A federal plea bargain signed last week discloses that an ex-Air Force intelligence officer admits to retaining top secret materials on a flash drive and computer in his Tampa, Florida home.
Investigators found that retired Lt Col Robert Birchum, 54, had kept 135 top secret and classified files on the thumb drive and computer hard drive in 2017, according to the plea agreement. Birchum entered a guilty plea on Friday to a charge of unlawful retention of national defense information.
The charge includes a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. It was filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
After 32 years in the military, Birchum resigned in July 2018. During that time, he reportedly worked in various jobs in intelligence,” including as “chief of combat intelligence for a certain Air Force group.” At the US Special Operations Command and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, he also dealt with sensitive information.
After learning that President Joe Biden, Former President Donald Trump, and Former Vice President Mike Pence each had sensitive materials in their private residences, the nation is grappling with how the government handles classified information. Both presidents’ cases have been given to special prosecutors who will look into the situation.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) stated on Monday that the House Oversight Committee will examine the matter during the current legislative session and that on Tuesday, legal counsel from the National Archives would present to the committee on the classification procedure and document tracking.
“All I know is there’s a problem when you have two special counsels investigating roughly the same thing supposedly, then there’s a problem and we need to fix the problem, if at all possible,” Comer stated.
Investigators then discovered a second hard disk with an additional 117 files holding sensitive national defense material when searching Birchum’s secondary, temporary residence he maintained there. They found 76 pages of paper secret documents inside the ex-Florida airman’s house in addition to the digital data.