John Leo

Berger said he regretted his ?sloppiness? and explained that he had ?inadvertently? walked out with some secret documents and notes he made about other papers. Notes on classified material are not supposed to be removed from a secure room at the archives without permission. Bypassing security protocols is a serious matter, and Berger stretched inadvertence to extreme limits. He inadvertently took the documents and notes, inadvertently didn?t notice that he had them, then inadvertently lost or threw away some of the papers. Though the Times continued to soft-pedal the story, by Thursday several news outlets reported sources claiming, as the Washington Post put it, ?that Berger was witnessed stuffing papers into his clothing.? Through his attorney and spokesmen, Berger denied it.

Worse for Berger, the Post report undermined his ?inadvertence? defense. It said that archives officials noticed documents missing after a visit to the archives by Berger last September, so they set up a sting operation, coding papers secretly so they could tell more easily which papers were missing if Berger returned. He came back October 2, according to the Post, and when he left, some marked documents were missing. The Post reports that Berger said he had made 40 to 50 pages of notes during three trips to the archives. Were these rather voluminous notes among the papers placed into his clothing, and if so, why he didn?t just put the notes in the leather portfolio he brought with him on visits to the archives?

It?s not yet clear what Berger was removing or why, or whether the archives have copies of everything missing. If Berger wanted to refresh his memory on matters to be raised by the 9/11 commission, presumably his notes would do that without the removal of any official document. Perhaps the ?timing? argument will now work to Berger?s advantage -- that the 9/11 report will overwhelm the archives story and direct attention away from him. A few news outlets are playing the Berger issue as yet another left-right, Democrat Republican partisan wrangle. That?s a way of discounting a story that has to be pursued.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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