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Shortly after news broke that former Clinton administration National Security Advisor Samuel "Sandy" Berger was being investigated by the Justice Department for illegally removing highly classified documents from the National Archives, the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) removed its anti-terror plan from its web site.
Republicans have suggested that the information contained in the documents was used to formulate Kerry's policy, but are limited in proving those charges because the material is still classified. The sudden disappearance of the policy from the campaign web site that coincided with Berger's dismissal supports Republicans' contention that the purloined data formed the basis of at least part of the Democratic candidate's homeland security program.
The link to the policy is now defunct, but the original page was temporarily preserved in a Google cache. The Kerry release outlining the policy is also archived on the conservative discussion board FreeRepublic.com B) (web site).
Key portions of the policy removed from the web site included the following three passages:
-- Increase Port Security and Accelerate Border Security. Currently, 95% of all non-North American U.S. trade moves by sea, concentrated mostly in a handful of ports. John Kerry believes improvements in port security must be made, while recognizing that global prosperity and America's economic power depends on an efficient system. Kerry's plan would develop standards for security at ports and other loading facilities for containers and assure facilities can meet basic standards. To improve security in commerce, John Kerry believes we should accelerate the timetable for the action plans agreed to in the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico "smart border" accords as well as implement security measures for cross-border bridges. Finally John Kerry will pursue modest safety standards for privately held infrastructure and will help owners find economical ways to pay for increased security.
-- Secure Nuclear Power Plants, Nuclear Weapons Facilities and Chemical Facilities. John Kerry will appoint an Energy Secretary who takes nuclear plant security seriously and ensures meticulous follow-up to any security violations. He would also order an immediate review of engagement orders and weaponry for plant guards, and ensure attack simulation drills be as realistic as possible. A Kerry Administration would ensure that security of our nuclear weapons facilities is a U.S. government responsibility -- not cede it to private contractors as the Bush Administration considered doing. A Kerry Administration will tighten security at chemical facilities across the nation that produce or store chemicals, focusing first on facilities in major urban areas where millions of Americans live within the circle of vulnerability.
-- Tighten Aviation Security and Combat Threats to Civilian Aircraft. John Kerry will close loopholes in existing regulations on cargo carried by passenger flights and increase the reliability of new screening procedures. Kerry will increase perimeter inspections of U.S. airports and work with international aviation authorities to make sure the same standards are in place at all international airports. He will work with our allies to crackdown on the sale of shoulder-fired missiles that could be used in an attack on civilian aircraft, and are sold on the black market.
The Kerry campaign did not respond to a Talon News inquiry about the removal of the link from the web site.
Instead of reviewing documents for the 9/11 Commission investigation, Republicans suggested that Berger used the information from the National Archives to help the Kerry campaign.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said, "Reportedly these documents related to homeland security and then suddenly we see that the Kerry campaign came forward with what may have been illegal documents. This is sensitive stuff and was a significant breach of security."
"Kerry knows better than to use these documents," Chambliss added.
Berger admitted to removing documents from the National Archives on five separate occasions, but maintains that it was "inadvertent."
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) believes otherwise, saying, "There is a curious connection between the removal of these documents and the Kerry press conference on port security. It's disappointing what people might do as they try to take the president down."
Berger had been the dominant national security advisor to Sen. Kerry and was suggested by some as a potential Secretary of State in a Kerry administration, something that now appears unlikely no matter what the outcome of November's election.
When asked by NBC if he was aware of the investigation, Kerry said, "I didn't have a clue."
Democrats tried to deflect the damaging revelation by claiming its timing was politically motivated.
"Somebody leaked it obviously with an intent to do damage to Mr. Berger, and that's unfortunate," Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) said. "I think the timing of all this is curious. Berger deserves the benefit of the doubt until the investigation is complete."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the Justice Department to produce documents about any correspondence with the White House on the investigation. He is accusing Republicans of a "smear campaign" against Berger.
McAuliffe has great cause for concern since two important Kerry advisors have been damaged in the past two weeks.
Former Ambassador Joe Wilson was discredited by a Senate Intelligence Committee report that contradicted Wilson's public statements about how he was selected for a sensitive mission to Niger in 2002 and the results of his report about Saddam Hussein's attempt to purchase uranium in Africa. Wilson represented his investigation as proof that President Bush misled the United States in making the case for the invasion of Iraq. An investigation into British intelligence confirms that Bush's claim was "well founded."
While political reactions to the Berger affair are predictably mixed, there is no doubt that the former national security advisor broke the law. The documents he removed carry the highest classifications for secrecy: code word clearance.
Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) called Berger's actions "just a third-rate burglary."
But former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy disagrees, calling it a grave transgression against national security. Liddy wonders why the Justice Department has not arrested Berger for having admitted to committing five felonies.
Liddy pointed out that Berger is the second Clinton official to face prosecution for withdrawing classified materials from secure premises. Former CIA director John Deutsch was pardoned by President Clinton in the final hours of his second term and spared from suffering any punishment for having taken laptops with classified materials to his home in 1996.
Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) questioned Berger's motivation for the thefts.
He said, "What in heaven's name was he thinking? What is so important that he would risk both his reputation and prosecution to remove these documents? What's there to hide?"
He added, "There is no one with his experience who can claim that these are the actions of an absent-minded employee. Sandy Berger knows better."
Foley recalled the final days of the Clinton administration when he said, "And we thought it was bad when they were only stealing furniture."