Kerry defends Berger for 'honest mistake'

By Rupert Cornwell

1.00pm - By RUPERT CORNWELL in Washington

Republicans yesterday suggested that former national security adviser Sandy Berger was attempting to cover up embarrassments for the Clinton administration when he improperly removed top secret counter-terrorism documents from the National Archives.

The charges came on the eve of publication of the independent commisison report on the September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

They fuelled Democratic complaints that the whole affair was an attempt to divert attention from the report, which is expected to be critical of the Bush administration.

Mr Berger, who has stepped down as an informal foreign policy adviser to the Democratic Presidential challenger John Kerry, yesterday repeated that he had made "an honest mistake."

A spokesman meanwhile for the commission said the body had received all the documents it needed from the Clinton administration to make its report.

But Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker of the House, injected a bitter partisan note into the controversy, wondering "What information could be so embarrassing that a man with decades of experience in handling classified documents would risk being caught pilfering our nation's most sensitive secrets?"

Former President Clinton and other senior Democrats have suggested that politics explained why news of the Berger probe had only surfaced now, many months after the investigation began.

"It's interesting timing," Mr Clinton commented at a book signing on Tuesday.

The 600-page report, made available to President Bush yesterday, is expected to criticise his handling of the terror threat in the run-up to 9/11.

Reportedly, it will list 10 specific security and intelligence failures beforehand, but will stop short of declaring that the attacks could have been prevented.

The report will also recommend a shake-up of US intelligence, placing all 15 agencies under a single intelligence 'czar' with cabinet rank.

- INDEPENDENT

Herald Feature: September 11

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