July 20, 2004

Sandy "G Gordon" Berger
Posted by Jon Henke

At this point, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the charges against Sandy Berger. However, two things do stand out to me:

1: This is such an irrational act--the idea that he could walk out with classified documents, and nobody would notice or care--that it strikes me that there must be an explanation. As with the "outting of Valerie Plame", I believe that intelligent people simply don't act in such an irrational manner.

2: Unless I'm missing something, this charge seems like a reach....

It will be difficult to explain to anyone's satisfaction why Berger felt the need to stuff notes from sensitive documents down his pants.
Why would that be difficult to explain? I can't speak for Sandy Berger, but my pants are where I keep my pockets. The cited story says Berger stuck "them in his jacket and pants", which doesn't really indicate whether he had put them in pockets or not....but that doesn't seem like an unreasonable assumption, unless we have specific information to the contrary.

We'll have to wait for more information, but I doubt this will be the scandal it first appears. I'm most reminded of the Paul O'Neill mini-drama with classified documents, in which he was eventually cleared.

UPDATE: If this is true, it would seem to bode less well for Berger...

Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed the handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket, pants and socks, and also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.

Pants, jacket....I can see that. Socks? Well.

UPDATE II: The "socks" story isn't holding up so well...

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Comments

Jon, I don't think Berger put the documents in his pockets. It's apparent that he was deliberately removing classified documents from the viewing room. The easiest way to do that is to put the papers into a folder and tuck the folder into the back of your pants, and then cover them with your jacket.

Berger was Clinton's security advisor. He didn't "inadvertanly" take classified documents. I worked in classified areas for years, this wasn't a memory lapse here, was a deliberate act.

From the story:

When asked, Berger said he returned some of the classified documents, which he found in his office, and all of the handwritten notes he had taken from the secure room, but said he could not locate two or three copies of the highly classified millennium terror report.

Two or three copies? I can accept ONE copy of such a sensitive document missing, but two or three? This doesn't look like an accident to me, especially since...

The officials said the missing documents were highly classified, and included critical assessments about the Clinton administration's handling of the millennium terror threats as well as identification of America's terror vulnerabilities at airports to sea ports.

Berger isn't some idiot handling classified material for the first time. He is a former security advisor, he knew exactly which documents he was taking, and he made a conscious effort to remove them from the building.

Posted by: Steverino at July 20, 2004 09:22 AM

Indeed, you may be right. We really can't tell right now.

However, as Berger apparently took copies of the report in question, it's hard to see what his motivation might be.

I find it hard to believe that Berger would seriously think he can abscond with important documents in full view of these agencies. It strikes me that there is another explaation.

Of course, I could be wrong, too....

Posted by: Jon Henke at July 20, 2004 09:41 AM

The Paul O'Neill comparison doesn't really work... O'Neill said he called for all the documents he was allowed to take and for one reason or another, they gave him classified documents. This involves Berger taking documents without permission.

Posted by: HH at July 20, 2004 09:50 AM

I don't care....this guy is a foreign policy advisor to Kerry? Time to crucify Kerry. This is surely another sign of the unseriousness this ticket gives to national security. But even more so than that, what was in those papers? Was there something in there detrimental to Kerry (regarding Logan airport security holes perhaps?)

What is Berger trying to hide? What does Kerry know, and when did he know it?

You know if this was a republican, it would be a HUGE scandal. Sauce for the goose- why is a Kerry advisor stealing classified memos? And will Kerry at least dismiss the guy??


Posted by: shark at July 20, 2004 09:55 AM

It's the Clinton filing methodology. Old habits die hard.

http://orsa.blogspot.com/2004/07/oops-more-errorism-from-7-11_20.html

Posted by: SDH at July 20, 2004 10:02 AM

Yes, I understand that many partisans are applying a different standard to a Clinton appointee than they would to a member of the Bush administration.

But, that works both ways, you know.

Henry: I didn't mean the O'Neill comparison to be a direct 1:1 analogy. I'm aware that there are differences, but it strikes me that this incident will ultimately be a similarly less objectionable incident, much like that story.

