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Former MacDill airman pleads guilty to holding classified documents at Tampa home

Robert Birchum admitted in federal court to illegally keeping documents related to the national defense of the U.S.

TAMPA, Fla. — A retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer admitted in federal court Tuesday to keeping classified U.S. documents at his Tampa home when he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

Former Lt. Col. Robert Birchum, 55, pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession or control over documents relating to the national defense and failing to deliver those same documents to the proper U.S. officials.

If the court accepts his plea agreement, Birchum could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine no higher than $250,000. He may also be ordered to pay restitution to "any victim of the offense," court documents read.

The Air Force's Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) first learned about the documents at Birchum's Tampa home around Jan. 24, 2017, according to the plea agreement. 

After law enforcement officers conducted a search, they reportedly recovered a thumb drive, a Dell computer hard drive and numerous paper documents containing classified national defense information.

The thumb drive contained 135 files with labels ranging from "Top Secret" to "Confidential" that were controlled by various U.S. intelligence agencies, according to the court document.

The plea agreement reveals that based on his intelligence-related official duties, Birchum knew he was not authorized to possess or retain the documents in his house. It said the unauthorized release of the documents "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."

Additional classified information was later discovered on an Iomega hard drive at Birchum's temporary overseas quarters and in a storage pod at his home in Tampa, the agreement said.

United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Roger Handberg will consider Birchum's plea agreement and set a sentencing date at a later time.

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