Friday, April 01, 2005

Berger Files and UN Files, What's Interesting?

The New York Times has an article on Sandy Berger's guilty plea to destroying files from the National Archives. According to them:

On Sept. 2, 2003, in a daylong review of documents, Mr. Berger took a copy of a lengthy White House 'after-action' report that he had commissioned to assess the government's performance in responding to the so-called millennium terrorist threat before New Year's 2000, and he placed the document in his pocket, the associate said. A month later, in another Archives session, he removed four copies of other versions of the report, the associate said.

Mr. Berger's intent, the associate said, was to compare the different versions of the 2000 report side by side and trace changes.

'He was just too tired and wasn't able to focus enough, and he felt like he needed to look at the documents in his home or his office to line them up,' the associate said. 'He now admits that was a real mistake.'

Mr. Berger admits to compounding the mistake after removing the second set of documents on Oct. 2, 2003, the associate said. In comparing the versions at his office later that day, he realized that several were essentially the same, and he cut three copies into small pieces, the associate said. "

The Post has a similar article. Comparing this to the destruction of files at the UN (see here) two things stand out. In Berger's case, Archives was keeping multiple copies of the same document, presumably because each had annotations by a different official. "Trace changes" indicates to me that Richard Clarke was clearing his report in parallel, taking advantage of modern technology to provide each official his/her own copy, then making appropriate changes in the final report.

If that's true, there's a contrast with the UN case as I discussed the other day (note: of this I'm not sure, have not been able to successfully download the report) use technology to make multiple copies. But what's good for expediting bureaucratic action is bad for the Archives and for historians. Berger was apparently trying to act as a historian, reconstructing what happened when. In the UN case, using carbons, all versions of a document were in one place and one could easily track the changes. Thus if Berger's story, as told by associate, is true, he wouldn't have had to steal documents.

A final point. I would trust Richard Clarke to squawk if there had been anything explosive in the annotations--he's certainly not publicity shy, so his silence means to me that this is a mistake and a misdemeanor, but not a coverup.

My bottom line: Berger's offense is due to bigshotitis, the idea that rules don't apply to me. See Richard Nixon and Elliot Abrams, who lied to Congress and is now back in the NSC. Personally, I'd throw all bigshots in jail for 6 months, Martha Stewart can testify to it's being educational.

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