Conservatives baselessly linked Sandy Berger to Atta investigation

Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News host John Gibson, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette national security writer Jack Kelly speculated -- citing no evidence -- that former national security adviser Samuel “Sandy” Berger sought to remove or replace documents from the National Archives that would have exposed the Clinton administration's purported failure in 1999 to act on intelligence regarding lead September 11, 2001, hijacker Mohammed Atta. Their baseless speculation came amid allegations, which have been called into serious question, that the 9-11 Commission omitted from its report intelligence documents from 1999 that identified Atta as a potential threat.

The Washington Times reprinted Kelly's column on August 15, despite an August 14 Time magazine article that called into question the veracity of the column's allegations that a military intelligence unit known as Able Danger had identified Atta as a suspected terrorist more than a year before the 9-11 attacks. Time noted that Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), who claimed to have handed an Able Danger chart with Atta's name and photo on it to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley just after the September 11 attacks, admitted that “he's no longer certain Atta's name was on that original document.” According to Time: “The congressman says he handed Hadley his only copy. Still, last week he referred reporters to a recently reconstructed version of the chart in his office where, among dozens of names and photos of terrorists from around the world, there was a color mug shot of Mohammad Atta, circled in black marker.” Further, Time reported that Pentagon officials “say they can find nothing produced by the Able Danger program ... mentioning Atta's name.”

Wholly apart from the increasing dubiousness of the Atta allegations, the Berger connection appears to be complete speculation. There is no evidence that Berger removed any original documents from the archives; he admitted only to taking copies of a classified assessment of counterterrorism measures enacted prior to the millennium celebrations.

On April 1, Berger pleaded guilty to removing and destroying copies of classified documents from the National Archives. The New York Times reported on April 2 that the documents Berger “admitted taking included copies of versions of an assessment made in 2000 involving antiterrorism measures taken in the wake of threats preceding the 1999 millennium celebrations,” and that a Justice Department investigation “found no evidence that Mr. Berger had intended to hide anything from the Sept. 11 commission.”

On the August 10 and 11 broadcasts of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh repeatedly suggested that Berger -- whom he referred to as “Sandy Burglar” -- removed or replaced documents on Atta to protect the Clinton administration and former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, whom Limbaugh falsely blamed for creating a “wall” that purportedly prevented intelligence sharing about 9-11 hijackers.

From the August 10 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

Let me do a couple of things here before we take a break at the bottom of the hour, and I want to talk a little bit more about this whole business of the Defense Department knowing the four hijackers and how the 9-11 Commission wasn't told about this. And now Curt Weldon has gotten in gear and has written a book about this, a senator [sic] from Pennsylvania, and it's beginning to look a little bit more like maybe Sandy Burglar has some relevance to this story.

What was Sandy Burglar taking out of the National Archives? We may now have some kind of an idea. Just a wild guess to throw out there, but now we may know what Sandy Burglar was doing and trying to take out of there or put back in once he had left with things. We also know that the 9-11 Commission was not told accurately about the wall that existed during the Clinton administration and that they didn't take it up because one of their commission members, Jamie Gorelick, wrote the wall.


The two people I'm interested in in this are Jamie Gorelick and Sandy Burglar. I want to know if Sandy Burglar's taking documents out of the National Archives has anything to do with this, and I want to know why in the world Jamie Gorelick was on that committee instead of being made a witness, 'cause she created the wall.

From the August 11 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

Somebody -- and I -- and I'll tell you something. I did raise this yesterday and I think it's relevant, too. You can't take the Sandy Burglar burglary out of this either. Sandy Burglar, you know, he has to go in the National Archives to prepare himself for his period of time before the commissioners. And we have learned that Sandy Burglar went into the National Archives and stuffed things in his pants and socks and walked out, and then came back in. And everybody was focused on what did he take out? More curious to me is, what did he put back? What did he put in there? What was -- obviously something's going on here. And you know, this is all speculation.

But now that we learn that we knew Atta was here, somebody knew it, and it was during the Clinton administration, and now you've got Sandy Burglar who, by the way, he pled guilty and got a $10,000 fine is all, uh, for this. But he knew he was in there. And we knew he took documents out.

Limbaugh has previously commented on the Berger controversy, claiming that Berger's actions were “far worse” than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

On the “My Word” segment of the August 12 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, host Gibson similarly suggested that Berger destroyed documents on Atta to protect the Clinton administration:

And another thing, what makes -- makes me wonder what Sandy Berger was stuffing in his socks when he pirated documents out of the National Archives that might have been papers the 9-11 Commission was interested in seeing.

President Clinton has been honorable lately in refusing to attack George W. Bush for his decision to go to war in Iraq. He might have been forced to make the same decision. But he and his underlings should also be willing to let out all of us -- let out to all of us the information so we can figure out what went on back then when Usama [bin Laden] and Mohammed Atta were scheming. Don't you think?

In an August 14 opinion column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kelly suggested that Berger removed documents pertaining to Able Danger, a highly classified intelligence program that purportedly identified Atta as a threat prior to the attacks. Allegations surfaced last week that the 9-11 Commission omitted Able Danger's findings from its report. Kelly wrote:

It was in October 2003 that Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stole classified documents from the National Archives and destroyed some. Berger allegedly was studying documents in the archives to help prepare Clinton officials to testify before the 9/11 commission. Was he removing references to Able Danger? Someone should ask him before he is sentenced next month.

In his column, Kelly claimed that because of the Able Danger documents, the 9-11 Commission's report “must now be moved to the fiction shelves.” He simply ignored an August 13 New York Times article reporting on an August 12 statement by 9-11 Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean and vice chairman Lee H. Hamilton questioning the significance of the Able Danger documents to the investigation. According to that statementPDF file, a review of the Able Danger documents revealed one mention of Atta's name prior to September 11, 2001, and that the document in question “was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” The commission considered the document “unreliable” because the naval officer who described it “had no documentary evidence and said he had only seen the document briefly some years earlier.”

From the August 13 New York Times article:

The statement said a review of testimony and documents had found that the single claim in July 2004 by a Navy officer was the only time the name of Mr. Atta or any other future hijacker was mentioned to the commission as having been known before the hijackings. That account is consistent with statements this week by a commission spokesman, but it contradicts claims by a former defense intelligence official who said he had told the commission staff about Able Danger's work on Mr. Atta during a briefing in Afghanistan in October 2003.


Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton also noted that the name and character of Able Danger had not been publicly disclosed when the commission issued its public report in 2004. They said the commission had concluded that the July 2004 testimony by the Navy officer, who said he had seen an Able Danger document in 2000 that described Mr. Atta as connected to a cell in Brooklyn ''was not sufficiently reliable'' to warrant further investigation, in part because the officer could not supply documentary evidence to prove it.