A high-ranking officer in the United States Air Force has reportedly admitted to federal investigators that he took extremely sensitive classified material and illegally stored it at his home in Florida.
Robert Birchum retired from the Air Force in 2018 as a lieutenant colonel after working at the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
The Daily Beast reported that Federal law enforcement officials were tipped off in early 2017 that he had a flash drive at his home that contained classified material that, if released, “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
Investigators recovered 135 classified files at his home that were marked Top Secret, Top Secret/ACCM (Alternative Compensatory Control Measures), Secret, and/or Confidential, the report said. Investigators later found an additional 117 classified files on a personal hard drive that he kept during an overseas deployment and 28 classified paper documents in a storage unit.
The report said that the plea agreement was signed just on August 26, 2022, just weeks after former President Donald Trump was raided at Mar-a-Lago in an investigation into Trump’s handling of classified information. Birchum now faces a decade in prison after admitting to willful retention of national defense information.
He is set to make his first appearance in court in several weeks. A date for his sentencing has not been set.
Court documents said that some of the classified material that Birchum had at his home “concerned Department of Defense locations throughout the world, detailed explanations of the Air Force’s capabilities and vulnerabilities, and, among other things, the methods by which the Air Force gathers, transmits, and uses information observed by various Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.”
Cedric Leighton, a retired Air Force colonel who worked at the NSA and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), said that the type of information that officers like he and Birchum handle is so sensitive that it is classified at a level above the Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) level.
“Much of the intelligence and operational information of these commands is within SAP (Special Access Program) channels, which means the handling requirements for this information are much stricter than they are for TS/SCI,” Leighton said. “I noted with concern that he had briefing slides in his possession that detailed NSA’s special collection capabilities. I used to work with those. Revealing them could potentially cause grave damage to our capability to execute military operations and collect information vital to our national security.”
President Joe Biden is under investigation after classified material was found at his home and private office late last year and early this year. News broke last week that a lawyer for former Vice President Mike Pence found classified material at Pence’s home which was subsequently handed over to federal officials.