home > archive > 2004 > this article
BVDgate: All the ex-president's men
By Nicholas Stix
What was in Sandy Berger's Underwear?
Republicans are filled with glee, as Democrats fall all over themselves, trying to diminish the fact that Bill Clinton's former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, was caught stuffing classified documents and national secrets down his drawers, in his jacket, in his socks, and in a leather portfolio, in order to steal them from the National Archives, and to later destroy some of them. (Berger returned some documents, but only after he was caught, but had "accidentally" destroyed the most important ones.) Note that Berger reportedly burgled the Archives on five separate occasions. Watergate, meet BVDgate.
For the past thirty years, many observers have thought it the height of paranoia for Pres. Richard Nixon's men to burglarize the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in June 1972, given that Nixon clearly was going to win re-election in a landslide in 1972 against left-liberal Democrat Sen. George McGovern. If the Watergate break-in and Nixon's attempted cover-up of it, which led to his forced resignation in August 1974 were the height of paranoia, we need a new vocabulary to describe the burglarizing of the National Archives after Bill Clinton had won re-election, completed two terms of office, and left the White House. In the spirit of Bill and Hillary Clinton's teacher, Karl Marx, who said that all great world-historical incidents and individuals occur twice, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce," one can't help asking, "What did the ex-President know, and when did he know it?"
Sandy Burglar, er, Berger used weasel words like "inadvertent" and "accidentally discarded" to wish away criminal acts that jeopardized national security, and which were likely done to protect the Clinton Administration from facing the tribunal of history, and to save John Kerry's presidential campaign (which Berger served as an advisor, until the BVDgate revelations became public, and he resigned). Berger would have disgraced himself and his comrades less, had he simply refused comment.
In order to diminish the significance of such shoplifter behavior with a straight face, you have to either be on powerful sedatives, bite your tongue clear through, or be the sort of sociopath that could fool a polygraph expert.
Rich Shoplifters are Not Like You or Me
And I know shoplifters. While teaching college during the late 1990s, I used to moonlight as a security guard at what was then the word's biggest toy store, the Toys'R'Us at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan (as well as other local Toys'R'Us stores). But none of the mopes I caught ever claimed that his theft was "inadvertent," and none of them had a former president defending them, by saying that they were so disorganized, that they did that sort of thing all the time.
An explanation of my usage is in order. Journalists are supposed to say that a suspect "allegedly" committed a crime, or that "police said" that he committed a crime. That requirement does not apply, however, to cases where a suspect has admitted to the crime. Since the law usually requires criminal intent, Sandy Berger has sought to confuse matters, by saying that he only "inadvertently" stole and in certain cases "accidentally discarded" the documents in question, but all the Clintonesque dishonesty in the world cannot twist language so completely, that one can "inadvertently" stick government secrets in one's drawers and socks, or due to "sloppiness" "accidentally discard" highly classified, secret reports. Especially when one is a former national security advisor, who formulated protocols for securing national secrets.
The most significant pieces of Berger's booty were anywhere from two to five drafts and one copy of the final report -- the "Millennium After-Action Review" (hereafter: "MAAR") -- on al Qaeda's failed Millennium Plot to simultaneously blow up LAX Airport and other targets on New Year's Eve 1999, that he absconded with in a leather portfolio.
The "accidents" occurred last year, while Berger was on a mission for Bill Clinton, to select which documents to turn over to the 911 Commission. The MAAR, whose drafts -- full of hand-written notes by administration officials and family members -- which Berger destroyed, was arguably the most important such document.
I Knew Max Weber, He was a Friend of Mine, and Mr. Berger, You're No Max Weber!
Since it was against the law for Berger to remove anything from the Archives, all of his defenses and those of his cronies and former chief are irrelevant. (He thought that the drafts were "only photocopies," rather than originals; he was reading through "thousands of pages" of documents each day he spent in the Archives, and lost track; he's such a mess, that he made such mistakes all the time in the past.) And note that he was jamming documents into his socks, his jacket pocket, his BVDs, and his leather portfolio. Indeed, as an old security guard, I have to wonder what purpose the portfolio served, save as a crime tool.
