The image of Sandy Berger stuffing notes into his socks at the National Archives conveys the culture of carelessness and corruption under Bill Clinton far better than anything the 9/11 Commission will report. The Commission fails to see that the fundamental explanation for America’s porous security before 9/11 is not structural but cultural. Eight years of Clintonian indiscipline exposed America to attack by disciplined terrorists.
America’s elite are too enlightened to notice that lax morality produces lax security. But America’s enemies are happy to notice even if America’s elites won’t. Like robbers sizing up a slipshod neighborhood as an easy target, the terrorists saw from the security lapses America casually accepted during the Clinton years that a 9/11 attack was possible.
Perhaps Sandy Berger can defend his stock-stuffing at the National Archives as normative behavior from the Clinton years. Recall when ex-bar bouncer Craig Livingstone, elevated to a security position in the Clinton White House by Hillary Clinton, “inadvertenly”(Berger’s word for cramming notes into his clothing) lifted 900 FBI files on political appointees from the Bush Sr. and Reagan administrations. This was mere “sloppiness,” of course, as innocent and accidental as placing security information in one’s tube sock.
The Clinton administration raised inadvertence to something of an art form. Berger’s friends were particularly adept at it. When one of Clinton’s CIA directors, John Deutch, inadvertenly took home a CIA-issued computer with top secret information on it, Sandy Berger rushed to his defense, and succeeded in persuading Clinton to pardon him. “Berger and other senior White House officials believed Deutch deserved a pardon even though his home computer security violations were egregious. They cited his overall contributions to the government over many years and the fact that there is no evidence that any of the classified material he mishandled was ever obtained by unauthorized individuals,” reported the Washington Post back then.
So there you have it: Go ahead and take classified material home as long as you make sure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Berger must have been reasoning along these lines during his field trip to the National Archives.
During the Clinton years, you could always count on a report about something missing, from laptops White House interns lifted to computers and documents untraceable at vital agencies. After the State Department lost a computer once, the Clinton administration explained it away merely as an official forgetting to close a door to a “secure” conference room. When White House officials walked off with hundreds of thousands of dollars of presidential souvenirs from Air Force One at the end of Clinton’s term, that was explained away as precedent. When a spy placed an eavesdropping device in the State Department, that too was an accidental oversight. Apparently he just walked through the front door. The FBI reported after the incident that its officials had seen a Russian spy loitering near the Foggy Bottom entrance.
Hazel O’Leary, Clinton’s Energy Secretary, had figured out his security ethos early on, and just dispensed with security badges for visitors to nuclear labs. Placing security badges on foreign visitors, she famously explained, was discriminatory. Then it was learned that nuclear secrets had been nabbed by Chinese Communists. Sandy Berger’s response? “We’re talking about breaches of security that happened in the mid-1980s.”
Berger was criticized at the time for being blasé about security lapses and failing to report Chinese espionage at nuclear labs to Congress, and for having gone out of his way to interfere with a Justice Department investigation of Loral Space & Communications Ltd. for an illegal transfer of missile technology to China. Berger’s Loral lobbying (the press reported that Loral chairman Bernard Schwartz was one of the Democrats’ largest soft-money contributors during 1995-1996, and had hired a former National Security Council spokesman) was successful.
Clinton granted a waiver to Loral for the technology transfer, just as Berger successfully pushed Clinton to pardon Deutch. Now Berger has placed himself in a position where it looks like he may need one.