President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, is the focus of a criminal investigation after removing highly classified terrorism documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Berger's home and office were searched earlier this year by FBI agents armed with warrants after he voluntarily returned documents to the National Archives. However, some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration are still missing.
Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had made while reading classified anti-terror documents he reviewed at the archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, 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," Berger said in a statement to the AP.
Berger served as Clinton's national security adviser for all of the president's second term and most recently has been informally advising Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Clinton asked Berger last year to review and select the administration documents that would be turned over to the commission.
The FBI searches of Berger's home and office occurred after National Archives employees told agents they believed they witnessed Berger place documents in his clothing while reviewing sensitive Clinton administration papers, officials said.
When asked, Berger said he returned some classified documents that 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," Berger said.
"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 Berger's attorneys, said his client has offered to cooperate fully with the investigation but had not yet been interviewed by the FBI or prosecutors. Berger has been told he is the subject of the investigation, Breuer said.
Breuer said Berger believed he was looking at copies of the classified documents, not originals.
Government and congressional officials familiar with the investigation, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the probe involves classified materials, said the investigation remains active and no decision has been made on whether Berger should face criminal charges.
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 to sea ports.
Berger himself had ordered his anti-terror czar Richard Clarke in early 2000 to write the after-action report and has publicly spoken about how the review brought to the forefront the realization that al-Qaida had reached America's shores and required more attention.
Berger said in testimony earlier this year that during the millennium period, "we thwarted threats and I do believe it was important to bring the principals together on a frequent basis" to more regularly consider terror threats.
The missing documents involve two or three draft versions of the report as it was evolving and being refined by the Clinton administration, according to officials and lawyers. The Archives is believed to have copies of some of the missing documents.