There is only one scenario I can conceive of, in which Berger would have done grunt work normally unheard of for such a powerful man: He was up to no good, and did not want any witnesses. He didn't realize that he had witnesses, anyway.
The Dick Clarke Show
The MAAR, which was written on Sandy Berger's orders by then-counter terrorism czar Richard Clarke, reportedly detailed holes in America's anti-terror preparations, and suggested reforms to plug the holes. In Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, which he wrote in order to help the Democrats regain the White House, financially exploit his years of public service, make him and his cronies look good, and protect Bill Clinton's place in history, Clarke inaccurately depicted the Port Angeles Millennium Plot action, fabricated out of whole cloth a Clinton Administration role in foiling the plot, and dishonestly denigrated the Bush Administration's anti-terror preparations.
Clarke claimed that shortly before the arrest of Ressam, customs agents and other law enforcement officers had been ordered to exercise extra scrutiny, which led directly to his capture. That is nonsense on stilts.
It was without any directives from Washington, D.C., that on December 14, 1999, Port Angeles, WA Customs Agent Diana Dean took the initiative to check out an Arab man entering the country from British Columbia, Ahmed Ressam aka Benni Antoine Noris aka Reda, who was acting "hinky." In the trunk of Ressam's car, agents found nitroglycerin. The Algerian Ressam proved to be an al Qaeda terrorist.
In Customs Officer Diana Dean's Senate testimony, she mentioned nothing about a special directive, and emphasized the routine nature of the work she and her colleagues did, in questioning, searching, and arresting Ahmed Ressam.
"The fact is U.S. Customs Inspectors do things like this every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year, at all 301 ports of entry in our nation. Some times we interdict dangerous drugs, sometimes guns, contaminated food, defective parts, the list goes on."
Dick Clarke also lied in his book and his 911 Commission testimony about his briefings of incoming Bush Administration officials, when he suggested he was a modern-day Cassandra, desperately seeking to get Bush advisors to take the dire threat posed by al Qaeda seriously, only to have his warnings fall on deaf ears. He has repeatedly insisted that everything was in place to fight terrorism when the Clinton Administration left office, but that the Bush people ignored all that invaluable work. In fact, it appears that Clarke sandbagged the new Administration. Did 3,000 innocent people die, so that Dick Clarke could protect his party from embarrassment, and gain partisan advantage?
In his book, Clarke was particularly vicious towards National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, claiming that Rice had never heard of al Qaeda before he mentioned the terror network to her in early 2001 (Rice had given a public lecture on al Qaeda prior to the 2000 election), and portraying Ashcroft as an imbecile:
"When I and one of my staff met with Ashcroft early in the Administration, we were left wondering if his discussion with us had been an act. My associate asked me on the drive back to the White House, "He can't really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can't get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?'
"I wasn't sure. ‘I don't know,' I said. ‘Maybe he's just cagey, but after all, he did lose a Senate reelection to a dead man.'"
(In 2000, Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft ran for re-election against Democrat Gov. Mel Carnahan. Both men were immensely popular in Missouri, where Ashcroft was himself a former two-term governor, and before that a two-term attorney general, and the race was a tight one. Gov. Carnahan died in a plane crash less than three weeks before the election. Owing to the sympathy factor, with the understanding that Gov. Carnahan's widow, Jean, would serve in her husband's place, Missouri voters "elected" the dead governor.
