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July 22, 2004

Berger, Instapundit, and Weblog Advantages

Is Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor and until recently one of Kerry's top security advisors, a bumbler, or is he a dangerous criminal? Those are our two choices, which does not say good things about Clinton and Kerry. All the evidence points to "dangerous criminal", and what Berger himself has to say confirms it more than it refutes it.

Instapundit has a great post that shows the value of weblogs, in which he quotes emails from readers.

First, though, the story itself about Berger's removal of classified documents. Here's Byron York's summary of the Berger affair:

First, Berger has reportedly conceded that he knowingly hid his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants in order to sneak them out of the Archives. Any notes made from classified material have to be cleared before they can be removed from the Archives --- a common method of safeguarding classified information -- and Berger's admission that he hid the notes in his clothing is a clear sign of intent to conceal his actions.

Second, although Berger said he reviewed thousands of pages, he apparently homed in on a single document: the so-called "after-action report" on the Clinton administration's handling of the millennium plot of 1999/2000. Berger is said to have taken multiple copies of the same paper. He is also said to have taken those copies on at least two different days. There have been no reports that he took any other documents, which suggests that his choice of papers was quite specific, and not the result of simple carelessness.

Third, it appears that Berger's "inadvertent" actions clearly aroused the suspicion of the professional staff at the Archives. Staff members there are said to have seen Berger concealing the papers; they became so concerned that they set up what was in effect a small sting operation to catch him. And sure enough, Berger took some more. Those witnesses went to their superiors, who ultimately went to the Justice Department.

Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, has a very good roundup of emails from his readers about whether what Berger did was common, sloppy practice in government circles, and whether government workers even know the rules about security. ( Jonah Goldberg at the NRO Corner says he's gotten lots of them too, but, to my disappointment, he doesn't bother to quote them.) To summarize: everybody knows the rules, they are taken very seriously, and Berger had to have known he was breaking the law in a serious way. Here's one example of an email sent to Reynolds:

Just to back up some of your other correspondents. I spent 27 years total in the AF - with a Top Secret clearance. I had at times, specific appended code word clearances, which are controlled on a strict need-to-know basis - because they often involve sensitive sources (say, you are getting data from a mole in the Itanian Gov. - that particular data would be graded TS and then given a code word to further identify it as very sensitive and to restrict access from those with just general TS clearances). In a nutshell, the security system from least classified to most classified was: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, Top Secret codeword). When we worked on Top Secret codeword (it might read something like Top Secret Fishhook), it was in a vault and our notes were put in burn bags. We were not allowed to take any notes out -period. We clearly understood that you didn't screw around with Secret, much less TS or TS codeword. For us a slip-up meant the slammer. What Berger did is so far removed from accepted security procedure, that I can only see two possible explanations: dishonesty with an ulterior motive (political CYA, I would guess) Or he's crazy. There is no way a veteran in the security business doesn't understand the gravity of walking out with TS codeword data.

and here's another:

I really do not see how the bumbler theory makes any sense, and I highly object to the idea that people who work with very highly classified information simply forget the rules. Only someone who DOES NOT work with very highly classified information could possibly make that charge.

A first advantage of weblogs is that they allow for instant response-- news *and* commentary more quickly than the newspapers and TV can even manage news without commentary.

A second advantage is unbiasedness, in aggregate. There are so many weblogs and it is so easy to start one that the liberal establishment cannot suppress information. Even liberal weblogs will confront awkward facts, because otherwise the more intelligent of their readers will know it-- competition is just too tight.

A third advantage is accuracy. Weblogs can publish corrections instantly,and they can document their claims by linking to other webpages. If they link, readers can check and do their own analysis of the raw data. If they don't link, readers can know to be skeptical. Another part of this is that bloggers have personal reputations to protect. A journalist can jump from one newspaper to another after writing inaccurate stories, and his impact on the credibility of the entire newspaper is small anyway. Instapundit is one person. Moreover, that one person has a real job-- as a law professor-- and if he lies in his weblog it will hurt him in his real job too.

A fourth advantage-- finally coming to the Instapundit-on-Berger example-- is reader feedback. Readers who know more than the blogger can email him and give him information as yet unpublished. Sometimes this will be corrections, going back to my third advantage, but often it will be supplementary information such as the answer to the reasonable question, "Does everybody ignore the rules on removing classified documents, so Berger's offense was not really serious?" Readers of weblogs will know the answer to this, based on convincing evidence from government employees who know what they're talking about. Readers of newspapers will not. Even if a news story purports to answer it, readers will be properly skeptical of bias. In theory a newspaper could do the same thing as Instapundit and publish numerous quotes as evidence, but for some reason--space considerations perhaps-- newspapers don't.

Posted by erasmuse at July 22, 2004 10:18 AM

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