Berger Accidentally Took Documents on Multiple Occasions

USA Today seriously buries its lede. Several paragraphs into a story I would have skipped because of the mundane headline “Berger drops out as Kerry foreign-policy adviser” — old news by blog standards — is this rather important bit of information:

After one of his visits to the Archives last fall, one of the government officials said, Berger was alerted to the missing documents and later returned some of the materials. On subsequent visits by Berger, Archives staffers specially marked documents he reviewed to try to ensure their return. But the government official said some of those materials also went missing, prompting Archives staffers to alert federal authorities.

So, he accidentally took documents more than once, and only after a pattern emerged did the staffers report him. I guess Berger really is sloppy.

Hat tips: Glenn Reynolds and Bill Hobbs

Update: Byron York makes some related points and sheds additional light on the severity of the situation.

[I]t appears that some of the evidence in the case casts doubt on Berger’s explanation. First, Berger has reportedly conceded that he knowingly hid his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants in order to sneak them out of the Archives. Any notes made from classified material have to be cleared before they can be removed from the Archives — a common method of safeguarding classified information — and Berger’s admission that he hid the notes in his clothing is a clear sign of intent to conceal his actions.

Second, although Berger said he reviewed thousands of pages, he apparently homed in on a single document: the so-called “after-action report” on the Clinton administration’s handling of the millennium plot of 1999/2000. Berger is said to have taken multiple copies of the same paper. He is also said to have taken those copies on at least two different days. There have been no reports that he took any other documents, which suggests that his choice of papers was quite specific, and not the result of simple carelessness.

Third, it appears that Berger’s “inadvertent” actions clearly aroused the suspicion of the professional staff at the Archives. Staff members there are said to have seen Berger concealing the papers; they became so concerned that they set up what was in effect a small sting operation to catch him. And sure enough, Berger took some more. Those witnesses went to their superiors, who ultimately went to the Justice Department. (There was no surveillance camera in the room in which Berger worked with the documents, meaning there is no videotape record of the incidents.)

The documents Berger took — each copy of the millennium report is said to be in the range of 15 to 30 pages — were highly secret. They were classified at what is known as the “code word” level, which is the government’s highest tier of secrecy. Any person who is authorized to remove such documents from a special secure room is required to do so in a locked case that is handcuffed to his or her wrist.

If this was Sensitive Compartmented Information, this is serious indeed. The “inadvertant” defense has always been obviously absurd but rendered even more so by the repeated nature of this.

I understand why Berger was given access to the materials and not closely supervised. I can’t understand why, once suspicions were aroused, that didn’t immediately change. A former NSA is entitled to be treated as if above suspicion. Until he’s not.

Hat tip to Little Miss Attila, who has an extensive roundup and commentary.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    what an idiot

  2. jen says:

    It’s beyond idiocy – it’s a serious breach of security protocol. Any average civilian would have been prosecuted by now.

  3. Attila Girl says:

    I think the term is “cover-up.”

  4. Timmer says:


    Everyone who deals with this information KNOWS you can’t do this type of crap. The fact that he’s a former NSA makes it worse, not better. Why isn’t he in jail? Motives be damned, he’s already admitted to mishandling some of the most sensitive information that this country produces.

    This isn’t lying about a blowjob, this is blatant mishandling of sensitive, classified, information. If you or I did this, we’d be led away in cuffs and would be looking at $50k in fines and 10 years in prison for each offense.