More Details About Archives Case

Friday, December 22, 2006

Former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger has admitted taking five slightly different copies of a highly classified document from the National Archives in 2003 by stuffing them into his suit and sneaking them past guards. He was eventually detected, confronted and ordered by a federal judge to pay a $50,000 fine for his illegal actions.

A newly released report by the National Archives' Office of the Inspector General contains fresh details of the incident, which involved a classified Clinton administration study called the Millennium Alert After Action Review (MAAR).

The document was an assessment of the nation's handling of a series of terrorist threats in 1999 and its continuing vulnerabilities. It was distributed to only about 15 people and contained 29 recommendations for action and funding.

During four visits to the Archives in 2003, Berger worked at a small table in the office of a senior Archives official, instead of in the public reading room -- a practice the inspector general said was "unauthorized." The official, whose name was redacted from the report, violated standard protocol by leaving the office to give Berger privacy to speak on the telephone.

Berger gave an account of his actions in an interview at his office on July 8, 2005, described below in excerpts from the report. He sought at the outset to deflect any suggestion that he pressured the Archives official into relaxing the rules.

-- R. Jeffrey Smith

"Mr. Berger described his personality as intense. . . . He did not feel he was overbearing and did not seek to intimidate anyone while at the Archives."

Berger said he started taking the copies on Sept. 2, to help him prepare for his testimony before a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Mr. Berger took the first opportunity when[redacted] was out of[redacted] office to remove the document. He most likely put it in his jacket pocket, after folding it, but he does not have a precise recollection of where he put the document. It is perceivable he put it in his pants pocket. . . .

Mr. Berger denied removing any documents in his socks. . . . He stated his shoes frequently come untied . . . and his socks frequently fell down. [At that point, Mr. Berger lifted his pant leg to reveal a sock falling down his ankle and pale skin.]"

On a subsequent visit, on Oct. 2, Berger was surprised to see other copies of the document in the files he was given, and he slid each one under his briefcase to hide them.

"In total, he removed four documents, all versions of the MAAR . . . . He did not put the documents on his person until he was alone. . . .[Name redacted] suggested he take a walk and come back and finish up. Mr. Berger left the building with all the documents he put in his pockets. . . .

It was dark. He did not want to run the risk of bringing the documents back in the building. . . . He headed towards a construction area on Ninth Street. Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ[Department of Justice] , and did not see anyone. He removed the documents from his pockets, folded the notes in a 'V' shape and . . . walked inside a construction fence and slid the documents under a trailer.

[After 7 p.m.,] Mr. Berger left the building, retrieved the documents and notes from the construction area, and returned to his office. . . . On Oct. 4, 2003[name redacted] called Mr. Berger . . .[and] said documents were missing after Mr. Berger's visit. . . . Mr. Berger lied to[redacted] telling[redacted] he did not take the documents. . . .

Mr. Berger drove to his office late that afternoon. On the night of Oct. 2, 2003, 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. . . .

About 7 p.m., Mr. Berger called[redacted] and said 'I think I solved the mystery.' . . . Mr. Berger told[redacted] , 'I found two documents but not the other two.' "

Archives officials -- who had grown so suspicious of Berger in September that they secretly numbered the documents he saw in October -- got angry when they retrieved the two copies at Berger's home on Oct. 6. and saw that one had indeed been taken in September.

The Archives moved cautiously at the outset. The report quotes a senior official as saying he "could not explain" why agency officials did not immediately call the FBI. They did call the White House, but the FBI and the Justice Department were not brought into the case until nine days after two of the five documents were retrieved.

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