What Law Did Sandy Berger Break?

Even if the story is exactly as Sandy Berger and his attorneys describe it–the documents accidentally fell into his pants and so forth–it’s rather apparent that he broke the law. This law: TITLE 18 , PART I , CHAPTER 37 , Sec. 791., Sec. 793.

Glenn Reynolds, who teaches National Security Law but admits not being an expert on this precise issue, has more. His summation:

[T]he decision to charge someone, even someone admittedly guilty, is always a matter of discretion, and criminal charges against a former National Security Adviser are a rather big deal. It’s easy to understand why the Justice Department might be reluctant to bring such charges even if it’s satisfied that all the elements of the crime are present.

Quite true. I’d like to get a better explanation of exactly what Berger was trying to accomplish and let this one percolate a bit more before deciding what punishment, if any, is appropriate. Berger gave many years in the public service and, so far as I’m aware, this is the first time he’s even been accused of anything remotely sinister. Even aside from the baffling issue of why, I would be interested in knowing–if it’s knowable–what harm Berger’s theft caused.

There has to be a consequence for this type of behavior, though. If a former National Security Advisor– invested with so must trust that it never even occurs to anyone that he needs to be monitored while in a room with highly classified material–can plead “oops” on something so blatant, I don’t know how we can ever hold a soldier accountable again.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Law and the Courts, , ,
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:

    Even aside from the baffling issue of why, I would be interested in knowing–if it’s knowable–what harm Berger’s theft caused.

    An equally important question is what harm will be done if this is ignored?

    What lower peons will think this behavior is OK?

  2. jd watson says:

    At the very least his security clearance should be voided.

  3. Herb Ely says:

    I think of all our extra effort to treat certain documents with great care, only to learn that Ames and Hansen were giving away the store – and could have been detected if their superiors had only enforced the rules. Why should anyone be careful if the National Security Advisor can flout the rules?

  4. jen says:

    Whether there was obvious harm or not is not the issue. The issue is that he clearly broke the law and security protocol. It’s maddening to me that people at such a high level are rarely taken to task for this kind of thing when peons are constantly taken to task for this kind of thing. If I had done that, I would be facing a pretty stiff fine and/or prison. Not to mention having my clearance revoked and being fired from my job.

    I’m getting more angry with each instance of “let’s cut the guy a break” simply because he was the National Security Advisor. It’s because he was the National Security Advisor that prosecution should be seriously considered and pursued.