As anyone who has ever had a security clearance knows, one does not "inadvertently" take classified documents from their secure location to one's home and then accidentally discard the documents, as former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger asserts he did [front page, July 20]. Both the taking and the discarding are conscious acts that violate various laws and provisions.

Particularly egregious, if the allegations are true, is that the documents were critical assessments about the Clinton administration's handling of the millennium terror threat. If that is true, Mr. Berger's action should be dealt with as would other criminal actions, and he should be taught the same lesson that former CIA director John Deutch learned the hard way: There are penalties for such "sloppiness." Violating laws on the handling of classified documents can result in serious damage to national security.

Mr. Berger's suggestion that he accidentally discarded some of the documents is most difficult to accept -- particularly at a time when the Sept. 11 commission was trying to assess the actions of the Clinton administration, records of which Berger was reviewing -- and apparently discarding.



The writer was special assistant to President Ronald Reagan for national security affairs.


Thank you for pointing out the Republicans' overblown reaction to former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger's mishandling of classified documents, especially the contribution of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who termed the situation a "national security crisis" ["The Berger Affair," editorial, July 23]. There is no crisis; Berger just acted mistakenly.

How soon the Republicans have forgotten about a more insidious security crisis -- on an international level -- the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.


Santa Monica, Calif.