Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I've been following the Berger (and Wilson) fiasco with considerable interest, naturally.  I agree with most commentators that his actions are almost inexplicable.  This has led some people to decide that the most likely reason is stupidity and/or incompetence.  This certainly has significant attraction for me.  What's that aphorism, something along the lines of "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity"?  My first default when something like this occurs is that the person involved just had a brain fart.  However, I can't agree in this case.

It seems the most notable person to espouse this theory (other than Bill Clinton, I suppose) is Virginia Postrel.  She gives odd credence to a report put out by the NYT.  The problem I have with the whole idea that this was simple stupidity is threefold:

1.  Berger has been out of government for several years, so the idea that he was still so used to handling top secret documents that he was just careless with them is simply not plausible.

2.  Even accepting the doubtful proposition that the NYT story is right about Berger simply putting the notes in his pockets, rather than putting them down his pants and even in his socks as reported by other news outlets, he has admitted that he had a briefcase with him.  If you "knowingly" take such notes with you, and you have a briefcase with you, why would you put them in your pockets rather than in your briefcase?  Using Occam's Razor myself, I can only reason that he intentionally put them on his person to avoid the theft from being discovered should his briefcase be searched.  In other words, he knowingly violated the law.

3.  I'm not sure if Ms. Postrel was the one who mentioned the case of Mr. Deutch, the former CIA director, to bolster the idea that people who handle sensitive documents on a daily basis become careless with them.  If she didn't, someone else has.  However, to my mind this actually hurts the Berger as bumbler theory.  The fact is that Mr. Deutch required one of Bill Clinton's infamous pardons to escape a possible criminal conviction.  He also had his top secret clearance revoked.  I'm sure that Berger is well aware of his former associate's humiliation.

4.  I know I said 'three-fold', but I just remembered another reason to be doubtful.  It is also being reported that this didn't just happen the one time.  Having documents which Berger was handling disappear not just once, but twice or more, doesn't suggest innocent "mistakes" either.