President Bill Clinton signed a letter authorizing former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger’s access to classified documents that later came up missing, according to a newly released investigation report by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The sensitive drafts of the National Security Council’s “Millennium After Action Review” on the Clinton administration’s handling of the al-Qaida terror threats in December 1999 suspiciously disappeared after Berger said he intended to “determine if Executive Privilege needed to be exerted prior to documents being provided to the 9/11 Commission.” Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before the 9-11 commission about the millennium report, urging the panel to ask why the document’s warnings and “blueprint” to thwart al-Qaida’s plans to target the U.S. were ignored by the Clinton administration and not shared with the incoming Bush security staff.
The NARA investigation report said Clinton signed an April 12, 2002, letter designating Berger – and another person whose named is redacted – as “agents on his behalf to review relevant NSC documents regarding Osama Bin Laden/Al Qaeda, Sudan and Presidential correspondence from or to (Sudanese President) Omar Bashir, contained in the Clinton Presidential records.” A subsequent letter from a National Security Council official, May 14, 2002, said Berger repeatedly was briefed that “he was not allowed to remove any documentation from NARA.”
Last year, Berger plea bargained a criminal sentence on the charge of unlawfully removing and retaining classified documents. A judge gave him no prison time, a $50,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and a ban from access to classified material for three years.
According to the NARA report, after the 9-11 attacks, Clinton administration officials were swamped with calls regarding their handling of terrorist threats, and Berger soon realized he would have to testify. Berger said he put in over 100 unpaid hours of his time to be responsive.
The former White House adviser said the documents up for review were so numerous that he was unable to reconstruct them from memory, so he took 10-to-12 pages of notes and hid them in the pocket of his blazer.
The investigation report says, however, the May 14, 2002, letter stated “notes may be taken but must be retained by NARA staff and forwarded to the NSC for a classification review and appropriate marking. Berger, the letter said, “was made aware of this requirement.”
In July 2003, Berger’s handling of the papers began to “cause archival concerns in maintaining provenance” after he asked to leave the viewing office several times to hold very private phone calls. Later, in September, Berger once again stepped out of the office and headed for the men’s room, but personnel reported an unknown white object beneath his pant leg.
A witness said Berger “bent down, fiddling with something white, which could have been papers, around his ankle.”
After Berger’s actions aroused suspicion in September 2003, an unnamed archives official hand-numbered drafts provided to Berger as a means of controlling the documents without consulting with NARA general counsel, security, management, the Office of the Inspector General or law enforcement.
In October, Berger returned to the archives office and was given one file folder of documents at a time. The NARA report indicates an e-mail numbered 217 came up missing after he reviewed it. Berger later said he slid the document under his portfolio.
When personnel noticed it was missing, they offered a copy of document 217 to Berger, and he reportedly slid the second file under his portfolio as well. Later, Berger said if he had been asked to return the file “it would have triggered a decision for him to give the documents back.”
Instead, Berger said he had to make a private phone call and went to a desk outside the office. However, the phone line remained unlit, and he quickly departed to the restroom, a location from which he was reported to have recently returned.
Berger made numerous suspicious visits to the men’s room in which personnel were concerned he might be hiding documents. He said he “went to the restroom on an average of every 30 minutes to one hour to use the facilities and stretch his legs.”
According to the NARA report, Berger claimed he accidentally took the files outside of the archives building and didn’t want to risk bringing documents back because personnel might notice something unusual. Instead, he took the files to a fenced construction area on Ninth Street, slid them under a trailer and returned to the office to finish his review. After doing so, he returned to the site, reclaimed the documents and took them to his office.
During the visit, Berger is reported to have hidden four documents in his pockets, all versions of the Millennium Alert After Action Review.
Archives officials decided to call Berger and ask him for the documents. He said he didn’t think he had any files. They advised him NARA was treating the matter as a security infraction and was going to report the incident to the National Security Council. If Berger admitted to taking the documents by mistake, the incident would be reported as inadvertent removal. But, he maintained that staff members were in error, and he had given the files back to an assistant.
Later that evening, Berger claimed to have found two documents, and NARA made arrangements to pick up the files the following morning. However, NARA reports the documents were an e-mail and a facsimile Berger reviewed Sept. 2, 2003, not classified files viewed Oct. 2, 2003.
Berger said he could not find any additional documents and claimed he must have thrown them away. According to the NARA report, “He had destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash. By Saturday, the trash had been picked up. He tried to find the trash collector but had no luck.”
The inspector general was briefed on the incidents Oct. 10. That day, OI investigators recovered documents from Berger’s home at the request of his attorney. Six months later, the Department of Justice notified the 9/11 commission.
Berger said if someone had always been with him, he would not have taken any documents.
Despite his April 1, 2005, guilty plea for Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Material, Berger still vehemently denies smuggling any documents in his socks. According to the report, he said he was adjusting them “because his shoes frequently come untied and his socks frequently fall down.”
Just yesterday, the saga of Berger and the documents was ranked No. 6 on WND’s annual list of most underreported news stories of 2006.