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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the National Archives

The website of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm that provides advice on doing business in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other promising markets, has a tab called “in the news.” I clicked on it this morning and two items caught my eye. One was “Let’s Get to Know the Saudis,” and the other was “How Turning Capitalism Into Equality Can Mean Profit for All.” Interesting stuff–if you are a client of Stonebridge International, that is.

But even more interesting is a news story about Stonebridge that does not appear on its website, or for that matter in most of the newspapers in this country that count.

Stonebridge’s chairman is Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton. In 2005, Berger was convicted of pilfering classified documents from the National Archives as he was preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He had smuggled them out by stuffing them into his trousers and socks and then hidden some of them in a nearby construction site. He was subsequently fined $56,905 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service, which he fulfilled by picking up litter in Virginia parks.

Yesterday, to avoid the ignominy of being disbarred—or perhaps, more importantly, to avoid being asked further questions under oath about what he had done—Berger agreed to surrender his license to practice law. A two-page agreement states that Berger “acknowledges that the material facts upon which the allegations of misconduct are predicated are true” and that he “could not successfully defend against them.”

What exactly was Berger up to in the National Archives? Why did he want those documents so badly that he was willing to risk so much, including 100 hours picking up soda cans instead of racking up billable hours at Stonebridge? We still don’t really know. His own stated explanation—that he simply wanted to read the documents at his leisure at home—does not comport with stowing them in a construction-site dead-drop like a semi-trained spy. And why are only two newspapers—the Washington Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—keeping us up to date on this bizarre story? If a Bush or a Reagan administration official had done something similar would the media be so incurious? The media’s quiet handling of this is almost as baffling as in the Montaperto matter, although for sheer mystery that case is hard to beat. 

Ronald Montaperto, an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and something of a soft-liner on China policy, pleaded guilty last June to the illegal retention of classified documents. He acknowledged in the course of the proceedings against him that he had passed secret and top-secret information to Chinese intelligence officers. Last September, he was sentenced to three months in prison and was released from incarceration this past February. The sentence stands in sharp contrast to the twelve-plus years that were given to Lawrence Franklin in the AIPAC matter for the less serious offense of passing classified documents to American citizens and mishandling others by keeping them in his home.

Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times nor any of our country’s leading newspapers–except for the conservative Washington Times—has yet to report a word about Montaperto’s escapades. It is as if this Chinese espionage case didn’t happen. I do not believe it could possibly be politics that explains this silence. Newspapers like the Post and Times may not always be the altogether neutral purveyors of news that they purport to be, but they wouldn’t ever actually suppress important information. Or would they, and why?  


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