The Blogosphere has heavily covered Sandy Berger's security breach of the National Archives, and the many angles that the mainstream media and particularly the Washington Post and New York Times have avoided. Yet for all that there are no real evaluations of:
- How badly the National Archives screwed up the security of code letter secret documents;
- How badly the system of notification of security breaches was abused; and
- How badly Sandy Berger screwed over American national security. Cell phones are not secure, and Berger's security breach using a cell phone from a secure document vault is the kind of thing that could result in tens of thousands of preventable American civilian deaths if my worst fears bear out.
None of these issues are trivial - and unfortunately, the scenario for #3 isn't a big stretch.
Here at Winds of Change Sandy Berger affair has been addressed once already with Celeste Bilby's post: "Sandy Berger: Inadvertent My Foot." She did well to capture the anger felt by of those of us in the federal government or defense & intelligence related industries, about the security abuses Sandy Berger was allowed to perpatrate.
Glenn Reynolds "Flooded the zone" with more then a half dozen posts:
- 24th: Horse, Barn. Door. New security measures at the National Archives
- 23rd: Berger was an obstacle to action Against Bin Laden
- 22nd: A reference to Berger in the 9/11 Commission Report may explain a lot
- 22nd: Should Berger be the issue?
- 22nd: Lileks' column
- 22nd: What did Kerry know, and when did he know it?
- 22nd: The New York Times' shameless spin and denial, vs. other media reactions
- 21st: Rules in the National Archives not the same for everybody, it seems
...setting the pace for the Blogosphere.
I think Roger L. Simon understood exactly what Berger was up to in his post The Follies Berger – Clue No. 304 when he made the point that Berger was systematically eliminating drafts of Millennium Terrorist Bomb Plot after action report that had hand written notes from Clinton Administration officials, his own specifically, and that this elimination fatally compromised the record of events. The Pittsburgh Tribune- Review added its own twist on that here.
It gets worse. From the NY Post:
"Urgent complaints that the FBI could not decipher bugged conversations between members of a Brooklyn mosque and Afghan terrorists because it lacked translators were included in the documents former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger removed from the National Archives, The Post has learned."
One of the comments over on Belgravia Dispatch also explained why Berger was given that access to those records for the 9/11 Commission, and noticed something else:
"The Justice Department should have informed the White House Counsel's office ASAP because the matter had to do with documents belonging to the Office of the Presidency, the Executive Branch. The context that the NYT "journalists" failed to convey is that Berger was the Executive Branch's and Bill Clinton's agent in reviewing the former administration's holdings for documents that met the 9/11 Commission's criteria.
Here's what happened. Berger was on a mission for the executive branch – the 9/11 commission wanted papers that may have qualified for executive privilege. The commission contacted either Bill Clinton or his attorney, Bruce Lindsey, who delegated Berger to review the former administration's holdings for documents that met the commission's criteria.
That's why when National Archives employees noticed irregularities in Berger's handling of the documents, they notified Lindsey, as Clinton's lawyer and representative to the NA. The NA's inspector general was probably involved immediately.) When NA IG determined that documents were missing, it notified the Justice Department. Justice should have immediately notified the counsel for the current administration because any crime that may have been committed might be against the office of the president. Justice would properly conduct the investigation, but the executive branch has an interested based on the constitutional separation of powers."
3 Critical Points
There are several points here. In addition to destroying documents, Sandy Berger was acting as an agent of the executive branch for the 9/11 Commission and was screening the information that was to be provided to them. The Bush Administration did not choose Berger to do this. The 9/11 Commission did. Then the Commission saw only what Berger wanted them to see via hiding behind the Executive Privilege implied by constitutional separation of powers. This makes the 9/11 Commission report worthless. The Commission did not see what Berger, Gorleck and Ben Veniste did not wish them to see, with the cooperation of Co-Chairmen's Kean and Hamilton.
Second, the National Archives saw multiple egregious security violation occur and DID NOTHING. They did not call security to stop and search Berger for the classified documents he stuck in his pants, his socks and his leather folder. They did not stop him from taking and keeping notes on those classified documents. Then they let it happen twice. The first time Berger did it and the second time during their "sting."
Third, there were multiple and repeated breakdowns in the reporting of this security breach. "The Kid" already mentioned the one between the Justice Department and the White House Council. There were others. This is from Representative Chris Cox on the breakdown between the 9/11 Commission and Congress's Intelligence Committees over what Berger did:
"Established protocols for informing the congressional intelligence committees of the security breach were not followed. Nor, at Tuesday's briefing to the House Leadership by the Commission, could Chairman Tom Kean and Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton say whether the specific documents destroyed by Mr. Berger had at any prior time been inspected and reviewed by commission staff. Yet the documents involved, written by former National Security Council aide Richard Clarke, have been at the center of the controversy over the adequacy of the Clinton administration's response to the growing al Qaeda threat.
While many are concerned with which laws may have been broken, a more fundamental question is why Mr. Berger, by any objective reckoning a subject of the Commission's investigation, was reviewing sensitive materials in order to determine which Clinton administration documents would be provided to the Commission. The destroyed documents reportedly contained more than two dozen recommendations for action against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network -- a measuring stick for the Clinton administration's response."
