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Press Release

Former U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officer Sentenced To 36 Months’ Imprisonment For Willfully Retaining Top Secret National Defense Information

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, FL – U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle today sentenced Robert L. Birchum (55, Tampa) to three years in federal prison for unlawfully possessing and retaining classified documents relating to the national defense of the United States. The court also ordered Birchum to pay a fine of $25,000.

Birchum pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing and retaining classified documents relating to the national defense of the United States on February. 21, 2023. According to the plea agreement, Birchum previously served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. During his 29-year career, Birchum served in various positions in intelligence, including those requiring him to work with classified intelligence information for the Joint Special Operations Command, the Special Operations Command, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. While on active duty, Birchum entered into several agreements with the United States regarding the protection and proper handling of classified information.

In 2017, however, law enforcement officers discovered that Birchum knowingly removed more than 300 classified files or documents, including more than 30 items marked Top Secret, from authorized locations. Birchum kept these classified materials in his home, his overseas officer’s quarters, and a storage pod in his driveway. None of these locations were authorized for storage of classified national defense information. In particular, the criminal information charges that Birchum possessed two documents on a thumb drive found in his home that contained information relating to the National Security Agency’s capabilities and methods of collection and targets’ vulnerabilities. Both of these documents were classified as Top Secret/SCI, and their unauthorized release could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.

“The unauthorized removal of highly sensitive documents by the defendant in this case posed great risk to our national security,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg. “We are grateful for our law enforcement partners who work diligently to keep our nation safe every day.”

“A goal of the FBI’s Counterintelligence program is to protect the secrets of the US Intelligence community. This sentencing illustrates the bureau’s commitment and perseverance in pursuing those individuals who knowingly jeopardize our nation’s security,” said FBI Tampa Special Agent in Charge David Walker.

The U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cherie L. Krigsman of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case.

Updated June 12, 2023

National Security