While I can understand how it would be irresistible for Clarke to get a cheap laugh at Ashcroft's expense, his joke required that he misrepresent the actual situation, something he did with regularity in his book. As far as I can see, Jean Carnahan's election was illegal. Her name was not on the ballot, her husband's was. Missouri law stipulates that only those living in Missouri may legally run for election. Mrs. Carnahan could only have run legally, had she put her own name on the official ballot, and the deadline for doing that had passed. Hence, all votes for Mel Carnahan were invalid, and Sen. Ashcroft should have won re-election in a landslide. Ashcroft surely knew this, but in a show of chivalry that was wasted on the widow Carnahan -- not to mention on Dick Clarke -- chose not to contest the election. Democrat Acting Gov. Roger Wilson appointed Mrs. Carnahan senator, but again, according to Missouri election law, Wilson had no authority to do so. In 2002, Jean Carnahan lost her only election campaign to Republican Jim Talent. In December, 2000, president-elect George W. Bush nominated John Ashcroft Attorney General of the United States.)
As General Ashcroft testified before the 911 Commission in April, when the Bush Administration took over in January 2001, Dick Clarke withheld the MAAR, until after 9/11. If that charge is true, Clarke may be liable for federal prosecution.
You may ask why I believe Ashcroft over Clarke. While I called, in September 2002, for John Ashcroft's dismissal based on his persecution of scientist Dr. Steven Hatfill in the anthrax case, I have never had reason to consider him a liar. Conversely, I have caught Dick Clarke telling so many falsehoods, that I would not trust him to give me the correct time of day.
According to a July 21 MSNBC report combining material from NBC's David Gregory and Pete Williams and the Associated Press, "In his April 13 testimony to the Sept. 11 commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the [MAAR] ‘warns the prior administration of a substantial al-Qaida network' in the United States. Ashcroft said it also recommends such things as using tougher visa and border controls and prosecutions of immigration violations and minor criminal charges to disrupt terror cells.
"‘These are the same aggressive, often-criticized [by Democrats and their establishment media comrades – N.S.] law enforcement tactics that we have unleashed for 31 months to stop another al-Qaida attack,' Ashcroft told the panel. He added that he never saw the documents before the Sept. 11 attacks."
It was also Ashcroft alone who had the cojones to point out, in his commission testimony, the role in weakening America's defenses of 911 commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who as Clinton Administration deputy attorney general, erected the "wall" that kept the FBI and CIA from sharing intelligence (yet another matter that Dick Clarke failed to mention in his book). So, I guess Ashcroft wasn't so slow, after all.
(Many Midwesterners have a tendency to speak at a much slower tempo than folks from places like New York, California, or Washington D.C., a style that many "sophisticats" consider a sign of being intellectually challenged.)
As a July 21 Wall Street Journa editorial observed, "Ahmed Ressam was one of the would-be Millennium bombers whom the French had identified to U.S. intelligence agencies as an al Qaeda operative planning to attack America. But the ‘wall of separation' meant that when an alert U.S. customs officer stopped Ressam as he tried to enter the country from Vancouver, the Justice Department had no idea who he was. This helps illuminate the claim made in the missing [MAAR], according to Mr. Ashcroft's testimony, that our success in stopping these 1999 attacks was a result of sheer ‘luck.'"
Dick Clarke's unprofessional behavior, in not providing the MAAR to the incoming administration, i.e., in obstructing the Bush Administration's anti-terror precautions, is just one of countless matters that Clarke forgot to mention in his book. The MAAR was essential to formulating the new Administration's anti-terrorism strategy. Consider Clarke's heroic, West Wing-style depiction of is own behavior in the Bush Administration prior to and on 911, and his concealment of the MAAR. Consider, too, his classified 2002 Senate testimony, which caused no reaction, versus his sensational, book-selling public testimony in 2004, though Democrat politicians have denied that the testimonies contradicted each other. As the Sandy Berger Saga unfolds, someone may have to write a book about Clarke's book, just to set the story straight.
On the July 21 ABC News Nightline, where Clarke appeared as a paid ABC consultant, he embellished on his previous embellishments.
Host Chris Bury: "Under Pres. Bush, the  Commission report, at least what we know about it so far, seems to be hardest on this issue of not connecting the dots, particularly with the FBI, some of its agents knowing, possibly warning about a plot, that hijackers might be in the country training, not connecting the dots with Zacarias Moussaoui, who had already been detained.
