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July 19, 2004
Clinton NSA Stole Notes, Documents From 9/11 Commission

The AP reports that the FBI has been investigating former Clinton-era National Security Advisor Sandy Berger for theft of classified documents at the time of his 9/11 Commission testimony:

President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, is the focus of a criminal investigation after admitting he removed highly classified terrorism documents from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings, The Associated Press has learned.

Berger's home and office were searched earlier this year by FBI agents armed with warrants. Some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration are still missing.

Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had taken from classified anti-terror documents he reviewed at the National Archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, they said.

It will be difficult to explain to anyone's satisfaction why Berger felt the need to stuff notes from sensitive documents down his pants. Such an act demonstrates rather clearly that Berger knew he was committing a crime at the time he did it. The documents he "inadvertently" stole were the "highly classified" report on the millenium terror threats as well the Clinton Administration's efforts to secure American ports against attack and identify their specific vulnerabilities.

All of this begs the question: what was in those reports, and why would Berger feel the need to take and destroy them, as it appears he did? One can presume that either the contents of the reports were highly unfavorable to the Clinton administration, or Berger has another use for the information. The FBI surely must be investigating all of Berger's contacts to see if those reports were actually destroyed or wound up somewhere else ... somewhere where their information could damage American security.

Is it possible to have a Watergate in an administration after it leaves office?

UPDATE: Jeannebee points out that the reports covered airport security as well as seaport security. What exactly does the Clinton aide not want us to find out? Meanwhile, Stefan at our group blog Oh, That Liberal Media notes that Berger is now the chief foreign policy advisor to John Kerry for the campaign. Could there be something in the report that references the Senator, too?

UPDATE II: From John Kerry's blog on restoring confidence in our intelligence and foreign relations:

As president, I will restore the credibility of our intelligence community by ensuring the basic integrity of the intelligence process. ...

Those who seek to lead have a duty to offer a clear vision of how we can make Americans safer and America more trusted and respected in the world.

Well, they're off to a fine start, by stealing documents from an investigative commission.

UPDATE III: Josh Marshall at TPM acknowledges that this is bad news -- it's really hard to dispute that -- but asks about the rules for taking notes (and keeping them):

I would imagine they are quite strict and that you're not allowed to just take such notes with you except under the most limited of circumstances, if at all. Obviously, if you can write down the contents of classified documents and then take your notes with you then basically you're taking the document itself -- since the issue is not the physical document but its contents. Again, though, I simply don't know.

It's been well over a decade since I worked on such material, but I can tell you the rules even now. It's not just the document itself nor the data that's classified -- it's both, together and separately. If you jot down classified information in the form of notes, they're just as classified as the source material, and even in case of any doubt, you have to treat them as the same classification level until the proper authority can review them. What's more, as a former NSA, Sandy Berger damned well knows this. You cannot take notes from a classified document and just walk out with them in an unsecured and unapproved manner -- and since Berger stuffed them down his pants, I suspect he is well aware of this.

Remember, the Democrats had American national security in this man's hands (and his pants, apparently) for eight years, and Kerry promises more of the same. Chilling, isn't it?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 19, 2004 7:23 PM

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» Breaking: Sandy Berger Under Investigation for Mishandling Classified Documents from Blogs of War
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