Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Robert L. Birchum (55, Tampa) has pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing and retaining classified documents relating to the national defense of the United States. Birchum faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set. Birchum has also agreed to surrender certain computer equipment that contained classified information and facilitated the unlawful retention of national defense information.
According to the plea agreement, Birchum, who retired in 2018 as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, had 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 he was 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 had removed more than 300 classified files or documents, including more than 30 items marked Top Secret, from authorized locations to 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, and Birchum knew as much. For example, 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 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.
This case was investigated by the United States Air Force—Office of Special Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Cherie L. Krigsman and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.