"If you're going to name one thing under Pres. Bush that stands out in terms of sloppiness, is that it?"
Dick Clarke: "No, I think the one mistake that was made in the Bush Administration was actually made by the President, and that was when he was told repeatedly by the CIA over the course of June, July, and August that a major attack by al Qaeda was coming, that he didn't personally get involved, in trying to make his government work better, to stop it. Contrast that with the way Pres. Clinton did get involved, to try to stop a similar attack around the Millennium period, and by getting the cabinet members involved, Clinton was able to get the government to work better, and did prevent a series of attacks around that period."
The preceding passage from Clarke was an exercise in fiction. No person or agency, including the CIA and Dick Clarke provided Pres. Bush with any concrete information regarding where, when, or how an al Qaeda attack would be carried out. Indeed, in his book, Clarke mocks the idea of such vague warnings.
As for Pres. Clinton, there is no evidence that any actions he took helped prevent any Millennium terrorist attacks. All credit goes properly to people like Customs Agent Diana Dean and FBI Agent Fred Humphries. It was only after Agent Dean and her colleagues had caught Ahmed Ressam and his explosives, and after Agent Humphries had made him for an Algerian, and thus figured out that Ressam was not who he claimed to be, and with his colleagues cracked the case, that Pres. Clinton swung into action. Bill Clinton was a day late and a dollar short.
Clarke's July 21 Nightline claim that Pres. Clinton prevented a "series of attacks around that [Millennium] period" is contradicted by his own book. In Against All Enemies, Clarke shows that it was Jordanian intelligence that prevented the first of three simultaneous Millennium attacks, without any American aid, and who alerted us to the Millennium Plot, not the other way around. (Clarke writes in such an odd way, however, that he somehow transfers the credit from the Jordanians to his CIA crony, Cofer Black.) And the third and final simultaneous Millennium attack Clarke cites in his book, planned for the port of Aden, Yemen, failed not because of American derring-do, much less due to Bill Clinton's personal involvement, but due to al Qaeda's incompetence: "As they pushed the boat down the landing and into the water, however, it moved off a little into the harbor, and sank. The explosives weighed too much."
According to Attorney General Ashcroft, Clarke's July 21 claims about Pres. Clinton helping prevent the Millennium Plot are also contradicted by his own MAAR, which may have something to do with why so many drafts and copies of the document found their way into Sandy Berger's portfolio.
It is Dick Clarke's m.o. to give all credit, deserved or not, to his Democrat cronies and particularly to his Democrat president, and to allocate all blame to Republicans, particularly to the present Republican president.
Timing is Everything
While the media have uncritically repeated charges and insinuations by Democrats, including Bill Clinton, that the publication of the Berger story was politically motivated, in order to upstage the release of the 911 Commission report, the media have refused to put the Berger story in the context of the political stage-managing of the 911 Commission itself, particularly in late March, as a preening Dick Clarke gave his disingenuous apology to relatives of 911 victims, and one Democrat commission member even held up Clarke's book for the TV cameras, a book whose publisher, The Free Press, had scheduled its release to coincide with Clarke's testimony. Live by media manipulation, die by media manipulation.
And yet, Democrats' charges and insinuations – most notably those of David Gergen and Bill Clinton Himself, reflect on themselves more than on their targets. A man is caught jeopardizing national security, and they suggest that the publication of the case is the problem, not the crimes? This is what happens when people live in a bubble, protected by journalistic camp followers. They not only have contempt for the law and the truth, but are so shameless that they don't even feel an obligation to appear to care about them.
According to the previously cited, July 21 NBC/AP report, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said, "What information could be so embarrassing that a man with decades of experience in handling classified documents would risk being caught pilfering our nation's most sensitive secrets? Mr. Berger has a lot of explaining to do."
"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters the case was about theft and questioned a statement by Berger issued Monday attributing the removal of the documents and notes to sloppiness.
"‘I think it's gravely, gravely serious what he did, if he did it. It could be a national security crisis,' DeLay said."
