Disturbing Berger Details

Count me as one of those who has never understood the disparate treatment of the Berger document theft and the supposed outing of Valerie Plame. (I contend that when you enter and exit work through the front gates of Langley daily that your employment there is not exactly the most closely guarded government secret.) Actually, I do understand the difference in the way the two matters were treated. It has to do with politics and media bias, but that is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I just think it is insanely ridiculous that the two matters were treated so differently.

Anyhow, since Kevin is covering the Libby trial today (and doing an excellent job of it, in fact) I am going to take the opportunity to revisit Berger, being prompted by a John Fund piece at the Wall Street Journal that included some information I had not previously seen.

Prosecutors accepted Mr. Berger’s assurance that he had taken only five documents from the archives, even though on three of his four visits there he had access to original working papers of the National Security Council for which no adequate inventory exists. Nancy Smith, the archives official who provided the materials to Mr. Berger, said that she would “never know what if any original documents were missing.” We have only Mr. Berger’s word that he didn’t take anything else. The Justice Department secured his agreement to take a polygraph on the matter, but never followed through and administered it.

I have read over and over again from Berger/Clinton apologists that Berger did not take any original documents from the archives. That does not appear to be the case. What I find even more disturbing than that is that “no adequate inventory exists” for some of the documents. These are classified documents — working papers of the National Security Council — and there is no adequate inventory? I find it almost impossible to get my brain around that fact, but will save that rant for another day. Fund goes on about the risks Berger took and about the lies that were told to the 9/11 Commission.

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The issue is still relevant. Officials of the 9/11 Commission are now on record expressing “grave concern” about the materials to which Mr. Berger had access. A report from the National Archives Inspector General last month found he took extraordinary measures to spirit them out of the archives, including hiding them in his pockets and socks. He also went outside without an escort and put some documents under a construction trailer, from where he could later retrieve them.

After archives staff became suspicious of Mr. Berger during his third visit, they numbered some of the documents he looked at. After he left, they reviewed the documents and noted that No. 217 was missing. The next time he came, the staff gave him another copy of 217 with the comment that it had been inadvertently not made available to him during his previous visit. Mr. Berger appropriated the same document again.There are conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job, and there are people who believe Bush lied about WMD then gave that as the main reason to invade Iraq knowing none would be found. I have a feeling those same people would find it impossible to believe that Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor destroyed documents which exposed a failings of the Clinton administration on the issue of fighting terrorism prior to 9/11. We may never know what was in those documents, but there are still at least a few people interested in getting answers.

The Inspector General’s report found that the papers Mr. Berger took outlined the adequacy of the government’s knowledge of terrorist threats in the U.S. in the final months of the Clinton administration–documents that could have been of some interest to the 9/11 Commission, before which Mr. Berger was scheduled to testify. The Washington Post buried news of the Inspector General’s report on page 7; the New York Times dumped it on page 36.

But the report did catch the attention of Rep. Tom Davis, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who last month, while he was still committee chairman, finished his own probe of the Berger affair. This week he and 17 other top Republicans wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to detail the deficiencies the committee has found in the Justice Department’s handling of the Berger case. They specifically asked him to administer the polygraph examination that Mr. Berger agreed to but was inexplicably never given.

Philip Zelikow and Daniel Marcus, respectively the executive director and general counsel of the 9/11 Commission, told Mr. Davis’s investigators that they were never told Mr. Berger had access to original classified documents for which no copies existed. Had he known, Mr. Zelikow says, he would had “grave concern.”

As it was, the 9/11 Commission was not informed of any investigation of Mr. Berger’s alleged tampering with documents until only two days before his testimony, and then in only the most vague terms. Not only were the 9/11 Commission not told that Mr. Berger had access to original documents; they were affirmatively led to believe that the commission got all the documents that Mr. Berger took. Both Mr. Zelikow and Mr. Marcus understood Justice to mean that there was no way Mr. Berger had taken any other documents. An investigator for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee bluntly told Fox News last week: “The Justice Department lied to the 9/11 Commission about Sandy Berger. That is a fact.” A Justice Department spokesman still insists it “has no evidence that Sandy Berger’s actions deprived the 9/11 Commission of documents.” But that raises the question: How hard did Justice look for such evidence?I don’t imagine the new majority in Congress will be looking for the answers to these questions either.

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