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Air Force intel officer kept hundreds of classified docs, faces prison

Sensitive and classified documents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams/Released)
February 02, 2023

A retired Air Force intelligence officer who took hundreds of classified documents home with him is facing the possibility of 10 years in prison as similar probes unfold against multiple top U.S. leaders.

Court documents say that in 2017, one year before Lt. Col. Robert Birchum’s retirement, Air Force special investigators found 135 documents “containing classified national defense information” on a thumb drive at his home in Tampa, Florida, reported.

Six days later, they found a personal hard drive with 117 more classified national defense files, and another 28 paper documents with secret information were found in a Tampa storage unit four days after that, court documents say, according to

The thumb drive had two presentations about the National Security Agency’s targets and data collection methods, which could “cause exceptionally grave damage” to U.S. national security, according to court documents. 

The hard drive had information about Defense Department locations around the world, “detailed explanations” of Air Force abilities and weaknesses, as well as details about how the Air Force uses data collected through Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platforms, according to court documents.

The newly revealed court documents say Birchum, whose 32-year Air Force career spanned multiple intelligence jobs, pleaded guilty last year to one count of willful retention of national defense information, reported. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The plea in the years-long case comes as special counsels were recently appointed to oversee separate investigations into classified materials found in the possession of President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump. 

Former vice president Mike Pence also recently said he takes “full responsibility” for classified documents found at his home in Indiana last week, The Hill reported. How the documents ended up there is being reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department’s National Security Division, CNN reported.