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February 04, 2008

Excerpt From "The Commisssion: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation"

From NPR:

Investigators believed Berger had wanted to review box W-049 for a special reason, although he certainly did share that reason with Nancy Smith and the other archivists. He wanted to find a copy of a highly classified fifteen-page report that he had asked Clarke to prepare in early 2000; it reviewed what had gone right and wrong in the government's efforts to respond to millennium threats. It was clear that major attacks by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers had been thwarted in December 1999, including the bombing of Los Angeles International Airport. The Algerian-born terrorist who intended to carry out the bombing, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested by an alert customs agent as he tried to cross the border from Canada.

Berger's assignment to Clarke to write the "after-action report," which included a list of twenty-nine recommendations for overhauling government antiterrorism programs, might have been seen as one more bit of evidence of Berger's admirable focus on the threat.

But in his paranoia, Berger could see that the report might be read differently—would be read differently—if it became public. Certainly it would be read differently at the Bush White House and among congressional Republicans eager to find a Democratic scapegoat for 9/11. Since several of Clarke's recommendations had not been acted on before Clinton left office, Berger had reason to fear it would be seized upon as proof that he had not done all he could to prevent a terrorist attack. All of his hard work at the White House, all of his obsession with bin Laden, would be beside the point.


...

It was on his third visit, on September 2, 2003, that Berger began to steal the documents themselves. He had finally found a copy of Clarke's 2000 after-action report; it had been faxed to the archives a few weeks earlier from Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

He created the same distraction with Smith, claiming he needed to make a phone call for business. She obliged. But Berger turned out to be a lousy thief, and he was detected almost immediately. Another archivist, John Laster, bumped into him on his way to the men's room. "Okay, I know this is odd," Laster wrote to Smith in an e-mail later that day. He explained that when he passed Berger in the hallway, he saw him "fiddling with something white, which appeared to be a piece of paper or multiple pieces of paper" that had been "rolled around his ankle and underneath his pant leg, with a portion of the paper sticking out underneath.''

Smith was alarmed. She tried to convince herself there was an innocent explanation. In a return e-mail, she speculated that Laster had seen something else—maybe a white compression sock, the sort used for phlebitis and other circulatory problems; maybe the sock had the same color as white paper. Berger was overweight. He had seemed agitated. Maybe there was some health problem.

Surely Berger wasn't stealing classified documents, she thought. She prayed. For an archivist responsible for classified documents—and few documents were as highly classified as the ones Berger was reviewing—the idea was almost too much for Smith to bear. Taking secret documents was a crime, of course. Surely it would ruin Berger, ending his hopes for another important government job; he might even be sent to jail. And there was every reason to think the archives staff would be punished—fired?—for having allowed it to happen.

It was too late to try to reconstruct the files Berger had already gone through; they had never been fully cataloged, so it was impossible to know exactly what he might have stolen.

Much as she dreaded the idea, Smith decided that she would have to test Berger on his next visit to the archives. He was due to return on October 2. Smith and her staff gathered the files that Berger had asked to see on the next visit and carefully numbered each document on the back in a light pencil. If he took something, Smith could detect it instantly.


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posted by Ace at 06:49 PM

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