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WASHINGTON – In a blockbuster revelation that may prove to be the most shocking scandal of the Clinton administration, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger is under criminal investigation for pocketing highly classified terrorism documents prior to the Sept. 11 Commission hearings.
Berger is the focus of a Justice Department investigation for removing the documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room, the Associated Press is reporting. He has been serving as a national security adviser to John Kerry’s campaign.
FBI agents searched Berger’s home and office after he voluntarily returned some 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 yesterday he knowingly removed handwritten notes he made while reading classified anti-terror documents at the archives by sticking them in his jacket, pants and socks. They said he also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.
“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 Kerry.
Berger was in the National Archives rifling through the files at the request of former President Clinton, who asked him 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 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, but could not locate two or three copies of the highly classified millennium terror report.
The officials said the missing documents 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 seaports.
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, officials and lawyers told the AP.
“In the course of reviewing over several days thousands of pages of documents on behalf of the Clinton administration in connection with requests by the Sept. 11 commission, I inadvertently took a few documents from the Archives,” Berger told the AP. “When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded,” he said.
Breuer said Berger believed he was looking at copies of the classified documents, not originals.
Berger took handwritten notes on the classified papers, which his lawyer claims was “technical violation of Archive procedures, but it is not all clear to us this represents a violation of the law.”
Berger testified at one of the commission’s public hearings about the Clinton administration’s approach to fighting terrorism. The former president answered questions at a private meeting.
The former national security adviser had ordered his anti-terror czar, Richard Clarke, in early 2000 to write the after-action report and has spoken publicly about how the review brought to the forefront the realization that al-Qaida had reached America’s shores and required more attention.
Berger testified that during the millennium period, “we thwarted threats and I do believe it was important to bring the principals together on a frequent basis” to consider terror threats more regularly, according to the AP report.
The missing documents involve two or three draft versions of the report as it was evolving and being refined by the Clinton administration, officials and lawyers say. The Archives is believed to have copies of some of the missing documents.
Breuer said the Archives staff first raised concerns with Berger during an Oct. 2 review of documents that at least one copy of the post-millennium report he had reviewed earlier was missing. Berger was given a second copy that day, Breuer said.
Officials familiar with the investigation said Archives staff specially marked the documents and when the new copy and others disappeared, Archives officials called Clinton attorney Bruce Lindsey to report the disappearance.
Berger immediately returned all the notes he had taken, and conducted a search and located two copies of the classified documents on a messy desk in his office, Breuer said. An Archives official came to Berger’s home to collect those documents but Berger couldn’t locate the other missing copies, the lawyer said.
He retained counsel, and in January the FBI executed search warrants of a safe at Berger’s home as well as his business office where he found some of the documents. Agents also failed to locate the missing documents, according to the AP account.
Justice Department officials have told the Sept. 11 commission of the Berger incident and the nature of the documents in case commissioners wanted more information, officials said. The commission is expected to release its final report Thursday.
Congressional intelligence committees, however, have not been formally notified.
“The House Intelligence Committee has not been informed on the loss or theft of any classified intelligence information from the Archives, but we will follow up and get the information that is appropriate for the committee to have,” the committee said Monday in a statement. “And if it has occurred, we should be informed. If there has been delay in getting the information to the committee we need to know why.”
Berger is the second high-level Clinton-era official to face charges 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.