"‘It's our lifeblood, those secrets,' Comey continued. ‘It's against the law for anyone to intentionally mishandle classified documents either by taking it to give to somebody else or by mishandling it in a way that is outside the government regulations.'"
Rest easy, Mr. Comey. Bill Clinton has assured the nation that Sandy Berger is a "good man." And I thought "honor among thieves" was a myth! I don't have the space today to analyze at length the significance of being called a "good man" by Bill Clinton, but one meaning of the phrase was provided by Mae West: "Goodness had nothing to do with it."
My favorite sideshow to the Berger Affair has been the reaction of former Clinton staffer and Berger colleague, David Gergen, an allegedly non-partisan commentator at ABC News. According to Fox News, Gergen responded to the news of Berger's theft and destruction of classified documents, "I think it's more innocent than it looks."
"‘I have known Sandy Berger for a long time,' Gergen said in a television interview. ‘He would never do anything to compromise the security of the United States.' Gergen said he thought that ‘it is suspicious' that word of the investigation of Berger would emerge just as the Sept. 11 commission is about to release its report, since ‘this investigation started months ago.'"
So, for the feds to notify the media about the former national security advisor committing crimes and harming national security is "suspicious," but the crimes themselves – committed on five different occasions – are "more innocent" than they look.
I suppose that the only thing that would have satisfied Gergen's high ethical standards, would have been if the government had held off alerting the media about Berger's crimes until Judgment Day. I know that if I had stuffed secret, federal documents in my shorts, I'd now be sharing a jail cell with my new husband, "Monster," praying that my lawyer can get the government to offer a plea bargain of, say, five years hard time in the federal maximum security lock-up in Marion, IL. As far as leading Democrats are concerned, the laws are for "the little people."
Meanwhile, David Gergen the moralist has seen nothing "suspicious" in any of the monthly "October Surprises" churned out by the media-political complex' political hoax machine.
And Berger's liar, er, lawyer (same difference), Lanny Breuer, insists that, "Mr. Berger does not want any issue surrounding the 9/11 commission to be used for partisan purposes." What a comedian that Breuer is!
To put BVDgate in moral perspective, consider the 1993 White House Travelgate affair, which occurred on moralist David Gergen's watch.
When the Clintons took over the White House, they decided they wanted to put their cronies in charge of the White House Travel Office. Billy Dale had run the office for thirty-two years, under seven different presidents (starting with John F. Kennedy). Hillary Clinton, who held no lawful elected or appointed position, reportedly told White House officials, "We need those people out. We need our people in," and ordered Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty and White House administrator David Watkins to fire the entire Travel Office staff. Which they proceeded to do.
Though it is not clear how they could do so legally, Clinton cronies, most notably TV producer Harry Thomason, were to take over the Travel Office, and turn it into a private cash cow. Mrs. Clinton then called the Justice Department, and sicced federal prosecutors on Billy Dale, even though she knew that Dale had not committed any crime. Seven months after firing Dale, under the incredible pretext of renewing Dale's access to the White House, White House counsel even prostituted the FBI, requisitioning and receiving Bureau background checks on Dale, in seeking to further smear him. (Dale was clean as a whistle.) Ultimately, not only did Dale lose his job, but he lost his home, his life savings, and two-and-a-half years of his life defending himself against a malicious prosecution. Engineering a malicious prosecution is a crime. So, too, is perjury. Hillary Clinton lied to the independent counsel, when she denied having had any hand in the firing of Dale & Co.
Back in the present, Gergen & Co. insist that Sandy Berger's crimes are "more innocent" than they look. Tell that to Billy Dale.
I suppose there is a certain historical symmetry in the henchman of a president who used to donate his used underwear to charity as a tax write-off getting caught stuffing national secrets down his. I hope that Sandy Berger was wearing fresh drawers and socks during his federal shoplifting jaunts. I wouldn't want archivists or legitimate government researchers picking up any organisms off the documents he returned.
Nicholas Stix can be reached at Add1dda@aol.com.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2019, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.