FBI, Justice Department Routinely Prosecute Misuse of Classified Documents

Federal officials are saying little so far about Monday’s FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, but Trump and one of his sons have said the move is part of an investigation into Trump’s removal of official documents from the White House.

While such a search of a former U.S. president’s residence would appear to be unprecedented, investigations into the removal or unlawful retention of classified information is not.

Since 2005, the FBI and the Justice Department have launched at least 11 such investigations, some targeting high-profile former U.S. officials, including a former national security adviser and a former CIA director.

Others who have been prosecuted and who have pleaded guilty or were convicted include Defense Department employees, defense contractors and employees or contractors with the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Here’s a list of some notable cases:

April 2005 – Former U.S. national security adviser Sandy Berger pleaded guilty to knowingly removing classified documents from the National Archives and Records Administration. Berger admitted to concealing and removing five copies of a classified document from the Archives in September and October 2003.

Berger also admitted to concealing and removing handwritten notes in violation of the Archives’ policy. In September 2005, Berger was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and give up his security clearance for three years.

March 2013 –Retired Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Pierce Bishop was arrested in Hawaii and charged with one count of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense and one count of willfully communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive such information. Court papers alleged Bishop, who was working for a defense contractor, stored 12 documents containing classified information at his residence. The documents further allege Bishop willfully communicated that information to a 27-year-old Chinese woman with whom he had a relationship.

Bishop pleaded guilty in March 2014. He was sentenced to more than seven years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

March 2015 – Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, a former CIA director, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. The plea followed revelations that Petraeus shared some of the materials with his biographer and mistress.

Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.

July 2015 – U.S. Navy reservist Bryan Nishimura was sentenced to two years of probation and a $7,500 fine after he pleaded guilty to downloading and storing classified documents from his deployment to Afghanistan in 2007-2008 on his personal devices and media. A search of his home in May 2012 turned up numerous classified materials, both in digital and hard copy formats.

August 2016 – Former National Security Agency contractor Harold Martin was arrested for what federal prosecutors described as a theft of top-secret government information that was “breathtaking in its longevity and scale.”

Martin was indicted in February 2017 on charges of stealing and retaining classified documents and other material, according to a statement from the Justice Department. The department further alleged Martin “stole and retained” highly classified top secret documents covering 20 years, keeping them in his home and in his vehicle.

According to the indictment, the documents stolen and retained by Martin contained NSA planning information and information on intelligence collection targets. Other documents, from U.S. Cyber Command, contained information on U.S. military capabilities, some to be used in specific operations, and documents about gaps in U.S. cyber capabilities.

Martin pleaded guilty to the willful retention of national defense information in March 2019. In July 2019, Martin was sentenced to nine years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

January 2017 – Former defense contractor and sailor Weldon Marshall was arrested for unlawfully retaining classified information, stored on compact discs and computer hard drives that he kept at his home in Texas. The information included classified documents from Marshall’s time with the U.S. Navy and from his time as a defense contractor in Afghanistan.

Marshall pleaded guilty in March 2018. He was sentenced in June 2018 to more than three years in prison followed by a year of supervised release.

January 2018 – Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee, also known as Zhen Cheng Li, was arrested on charges of unlawful retention of national defense information. Prosecutors alleged that Lee, while staying at hotels in Hawaii and Virginia, was in possession of two, small books that contained handwritten notes that included the true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations and locations of covert facilities.

Lee was indicted in May 2018 on two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense, as well as one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government.

Lee pleaded guilty and was sentenced in November 2019 to 19 years in prison for conspiring to communicate, deliver and transmit national defense information to China.

May 2018 – Former CIA contractor Reynaldo Regis pleaded guilty to charges of unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials, as well as to making false statements to federal law enforcement officers. Prosecutors said during his time at the CIA, Reyes conducted unauthorized searches of classified databases and copied the information into dozens of notebooks, which he then took home.

In November 2018, Reyes was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Regis’ lawyer later told the Associated Press and other news outlets that his client “had no nefarious purpose. It was just a mistake.”

August 2019 – Former National Security Agency (NSA) employee Elizabeth Jo Shirley was arrested in Mexico City on charges of parental kidnapping and was later charged with retaining top secret documents on her electronic devices, both in Mexico and some stored at her home in West Virginia.

Prosecutors additionally alleged that Shirley sought to offer the information to the Russian government.

In July 2020, Shirley pleaded guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information and to one count of international parental kidnapping. She was sentenced in January 2021 to more than eight years in prison for the willful retention of national defense information. She was also sentenced to three years in prison on the kidnapping charges.

June 2020 — Investigators conducted a search of the Hawaii home of Asia Janay Lavarello, a U.S. Defense Department employee, following her return from a temporary assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Investigators found numerous classified documents, writings, and notes relating to the national defense or foreign relations and said the documents – first seen by guests at a dinner party hosted by Lavarello – had not been transported by secure diplomatic pouch, as required.

Lavarello pleaded guilty to knowingly removing classified information in July 2021. She was sentenced in February 2022 to three months in prison and a $5,500 fine.

May 2021 – Kendra Kingsbury, an employee at the FBI’s Kansas City division, was indicted on two counts of having unauthorized possession of documents relating to the national defense. The court documents allege Kingsbury removed sensitive material and classified documents from her workplace over a period of more than 12 years and kept them at her home. One of the documents included information on al-Qaida members in Africa, including a suspected associate of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.



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