Sandy Berger’s preferred excuse, one that Bill Clinton himself has publicly endorsed, that his “sloppiness” led to the pilfering of classified documents from the National Archives takes another body blow in today’s Washington Post. John Harris and Susan Schmidt report that National Archive staff had become so suspicious of Berger’s conduct that they implemented a special coding system to, in effect, sting him for his repeated security violations:
Last Oct. 2, former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger stayed huddled over papers at the National Archives until 8 p.m. What he did not know as he labored through that long Thursday was that the same Archives employees who were solicitously retrieving documents for him were also watching their important visitor with a suspicious eye.
After Berger’s previous visit, in September, Archives officials believed documents were missing. This time, they specially coded the papers to more easily tell whether some disappeared, said government officials and legal sources familiar with the case. …
A government official with knowledge of the investigation said Archives employees took action promptly after noticing a missing document in September. This official said an Archives employee called former White House deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey, who is former president Bill Clinton’s liaison to the National Archives. The Archives employee said documents were missing and would have to be returned.
Under this version of events — which Breuer denied — documents were returned the following day from Berger’s office to the Archives. Not included in these papers, the government official said, were any drafts of the document at the center of this week’s controversy.
The documents that Berger has acknowledged taking — some of which remain missing — are different drafts of a January 2000 “after-action review” of how the government responded to terrorism plots at the turn of the millennium. The document was written by White House anti-terrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke, at Berger’s direction when he was in government.
According to this chronology, Berger took the missing documents at issue in September, not October, and returned to take even more documents after that security breach. Not only does this tend to indict NA security officers — who never should have let Berger back in after the first security lapse, but obviously politics played a part in that decision — but it demolishes any notion that Berger’s supposedly legendary sloppiness led to an inadvertent theft, a notion ridiculous on its face. As I’ve described before, classified documents have brightly-colored covers indicating their level of classification, and in any case SCI-classified (codeword) material is never supposed to leave the Archives.
So what happened when Berger returned on October 2? Berger fell into the trap that National Archives security staff set up for him:
The government source said the Archives employees were deferential toward Berger, given his prominence, but were worried when he returned to view more documents on Oct. 2. They devised a coding system and marked the documents they knew Berger was interested in canvassing, and watched him carefully. They knew he was interested in all the versions of the millennium review, some of which bore handwritten notes from Clinton-era officials who had reviewed them. At one point an Archives employee even handed Berger a coded draft and asked whether he was sure he had seen it.
At the end of the day, Archives employees determined that that draft and all four or five other versions of the millennium memo had disappeared from the files, this source said.
This source and another government official said that archivists gave Berger use of a special room for reviewing the documents. He was examining the documents to recommend to the Bush administration which papers should be released to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said that employees closely monitor anyone cleared to review classified presidential materials.
And now we get to the crux of the problem, besides the obvious and purposeful security breaches that Berger committed. This description of the material makes clear that while the documents themselves in their original form were copies of a memo, they had handwritten notes on them that made each one unique. It also acknowledges his role in selecting documents for the 9/11 Commission to review as part of its investigation.
What exactly did Clinton Administration officials write on those after-action draft memos that Berger and others didn’t want the 9/11 Commission to see?
We’ll probably never know now, thanks to Berger’s theft and the unwillingness of the National Archive’s security staff to enforce its procedures.