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July 20, 2004
Gray Lady Spins It Hard For Kerry, Berger

The New York Times reports on the resignation of Sandy Berger from John Kerry's presidential campaign following reports of the theft of documents from the National Archives. The Gray Lady's David Stout and Mark Glassman throw away any pretense at objectivity as they spin their article hard to port:

Mr. Berger's mishandling of the documents, which were related to terrorism and which he took from the National Archives in preparation for his testimony before the 9/11 commission, seemed today to become a bigger problem for the Kerry campaign almost by the hour and at the worst possible time, as Mr. Kerry is hoping to gain a big lift by next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Mr. Berger, no stranger to the knees and elbows of Washington, apparently bowed to the political reality that "if you have to explain it, don't bother." ...

While Democrats had seemed inclined to give Mr. Berger the benefit of the doubt and accept his explanation that the incident with the documents was inadvertent, Republicans were decidedly less charitable.

Berger didn't "mishandle" anything -- if he took notes from classified documents out by hiding them in his clothing, he knowingly bypassed security protocols that at one time he shared responsibility for enforcing. If Berger took classified documents out from a secured facility into an unsecured environment, he committed a crime, as anyone who has undergone a security briefing for a clearance can tell you. Further, the issue has nothing to do with the "knees and elbows" of Republicans; it has to do with potentially criminal behavior by a senior member of the previous administrations' national-security team, and that in the middle of an investigation.

As I have made eminently clear throughout my postings over the last two days, everyone with a security clearance knows how to handle classified material. No one takes off with secret documents "inadvertently" and then destroys them "inadvertently". Hiding notes in one's clothing to avoid security review would be enough to face criminal charges for anyone working at a defense contractor, even at the lowest classification level. For a former NSA to claim he did it by mistake not only insults the intelligence, but it sets a terrible precedent for everyone who works hard at securing the nation's sensitive information.

If this is how the political appointees treat security procedures without any legal consequences, expect many more problems at lower ranks in the future. If this is how the New York Times treats national security, it only indicates their lack of seriousness and complete bias in their reporting.

UPDATE: Instapundit has a relevant statute from the federal criminal code:

Sec. 793. - Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information

(f)

Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense,

(1)

through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or

(2)

having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer -

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

Inadvertence is no defense against this law; as a clearance holder, the individual is tasked with preventing illegal release of any and all classified material within their control. As has been made clear by Berger's repeated violations (National Archives security personnel had to specially mark documents Berger accessed in order to verify his second theft of materials from the facility), Berger didn't just make one absent-minded mistake. He may not deserve ten years, but he deserves prosecution.

UPDATE II: In a development which explains a lot about the 900 "lost" FBI files during his term and the weak effort against terrorism during his administration, Bill Clinton tells the Denver Post that he considers Berger's actions a joke (via Drudge):

Former president Bill Clinton defends his embattled national security advisor as a man who "always got things right," even if his desk was a mess.

"We were all laughing about it," Clinton said about the investigation into Sandy Berger for taking classified terrorism documents from the National Archives. "People who don't know him might find it hard to believe. But ... all of us who've been in his office have always found him buried beneath papers."

He also is much more concerned that the American public knows about Berger's security violations than the violations themselves. Typical.

UPDATE III: Welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers, and Instapundit readers as well. I'd suggest looking through several entries today, as I've posted several times on different angles on this story. Hope you enjoy and return again! And now this post has been nominated for the Watchers Council weekly roundup ... make sure you read the rest of the nominees.

UPDATE IV: Sean Hackbarth includes this in his weekly House of Ketchup compilation, so if you're finding me from that post, great! Don't forget to check out the Trousergate link in the sidebar for more coverage of the Berger story.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 20, 2004 6:07 PM

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