So, we have the following happening in relation to Sandy Berger:
- The 9/11 Commission used Sandy Berger as its representative of the Executive Branch in the search for counter terrorism documents from the Clinton Administration.
- Both it and the National Archives chose not to inform the Congressional intelligence committee's of Sandy Berger's security breach for months most likely in order to protect the credibility of the 9/11 Commission's just published report.
This smells to high heaven and should be the subject of Congressional investigations with all parties involved under oath.
Further, it is plain fact that everyone in the National Archives involved in setting up that vaunted "sting" of Sandy Berger still knowingly let unique code letter secret level classified documents be stolen and destroyed. Every decision maker involved in letting Berger leave the national archived unsearched, twice, should be fired for cause.
Les Folies Berger: The National Security Angle
That is not the least of the National Archive's sins. Mr. Berger was allowed to make cellular telephone calls while alone in the secured document vault and likely during his unmonitored rest room breaks at the Archives. See this article from the New York Daily News:
Guards left Berger alone, sources say Ex-security adviser reportedly told monitors to violate rules as he took breaks, took files.
By James Gordon Meek New York Daily News
Washington — Former national security adviser Sandy Berger repeatedly persuaded monitors assigned to watch him review top-secret documents to break the rules and leave him alone, sources said Wednesday.
Berger, accused of smuggling some of the secret files out of the National Archives, got the monitors out of the high-security room by telling them he had to make sensitive phone calls.
Guards were convinced to violate their own rules by stepping out of the secure room as he looked over documents and allegedly stashed some in his clothing, sources said.
"He was supposed to be monitored at all times but kept asking the monitor to leave so he could make private calls," a senior law enforcement source told the Daily News.
Berger also took "lots of bathroom breaks" that aroused some suspicion, the source added. It is standard procedure to constantly monitor anyone with a security clearance who examines the type of code-word classified files stored in the underground archives vault."
The high level security monitoring of code level secret documents that should have happened did not. Perhaps Berger had a digital camera equipped cell phone. We don't know, because the National Archives so-called security did not examine it, because if they did they would have seized it like they should have seized the documents Berger stuffed into his cloths.
Consider for a moment that he may have taken photos/videos of classified documents and transmitted those over an insecure wireless line. The damage if he did is incalculable.
Washington D.C. is the capitol of the most powerful nation-state on the face of the planet. Every embassy in the D.C. area has a roof filled with antennas that are not there for satellite dish television. They are there to listen to our telephones, computers and other data transmissions. If Democratic operatives can bug then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's cell phone and have one of their House members give their recordings to the media. It is a certainty that hostile foreign powers are monitoring every cell phone call Sandy Berger makes on the off-chance of "striking it rich."
The War on Terrorism has taught us one bitter lesson that both Democrats and the Bush Administration have repeatedly refused to learn, admittedly for different reasons -- OUR ENEMIES COOPERATE. What one terrorist supporting state knows, the whole terrorist network soon learns.
This has horrible implications. My "worst case scenario" is as follows:
- Sandy Berger photographs and e-mails Richard Clark's Millennium After Action Report that included a list of America's port security vulnerabilities
- The Syrian Embassy's signals intelligence equipment (or that of another unfriendly embassy) intercepts the document or documents.
- Clark's list of port vulnerabilities is passed on to al-Qaeda via Iran's Mullahs (or another hostile intermediary).
- In the months since Berger's visits to the National Archives, Iranian and Syrian agents under cover of diplomatic immunity have used that document to case vulnerable American ports for al-Qaeda.
- al-Qaeda's sleeper cells here in America were passed this detailed targeting information for a terrorist attack before the November Presidential election.
If we do have another mass casualty attack on America before the November election's, it may have happened with Sandy Berger's unwitting assistance.
At this point we cannot undo what has been done, but we can take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. First, Republicans need to read every Republican politician or staffer involved in the 9/11 Commission out of any leadership roles in the party and of any future Republican administration. They cannot be trusted not to be fools or back stabbers.
Second, the Republican controlled House Government Reform Committee needs to hold hearings on the Berger security breach to pinpoint the security breakdowns and fill the lives of all concerned with lawyers. Above all, it is clear Sandy Berger's cell phone records from several weeks before this security breach to date needs to be subpoenaed and investigated.
It is clear that the so-called "bi-partisan" House and Senate Intelligence committees cannot be trusted to do this job. Their very "bi-partisan" nature makes it impossible for them to function given the power Democrat's have on those committees and their overwhelming partisan interest in burying the subject in torrents of hate speech and delay.
Last, the Bush Administration needs to start disciplining the Federal bureaucracies when they fail. Bush has steadfastly refused to fire anyone in the Federal bureaucracies for incompetence and by doing so has made their incompetence his own. The retention of Tenet at CIA and the chief of FBI counter-terrorism after 9/11/2001 is proof enough of that. Bush has only fired people when they openly challenged him and displayed disloyalty he could not ignore, as Treasury Secretary O'Neil and US Army Chief of Staff Shinseki demonstrated.
America needs to protect its secrets from its foreign enemies before it is too late, and only Presidential leadership can make it happen.
If Bush doesn't beak his bad leadership habits soon, before the next major domestic attack by al-Qaeda, he will find out that the American people are nowhere near as forgiving of incompetence as he is.