President Clinton’s national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, is the focus of a criminal investigation after removing highly classified documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room while preparing for the September 11 commission hearings.
Mr. Berger’s home and office were searched earlier this year by FBI agents authorized with warrants.
Some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration’s handling of al Qaeda terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration are still missing.
Mr. Berger and his attorney told the Associated Press last night that he knowingly removed handwritten notes that he had taken from classified anti-terror documents he reviewed at the National Archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants.
He inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio and also accidentally threw away some documents, they said.
“I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced,” Mr. Berger said.
Mr. Berger served as Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser for the president’s second term and has been informally advising Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.
Mr. Clinton asked Mr. Berger last year to review and select the administration documents that would be turned over to the commission.
The FBI searched Mr. Berger’s home and office with warrants earlier this year after employees of the National Archives told agents that they thought they had witnessed Mr. Berger putting documents into his clothing while reviewing sensitive Clinton administration papers, officials said.
When asked, Mr. Berger said he returned some of the classified documents, which he found in his office, and all of the handwritten notes he had taken from the secure room, but said he could not locate two or three copies of the highly classified millennium terror report.
“In the course of reviewing over several days thousands of pages of documents on behalf of the Clinton administration in connection with requests by the Sept. 11 commission, I inadvertently took a few documents from the Archives,” Mr. Berger stated.
“When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded,” he said.
Lanny Breuer, one of Mr. Berger’s attorneys, said his client has offered to cooperate fully with the investigation but has not been interviewed by the FBI or prosecutors.
Mr. Breuer said his client thought he was looking at copies of the classified documents, not originals.
Mr. Berger was allowed to take handwritten notes but also knew that taking his own notes out of the secure room was a “technical violation of Archive procedures, but it is not all clear to us this represents a violation of the law,” Mr. Breuer said.
The officials said the missing documents were highly classified and included critical assessments about the Clinton administration’s handling of the millennium terror threats as well as identification of America’s terror vulnerabilities at airports and seaports.
Mr. Breuer said the Archives staff first expressed concern to Mr. Berger during an Oct. 2 review of documents that at least one copy of the postmillennium report he had reviewed was missing.
Mr. Berger was given a second copy that day, Mr. Breuer said.