18 U.S.C. § 1924 - Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material
The protection of classified documents is essential for national security. Suppose United States government employees or contractors intentionally mishandle classified materials. In that case, it could potentially harm the United States' interests, and it's a violation of national security.
Thus, under 18 U.S.C. 1924, it's a federal offense to deliberately remove classified documents or materials from their designated location without permission or maintain them in their assigned area.
In other words, this statute defines when it is a crime to knowingly move, mishandle, or abuse classified material, which is called “unauthorized removal” by a government employee, officer, contractor, etc.
18 U.S.C. 1924 is defined as “(a) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by their office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information, knowingly removes them without authority and with the intent to retain such documents at an unauthorized location shall be….”
The “unauthorized removal” is the unlawful act of taking classified documents or material from their designated storage location or facility without permission.
Notably, to be found guilty of violating this law, the perpetrator must have intended to keep the documents at an unauthorized location.
The penalties will depend on the classification level of the information, the intent to use it, and the harm caused. Let's review this statute further below.
What Is Classified Information?
There are three classification levels, including confidential, secret, and top secret. Classified information is material that the United States government has deemed to be sensitive to national security, such as the following:
- Written documents,
- Computer files,
- Texts, and
- Other digital formats.
18 U.S.C. 1924(c) says the term “classified information of the United States means information originated, owned, or possessed by the government concerning the national defense or foreign relations of the United States that was determined pursuant to law or Executive order to require protection against unauthorized disclosure in the interests of national security."
To “retain” in this law means to keep or hold classified documents or material without proper clearance or past the time that was authorized.
Notably, there are other factors you should know about this statute when you have been accused of related violations, such as the following:
- This federal statute doesn't require a prosecutor to prove that the removal or retention of classified documents caused any harm but only that the perpetrator acted knowingly, willfully, and without authorization.
- To convict, it's unnecessary to prove that a perpetrator retained classified information, but only that they intended to maintain it.
What Factors Must Be Proven for a Conviction?
To be convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1924, a federal prosecutor must first prove all the elements of the crime, including that the defendant did all of the following acts:
- They were a government officer or employee, contractor, or someone who legally had custody and control of classified documents;
- They knowingly removed documents from their designated locations; and
- They had the intent to retain documents at an unauthorized location.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 93 Public Officers and Employees have numerous federal laws related to 18. U.S.C. 1924 unauthorized removal of classified documents, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1901 – Collect officer trading in public property;
- 18 U.S.C. 1902 – Disclosure of crop information;
- 18 U.S.C. 1903 – Speculate in stocks affecting crop insurance;
- 18 U.S.C. 1905 – Disclosing confidential information;
- 18 U.S.C. 1906 – Disclosing bank examination information;
- 18 U.S.C. 1907 – Disclosing information by farm credit examiner;
- 18 U.S.C. 1909 – Examiner performing other services;
- 18 U.S.C. 1910 – Nepotism in appointing a receiver;
- 18 U.S.C. 1911 – Receiver mismanagement of property;
- 18 U.S.C. 1912 – Unauthorized fees for vessel inspection;
- 18 U.S.C. 1913 – Lobby with appropriated money;
- 18 U.S.C. 1915 – Compromise customs liabilities;
- 18 U.S.C. 1916 – Unauthorized lapsed appropriations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1917 – Interfering with civil service examinations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1918 – Disloyalty against the U.S. Government;
- 18 U.S.C. 1919 – False statements for unemployment compensation;
- 18 U.S.C. 1920 – False statements for employee compensation;
- 18 U.S.C. 1922 – Withheld report for employee compensation;
- 18 U.S.C. 1923 – Fraudulent receiving payments of missing persons;
- 18 U.S.C. 783(b) – Receipt of classified information by foreigners;
- 18 U.S.C. 793(e) – Unauthorized possession of sensitive materials;
- 18 U.S.C. 798 – Unauthorized disclosure of classified information;
- 18 U.S.C. 952 – Leaking diplomatic codes;
- The Espionage Act of 1917.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1924?
Suppose you were convicted of violating 18 U.S. Code 1924. In that case, you face harsh penalties under the federal sentencing guidelines, including the following:
- Up to 5 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons; OR
- A fine of up to $250,000; OR
- Both imprisonment and a fine.
There are also civil penalties for mishandling classified documents. For example, suppose you are found guilty of violating the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) regulations, which regulate the classification and declassification of national security information. In that case, you will face fines and other penalties.
What Are the Legal Defenses?
Suppose you were accused of 18 U.S.C. 1924 removing and retaining classified documents. In that case, a federal criminal defense lawyer could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.
Maybe we can make an argument that there was a lack of intent. Perhaps you did not knowingly remove or retain classified information. Maybe it was unintentional or an honest mistake. The classified documents may be misfiled and mistakenly taken in a stack of other materials you had permission to retain.
Maybe we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. Perhaps you were unaware that you were removing classified material without authorization. Simply put, perhaps we can say you were unaware you had them, or they were in the wrong place.
Maybe we can argue that there was a mistake of fact. Perhaps you believed the information was not classified, and there was no reason to think they were. Maybe we can argue that you were authorized to remove and retain the documents.
Maybe we can argue whistleblower protections. Sometimes, people who disclose classified information might be protected under whistleblower laws.
To review the case details, we offer a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. We provide legal representation throughout the United States on federal criminal issues. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.