Posted by: Jon Henke at July 20, 2004 10:08 AM

Yes, I understand that many partisans are applying a different standard to a Clinton appointee than they would to a member of the Bush administration

Kerry advisor. Isn't that a bit more important to note than former Clinton Advisor?

Man, if a Cheney advisor had done this, the Halliburton cries would be deafening.

Mr. Rove, please crucify Kerry with this. It's only fair.

Posted by: shark at July 20, 2004 10:57 AM

Jon,

I have to confess to being outraged by Berger's act, and outraged that you're not more outraged.

"This is such an irrational act ... there must be [a rational] explanation."

Is that what you mean? Whoops? Not that big of a deal? Everybody does it? There but by the Grace of God go I?

grrrrrr ...

Posted by: Tim at July 20, 2004 01:53 PM

According to this CNN story:

http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/07/20/berger.probe/index.html

"A government source said some of the documents at issue were classified as "code word" materials -- the highest level of secrecy in the U.S. government, making them held more closely than nuclear secrets. The source said the 9/11 commission was briefed on the Berger investigation, but the White House was never informed of the matter."

To me, this makes it even more unlikely that Berger would have "inadvertently" walked out with the documents and practically impossible that we would have "inadvertently" destroyed them later.

Look, I could almost buy his explanation if he were talking about some routine Secret-level document that revealed nothing you couldn't discover by reading the paper or the Federation of American Scientists website. But code-word level stuff? Come on. That is the type of information that in the wrong hands, gets people killed. It is marked accordingly, with dire warnings written on it in big, bold colors -- even for somebody who used to work with this level of info everyday, like Sandy Berger used to, there is absolutely NO WAY you would "inadvertently" stick it in your folder and take it home with you. And if you did, there is NO WAY you would "inadvertently" pitch it or stick it in the paper shredder in your home office. I'm not buying into any conspiracy theories about why he did it, but there's absolutely no doubt in my mind he removed it intentionally, which as many others have pointed out, is a major breach of not only security rules, but of U.S. law. If any of this story is true, Sandy Berger should not only be barred from even touching a classified document ever again, he should end up doing time in a federal penitentiary.

bob

Posted by: bob at July 20, 2004 03:17 PM

Ok, I should clarify.

Tim: I'm not suggesting "everybody does it". I'm suggesting that this seems such an irrational, obviously dangerous act, that it seems to me there must be something more to this story.

Bob: I'm not suggesting that he did nothing wrong. That, it seems to me, is an open and shut case, based on what we know. I'm suggesting that it may not be the "cover-up" it first appears.

I'd also suggest that I might be wrong. We simply don't know enough, at this point, to pass final judgement.

Posted by: Jon Henke at July 20, 2004 03:42 PM

Somebody named "gmac" posted a great comment on Michelle Malkin's blog to the effect of 'forget about the political implications and the impact on the election -- think about the impact to our national security.'

Here's a direct quote:
"Knowing that the former National Security Adviser of the United States is so criminally negligent in handling the secrets entrusted to him should and probably will scare the hell out of every human intelligence asset we have. Knowing our top security official takes security so lightly would you trust the U.S. government with your life or that of your family? Would you volunteer information if you knew that the guy responsible to safeguard that information was taking it home to read over with the dog and “inadvertently” disposed of your information in his household trash? Do you think that foreign agents have ever gone through Sandy Berger’s trash post-NSA-employment?"

Posted by: bob at July 20, 2004 03:45 PM

That title is deeply unfair.

G. Gordon Liddy would never have acted in such an amateurish and foolish manner.

Posted by: Sigivald at July 20, 2004 05:51 PM

I work with classified myself, and there's only two plausible reason for Berger to smuggle documents out:

1. Give political operatives a "read ahead" on classified information. It's possible he could have given the info. to Kerry campaign members as well, which would be a political earthquake if revealed.

2. Berger used the documents at his (he's the president) international lobbyist firm, Stonebridge International LLC (http://www.stonebridge-international.com). The firm leans heavily pro-PRC and anti-Taiwan (more anti-Chen, the independence-minded president who was wounded by gunfire during his reelection bid). This would mean that Berger used the information for insider information.

Just my thoughts.

Posted by: Salamis at July 20, 2004 10:42 PM