security.
And it was on multiple occasions:
After one of his visits to the Archives last fall, one of the government officials said, Berger was alerted to the missing documents and later returned some of the materials. On subsequent visits by Berger, Archives staffers specially marked documents he reviewed to try to ensure their return. But the government official said some of those materials also went missing, prompting Archives staffers to alert federal authorities.
Emphasis added. This might be a case of (rather serious) laxity, rather than ill-intent, as Claire Berlinski suggests below. But it's hard to see how this kind of a pattern could be "inadvertent," as Berger is claiming.
UPDATE: Reader Kevin Hurst emails:
I work with classified documents and while it is true that violations of procedure are not uncommon, it is extremely rare, at least in my corner of the world, to see something like this. I can't even take a briefcase into the unclassified reading room at the National Archives, yet Berger is stuffing classified documents into a leather bag?! I know that the Clinton people were famous (infamous?) for lax document security, but I have trouble imagining that a former NSA can be this incompetent. Samuel L. Morison spent over a year in Federal prison for sending classified satellite photos of a Soviet carrier under construction to Jane's Defense Weekly and I don't see how what he did is any worse that what Berger has done.
I've gotten a lot of emails along these lines from federal employees who work with classified documents. It would be interesting to see a news story interviewing some people like that, and looking at what happens to worker-bee types who violate security this way.
MORE: I'm not the only one who's getting these emails: "I still haven't gotten a single email from someone who regularly deals with classified info who isn't scandalized by this. Meanwhile I get a half-dozen of these every hour or so."
And this summary of the Berger affair is worth reading, too: "Third, it appears that Berger's 'inadvertent' actions clearly aroused the suspicion of the professional staff at the Archives. Staff members there are said to have seen Berger concealing the papers; they became so concerned that they set up what was in effect a small sting operation to catch him. And sure enough, Berger took some more. Those witnesses went to their superiors, who ultimately went to the Justice Department."
But, reportedly, there was no surveillance camera.
UPDATE: Here's another report from someone who does research at the Archives:
Here is the kicker - You are not allowed to bring in briefcases, or binders, or even your own pens or pencils. You are not allowed to wear a jacket or clothing with more than the normal number of pockets. They are extra sensitive to loose clothing. I had some notes that I drafted before heading up (listing what I was looking for). Those were reviewed by security, time and date stamped, and logged in before I was allowed to go further than the front entry hall. The manila folder (not envelope) they were in was taken from me (I had the option of renting a locker for it, but chose to throw it out instead). When I left, I was searched (though they didn't pat me down) and the papers I had were checked to ensure they were the same ones I entered with.
Now, its true, Sandy Berger has a higher security classification than me. But what I find incredible, is that the protocols the press is reporting (that he could bring in a briefcase and note pads and pens) are significantly more lax than are applied to non classified materials made available to the general public.
Yes. And here's another worker-bee email:
Just to back up some of your other correspondents. I spent 27 years total in the AF - with a Top Secret clearance. I had at times, specific appended code word clearances, which are controlled on a strict need-to-know basis - because they often involve sensitive sources (say, you are getting data from a mole in the Itanian Gov. - that particular data would be graded TS and then given a code word to further identify it as very sensitive and to restrict access from those with just general TS clearances). In a nutshell, the security system from least classified to most classified was: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, Top Secret codeword). When we worked on Top Secret codeword (it might read something like Top Secret Fishhook), it was in a vault and our notes were put in burn bags. We were not allowed to take any notes out -period. We clearly understood that you didn't screw around with Secret, much less TS or TS codeword. For us a slip-up meant the slammer. What Berger did is so far removed from accepted security procedure, that I can only see two possible explanations: dishonesty with an ulterior motive (political CYA, I would guess) Or he's crazy. There is no way a veteran in the security business doesn't understand the gravity of walking out with TS codeword data.
Did Sandy just think that he shouldn't have to follow the rules?
Reader Jon Henke is unhappy with the Archives staff:
In all the fuss about Berger's multiple inadvertent security breaches, why is nobody questioning the role of the security personnel, who--apparently--saw him hiding and walking out with documents on multiple occasions, yet never stopped him.
Certainly, I want to know why he did it, but I'm a bit more concerned that the personnel guarding our classified documents give violators a 4-5 instance head start before doing something about it.
And Michael Ubaldi writes:
It's worth noting, in light of appeals for us to give Berger "the benefit of the doubt," that the benefit of the doubt was given to Berger - by National Archives staff, the first time he got caught.
MORE: Another "worker bee" emails:
Glenn, I really must take great offense at both Claire Berlinski and Virginia Postrel. I handle tons of classified documents every day, and have for 27 years in the United States Navy. I do not ever forget that loose lips sink ships, and I do not think that the Berger the Bumbler theory has any credibility at all. Facts which oppose this theory are as follows: All of the drafts and the handwritten notes removed WERE ALL REGARDING THE SAME REPORT, the drafts of the after action report written by Richard Clarke regarding the millennium celebration terrorism threat. If he was just a bumbler, he would have removed various items on many different topics, not on all the same topic. And the fact that they were DRAFTS leads me to conclude that there were unedited passages in those drafts, which were probably more truthful than the final version, that probably made Berger or President Clinton or both look really bad. This would damage Berger's ability to obtain a high level job in the Kerry administration, further tarnish Clinton's reputation as a President, and invariably help George Bush. So, before the 9/11 commission could find them, Berger took the drafts, destroyed the offending passages and returned what was left. I really do not see how the bumbler theory makes any sense, and I highly object to the idea that people who work with very highly classified information simply forget the rules. Only someone who DOES NOT work with very highly classified information could possibly make that charge. My two cents, please do not use my name, workplace, or contact info if you use any of this on your website.