Kudos to Richard Miniter, who has obtained–and posted–the National Archives Inspector General’s report on Sandy Berger’s theft of classified documents from one of the agency’s “reading rooms.” The report can be reviewed in full at Pajamas Media, along with his always-insightful editorial comments.
Reading the IG report tends to affirm our worst suspicions about the Berger affair. In other words, the former Clinton national security advisor got a proverbial slap on the wrist for security lapses that would land most military personnel (and intelligence officials) in federal prison. Mr. Berger pleaded guilty in late 2005 to misdemeanor offenses related to illegally taking, retaining and destroying classified documents. His “punishment” consisted of a $50,000 fine (chump change to a man of Berger’s means); loss of his security clearance for three years, and 100 hours of community service. And, as we’ve noted before, the Bush Justice Department didn’t exactly cover itself in glory through its prosecution of Mr. Berger. Their recommended sentence was even lighter than the punishment actually imposed.
Reviewing the IG report, it seems clear that the charges and sentence didn’t fit the crimes. On page 3 of the report, we learn that Berger was the only Clinton Administration official with the necessary clearances for reviewing highly classified “W” files relating to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida, the terror organization’s relationship to the Sudan, and related events. Mr. Berger had been designated to review the material, in preparation for his testimony before the 9-11 Commission.
The identification of “W” files in the Berger case is a major revelation, in our estimation. Previously, we theorized that the material pilfered by Berger was probably at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) level, representing some of the most classified information in our intelligence archives. Designation of the stolen files at the “W” level suggests that they were classified at an even higher level, restricted to only the most senior government officials.
Within the realm of TS/SCI information, there are various sub-compartments and special access programs (SAR/SAP) that require additional clearances. Information disseminated in these channels is sometimes identified by a single letter. During my career, I had access to three alpha-designated programs, plus others identified by a particular codeword. I won’t reveal those designations in this forum, but they are familiar to those who have held TS/SCI clearances. Security for this information is extremely tight; in some cases, anyone reading a particular document must sign a review sheet; in other cases, you can only access the data by entering a special vault within a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility). In my years as a spook, I never held a “W” clearance, suggesting (again) that the caveat covers extraordinarily sensitive information.
And remember, this is the same intelligence data that Sandy Berger removed from the National Archives, hid under a construction trailer, and later moved to his office. Berger also tried to destroy duplicate copies of particular documents, by tearning them into pieces. Then, when confronted by officials, he lied about his actions.
Equally puzzling is the IG’s disposition of this matter. According to the report, archive employees did not believe that Berger removed the documents to disburse their contents, or commit espionage. This assertion seems to contradict one of the basic tenents of security investigations, i.e. material that is lost or illegally removed from designated storage facilities is considered compromised until proven otherwise. It also seems odd that the IG would simply rely on the opinion of archive employees to determine whether the material was compromised. And their “opinions” were based solely on observation of Berger’s actions.
To this day, we have no idea who might have stumbled across those files during their time under that construction trailer. Ditto for the fragments placed in the trash container, and the 10-20 pages of notes that Berger removed during his first visit to the reading room. There’s also the issue of those private cell phone calls that Berger made during his visits. Cell phones, PDAs, digitial cameras and other electronic devices are normally forbidden in SCIFs. Why was Berger allowed to bring his cell phone inside and make those calls–without supervision from archive staffers?
Sadly, the Berger affair is likely to be buried by the new Democratic Congress and the Bush White House, which apparently consider the matter closed. We’ll see how long the stonewalling persists. The entire matter stinks to high heaven, and there needs to be a full, independent investigation of what Sandy Berger did inside the National Archives, and how it may have compromised the nation’s security.