WASHINGTON – President Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, is the focus of a Justice Department investigation for removing highly classified terrorism documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings, the Associated Press is reporting.
FBI agents searched Berger’s home and office earlier this year after he voluntarily returned documents to the National Archives. However, AP reports, still missing are some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration’s handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration.
Berger and his lawyer told the news agency today he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had made while reading classified anti-terror documents at the archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, they said.
“I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, 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,” Berger said in a statement to the AP.
According to the AP, Lanny Breuer, one of Berger’s attorneys, said his client has offered to cooperate fully with the investigation but had not yet been interviewed by the FBI or prosecutors. Berger has been told he is the subject of the criminal investigation, Breuer said.
Berger served as Clinton’s national security adviser for all of the president’s second term and most recently has been informally advising Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Clinton asked Berger last year to review and select the administration documents that would be turned over to the commission.
The FBI searches of Berger’s home and office occurred after National Archives employees told agents they believed they saw Berger place documents in his clothing while reading sensitive Clinton administration papers and that some documents were then noticed missing, officials said.
When asked, Berger said he returned some classified documents that he found in his office and all of the handwritten notes he had taken from the secure room, but could not locate two or three copies of the highly classified millennium terror report.
The officials said the missing documents were highly classified, and included critical assessments about the Clinton administration’s handling of the millennium terror threats as well as identification of America’s terror vulnerabilities at airports to sea ports.
In the FBI search of his office, Berger also was found in possession of a small number of classified note cards containing his handwritten notes from the Middle East peace talks during the 1990s, but those are not a focus of the current criminal probe, officials and lawyers said.
Berger is the second high-level Clinton-era official to face controversy over taking classified information home.
Former CIA Director John Deutch was pardoned by Clinton just hours before Clinton left office in 2001 for taking home classified information and keeping it on unsecured computers at his home during his time at the CIA and Pentagon. Deutch was about to enter into a plea agreement for a misdemeanor charge of mishandling government secrets when the pardon was granted.