Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Dies at 70

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Sandy Berger flanks Bill Clinton during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farqouq al-Shara in Shepherdstown, January 7, 2000.
Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright flank Bill Clinton during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farqouq al-Shara in Shepherdstown, January 7, 2000.Credit: Reuters

Samuel "Sandy" Berger, a national security adviser for President Bill Clinton whose reputation was marred by his theft of classified documents after leaving office, died early on Wednesday, colleagues said. 

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, announced Berger's death overnight in a post on Twitter, calling him a "good man & friend who served nation well as Bill Clinton's NSA." 

Berger, who was 70, had been suffering from cancer, according to a statement from the Albright Stonebridge consulting firm where he worked. 

Berger, who was Jewish, was the top foreign policy adviser for Clinton during the 1992 campaign, then served as deputy national security adviser during Clinton’s first term. He was named national security adviser in 1997, at the beginning of Clinton’s second term.

Berger was heavily involved in relations with China, as well as advising Clinton on the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia and the attacks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. 

In the closing months of Clinton's term, Berger was a prominent player at the 2000 Camp David summit in which Clinton tried unsuccessfully to advance the Middle East peace process. 

But he was not without controversy. In July 2004 the Justice Department revealed it was investigating whether Berger had removed classified documents and notes from the National Archives several months earlier before his testimony to the Sept. 11 commission. 

At first Berger said removing the documents in his attache case and pants and jacket pockets was accidental but he later admitted he had done it deliberately. One Archives employee later said Berger stuffed the papers down his pants legs. 

Berger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined more than $50,000 and given 100 hours of community service and probation. He also lost his security clearance. 

Republican were outraged, saying Berger was trying to destroy incriminating evidence. But the Justice Department said he only took copies to cut up and no original material was lost. 

Still, Berger was forced to resign as a foreign policy consultant to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. 

A year later, it came out that Berger had taken the documents to a construction site near the Archives and hid them. He came back later to retrieve them. 

President Barack Obama recognized Berger’s legacy and said he was personally grateful for his advice and counsel, Politico reported.

“From his service in President Carter’s State Department to President Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy devoted himself to strengthening American leadership in an uncertain world,” Obama said in a statement quoted by Politico. “Today, his legacy can be seen in a peaceful Balkans, our strong alliance with Japan, our deeper relationships with India and China.

“Around the globe, families and children are living healthier, more secure lives because, as a private citizen, Sandy was a humanitarian who helped the world respond to crises and feed the hungry. With his trademark passion, wisdom and good humor, he is remembered fondly within the ranks of the National Security Council, where those he mentored carry on his work.”

Born in Sharon, Connecticut on Oct. 28, 1945, Berger attended Cornell University and Harvard Law School. He met Bill Clinton while working on the 1972 Democratic presidential campaign of George McGovern and worked for members of Congress and served as a State Department deputy director from 1977-1980. 

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