08/02/04 — OPINION -- Plausible explanation

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OPINION -- Plausible explanation

By Gene Price
Published in News on August 2, 2004 1:57 PM

Former national security adviser Samuel Berger and I share a problem. We both have reputations for keeping cluttered desks.

Some sage once suggested that a cluttered desk is a sign of a clear conscience. I'm not sure what the connection might be. Or whether Sam Berger represents the best example of that notion.

Berger had served as national security adviser to President Bill Clinton. And he also was serving as John Kerry's campaign adviser on national security matters.

He had been asked to appear before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. Apparently trying to refresh his memory on events during his time with President Clinton, he visited the National Archives to review documents and notes.

Sometime during his stay there he asked guards to "give him some space." Apparently he would feel more comfortable with them not looking over his shoulder. And, after all, he was the national security adviser to the former president.

But not all eyes were averted. Someone apparently saw Berger "inadvertently" stuff some of the classified documents in a brief case.

And in his coat.

And in his pants.

And, according to one report, in his socks!

Subsequently, the FBI searched Berger's home and office. But some of the documents and notes involving the Clinton administration's handling of intelligence concerning terrorist plots remain missing.

Berger said that when he was advised by National Archives officials that documents were missing, "I immediately returned everything I had -- except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded."

Berger's lawyer and friends -- including Mr. Clinton -- assure the public that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on his part.

And, indeed, it appears that way. Those of us who have cluttered desks are given to tucking classified documents and notes in our jackets and pants and socks. And we might understandably be prone to accidentally discard some of them. Even those of such importance they were kept under lock and key and constant guard in the National Archives.