I just noticed this late story off the AP wire that Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor, is the focus, in the AP's words, "of a criminal investigation after admitting he removed highly classified terrorism documents from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings."
"I deeply regret the sloppiness involved," the article quotes Berger telling the AP, "but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced."
It's worth reading the whole article to get all the details, limited as they are.
The whole thing seems almost inexplicable. If I understand the article correctly, Berger took with him out of the secure reading room several highly classified documents relating to the 1999 millenium terrorist threats, as well as handwritten notes he took while reviewing those and other documents.
But these aren't original documents, but rather copies -- at least that's what the article says (see paragraphs 3 and 7).
So even if one imagines the most nefarious intentions -- which I'm certainly not inclined to do -- it's hard to imagine what taking copies of such documents would have been meant to accomplish. At the same time, Berger has spent his career in and out of the national security bureaucracy and must know the dos and don'ts of custody of classified materials like the back of his hand. So I don't know what he could have been thinking.
As I said, the whole thing seems almost inexplicable to me.
The key paragraph in the piece seems to be this one ...
Berger and his lawyer said Monday night that he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had taken from classified anti-terrorist documents he reviewed at the National Archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, they said.
The key here of course is what if any distinction there is between the two things.
I've spent so much time over the last several months reporting on a project that has to do with classified materials that I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know just what the rules are for taking notes of such classified documents in secure reading rooms. (Needless to say I've never found myself in such a situation and doubt very much that I ever will.)
I would imagine they are quite strict and that you're not allowed to just take such notes with you except under the most limited of circumstances, if at all. Obviously, if you can write down the contents of classified documents and then take your notes with you then basically you're taking the document itself -- since the issue is not the physical document but its contents. Again, though, I simply don't know.
The article says that "when asked, Berger said he returned some of the classified documents, which he found in his office, and all of the handwritten notes he had taken from the secure room, but said he could not locate two or three copies of the highly classified millennium terror report."
That would seem to imply that he wasn't supposed to have the written notes either, though not definitively.
What this AP
story reports is quite limited; and I'm going to reserve judgment until I know more of the facts and the rules governing this particular situation. But on the face of it, it does seem, as I said, inexplicable. And these are the sorts of incidents that, quite apart from criminal prosecution, rightly or wrongly, often end any future possibility of government service. Late Update
: As of late Monday evening, there is now an expanded version of the AP article
that clarifies or at least expands on some of the issues noted above.
There's this graf on the notes issue ...
Berger was allowed to take handwritten notes but also knew that taking his own notes out of the secure reading room was a "technical violation of Archive procedures, but it is not all clear to us this represents a violation of the law," Breuer said.
In the more recent version
of the article, however, the issue of copies versus originals seems more muddled, which ain't good.