When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

July 21, 2004

Berger Bust

Bravo Romeo Delta

Since everyone else is doing it, I'll shoot forth my two cents worth on the Berger Bust. For those of you who are getting up to speed, I'd recommend Vodkapundit ( here, here, here, here, here, here) for a fairly critical view of things. Roger Simon's comments offer "Jerry" who has a somewhat more moderate view of things, while Roger's other post on the matter rounds things out a bit. Finally, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall engages in some down right foolishness in regards to the Berger kerfuffle, in trying to parse this one out of the painful spotlight. Among other things kids, copies of classified documents are still classified. It doesn't matter whether or not you were handing your sister's diary around your grade school or Xerox copies of it - your butt is still getting grounded.

Well kids, much like anyone else with some honesty might do, there's not a lot to be said until the all the evidence comes in (don't you wish they had done that with the Niger/WMD claims?).

That said, I think I have a pretty good bead on what's going on here: institutional culture. Just about every agency has radically different cultural views towards secret documents.

Anecdotal Evidence Approaching

For instance, in the State Department, people have to be reminded to do things like return copies of classified documents used in classroom exercises, or instructed about keeping two sets of class notes: those based on classified materials, and those based on unclassified materials. For these folks, classification means diplomatic embarrassment. By and large, they tend to view classified materials in much the same way as a lawyer might view confidential or privileged documents - don't leave it around so just anyone will find it - someone could get embarrassed.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the military and even more so, the intelligence agencies, for whom leaks mean deaths. These people tend, in general, to be good about following procedure. For example, when Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) was invited to speak at a conference on his book, a separate unclassified conference room was rented for his presentation. Just before he began to speak, all the attendees shuffled in, and just after he finished answering questions, they all shuffled out, back to their classified briefings, with classified handouts, classified notes, and classified conversations. Folks in these cultures have grown used to the notion that anything classified that needs to be studied has do be done in a secure environment, and that violating procedure and taking either the materials themselves or notes based on the materials is a quick route to a long walk off a short plank. Secrecy isnít a matter of protocol, itís quite literally a matter of potential life or death.

Now, meanwhile, these State Department folk aren't nearly as rigorous about these items. So how does Sandy Berger fit into all this?

Well, take a look at his bio. You'll note that one of his first jobs out of Harvard Law School was as a lawyer for a Washington law firm doing international trade (hence the notion of confidential and privileged information). And yep, from there he got that whole fuzzy classified/confidential/privileged notion muddled further in his first government job in the State Department.

So yes, what he did is illegal, but he's not been in environments in which the 'sanctity' of classified materials was really either drilled in or reinforced.

From what's come out so far, he knew it was a no-no (otherwise, why the socks?), but he didn't regard it as a cardinal sin, but rather a venal one. How this plays in the press is yet to be seen, but you have to recall that Watergate and Lewinski were both venal sins, until the cover-ups made them mortal and cardinal sins respectively.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at July 21, 2004 12:58 AM

Retaliatiory Launches

Very interesting analysis of what might be the root cause of Berger's taking the papers. I am not convinced myself that there is any ulterior motive to the paper-filching. But I can't explain why he would then stuff notes and documents into his pants and socks.

One would think that after some time around sensitive intel papers in the Clinton White House that some permanent CIA/DIA/NSA staffer migth have told him that when intel is leaked, people die. But, it being the Clinton White House...

Posted by: The Maximum Leader at July 22, 2004 04:22 AM

I agree with your points about diplo vs military - I've experienced it first hand. But what bothers me most is the sheer volume of material, these were multiple copies of thick documents on multiple occasions. Also, the State Department (among other agencies) are getting more serious about protecting classified materials - again, I've been through the training. Bottom line is he screwed up - badly. How is this any different than what's going on at Sandia Labs?

Posted by: Ted at July 23, 2004 04:58 PM

But he was the National Security Advisor to president Clinton, making him privy to the most secret of secrets during the 1990s, and there's no question he knows the protocols. NSA types have to have a more military and less state dept view of secret documents, and his time as Condi Rice's predecessor must have made him well aware of that.

One account I've read states that the documents he filched are code word protected, which as I understand it means that in addition to a Top Secret clearance one also must have a project-specific code word to view them. (Perhaps BRD or any of the others more knowledgable than I about this sort of thing could chip in with a discussion of this point.) This sounds like an exceptionally sensitive document to me, and a man in a position to be familiar with NSA and military regard for classified information almost _could not_ possibly be so ignorant as to not realize how serious the theft was.


Posted by: JKS at July 26, 2004 01:25 AM

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