Assume the Position

Wednesday, July 21, 2004
 
Security Rules Don't Apply At The Top

While everybody is sounding off on Sandy Berger's mishandling classified material, throwing out reasons ranging from simple carelessness to nefarious purposes (see Glenn Reynolds piece on Slate), it should be noted that this is a longstanding problem with "important people." They just don't think the rules apply (or should apply) to them.

The rules governing classified material are cumbersome and compliance is time-consuming. The important and self-important see themselves as "busy people" doing "critical work" and they don't feel their endeavors should be hamstrung by rules designed to keep the peons from compromising classified; after all, they're smarter and more careful than the peons, and the shortcuts they take won't result in compromise, or so they think.

Agency and department heads, military commanders, and scientists have always posed security problems. You can make a safe bet that this isn't a one-time incident of carelessness by Berger, but that he routinely took classified home to work on while he was Clinton's National Security Advisor. The same thing with former CIA Director John Deutch (pardoned by Clinton before he was even plea-bargained/convicted). A similar disregard for securing classified when not in use underlies some of the security incidents at Los Alamos.

It's not a partisan or even political problem, it's more like a part of human nature. When caught, as Berger was, the excuse is almost always one of carelessness; but that's not really the case. The real cause is an arrogant certitude that their need to have ready access to the material eclipses their obligation to follow the rules for safeguarding it.


Update: From the transcript of Wolf Blitzer's interview with Sandy Berger's attorney, Lanny Breuer (emphasis added):

BLITZER: Let's talk about those notes for a second. Did he take notes -- did he take those notes from the room without authorization?

BREUER: He took notes and he did take them out. It's a violation of the Archives procedure. He took those notes. From the very beginning, he openly took the notes. He was allowed to take notes. And then he took the notes with him. He put them in his coat pocket and in his pants pocket...

BLITZER: He knew this was not authorized.

BREUER: Well, he knew it was a violation of Archives procedure. It's not against the law. No one has suggested to him it's against the law. The Department of Justice has not been concerned with it. And indeed, Wolf, in October, when the Archives contacted him, Sandy Berger returned those notes even though he wasn't asked for those notes.

BLITZER: I know Sandy Berger. You know Sandy Berger. Why would he violate Archives procedure?

BREUER: Because there's something more important than Archives procedure and that's the hard work of the 9/11 commission. Sandy Berger knew that he was going to be asked questions about what happened in the early '90s and mid '90s and that the 9/11 commission and the families of those victims had a right to know what happened.




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