The recently disclosed inspector general’s report on the theft of documents from the National Archives fails to answer one key question: What on earth was Sandy Berger thinking?
Berger was President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser and his liaison with the 9/11 commission, and in that capacity Berger spent several days at the National Archives in 2003 reviewing reports on how the Clinton White House responded to the millennium terrorist threats. For whatever reason, he sneaked five of the highly classified documents out of the archives, very much a security no-no. At one point, on the pretext of taking a break, he left the archives and stashed the pilfered documents under a construction trailer at the corner of Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, which must have been nerve-wracking since that intersection is in full view of not only the Archives but the FBI and Justice Department.
Again, for whatever reason since the archives had copies, he destroyed three of the documents by cutting them up with scissors and then tried unsuccessfully to retrieve the pieces from the trash collector. How he would have explained to the archives why its documents were all taped back together is another unanswered question.
Berger got caught when the archives staff became suspicious and quietly numbered the documents he received. The inspector general chided the staff for being too deferential to Berger, but if you can’t trust a former national security adviser, who’s already been entrusted with some of the nation’s most closely held secrets, whom can you trust?
The report did knock down one version of events — that he sneaked the documents out in his socks — that Berger insisted was a canard. The report quoted Berger as saying that he was fiddling around his ankles because “his shoes frequently came untied and his socks fell down.” Glad that’s cleared up.
Berger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of unauthorized removal of classified documents and paid a $50,000 fine. The still-vociferous band of Clinton haters insisted it wasn’t enough. But with the release of this report he does suffer another punishment — ridicule.