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Berkeley County woman pleads guilty to federal charges following international kidnapping incident in 2019

Elizabeth Jo Shirley
Elizabeth Jo Shirley(West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility)
Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 6:48 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WDTV) - A Berkeley County woman pleaded guilty to federal charges on Monday following an international kidnapping incident last year.

U.S. Attorney Mike Powell’s office said in a press release that Elizabeth Jo Shirley, 47, of Hedgesville, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to willful retention of national defense information and one count of international parental kidnapping. Shirley admitted to unlawfully retaining a National Security Agency document containing information classified at the TOP SECRET/SECRET COMPARTMENTED INFORMATION (“TS/SCI”) level relating to the national defense that outlines intelligence information regarding a foreign government’s military and political issues.

Shirley admitted to taking her 6-year-old daughter to Mexico. She was a non-custodial parent.

“When Shirley took classified information from her work with the Intelligence Community and later fled to Mexico, she violated the confidence placed in her by the American people,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “She doubled down on this betrayal when she sought to offer classified information to the Russian government. We are grateful for our law enforcement partners’ timely work to locate and arrest the defendant in Mexico. Given Shirley’s troubling conduct after fleeing the United States, the damage to national security could have been far greater had law enforcement not acted swiftly. Shirley will now be held accountable for betraying the trust of the American people.”

“High level security clearance requires a commensurate level of trust. Shirley breached that trust and attempted to put our country at risk. National security is one of our highest priorities and always will be. Shirley will now face the consequences of her actions,” said Powell.

“Federal government employees and contractors with high level security clearances pledge to protect classified information from foreign adversaries. It’s an essential responsibility in guarding our country’s national security,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. “Ms. Shirley had a duty to safeguard classified information. Instead, she chose to break the law and trust placed in her and made plans to pass national defense information to Russian officials, which could have put our citizens at risk. The FBI does not take these violations lightly and will work to hold wrongdoers accountable to keep our country safe.”

Shirley served on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, according to Powell’s office. The Air Force granted Shirley her first TOP SECRET/SCI security clearance in Aug. 1994. After Shirley left active duty, she served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, then in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

While serving in the Air Force, Shirley worked on assignments with the NSA. According to the news release, from May 2001 to August 2012, she held various positions with the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, and at least five different cleared defense contractors.

In July 2019, Shirley took her daughter to Mexico with the intentions to make contact with representatives of the Russian Government to request resettlement in a country that would not extradite her to the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Shirley also took national defense information, which officials say she unlawfully retained.

While she was in Mexico, Shirley prepared a written statement to Russian Government official, referencing “an urgent need” to have “items shipped from the USA related to [her] life’s work before they are seized and destroyed,” the news release states.

In Aug. 2019, U.S. Marshals Services and Mexican law enforcement found Shirley and her daughter in a hotel in Mexico City.

The FBI executed search warrants on a number of Shirley’s electronic devices, including devices she took to Mexico in July 2019 and devices the FBI seized from her Martinsburg storage unit in August 2019, according to the news release. The FBI also located the NSA document underlying the Willful Retention of National Defense Information offense during their search of the storage unit.

The news release say that in addition, the FBI found an Office of Naval Intelligence PowerPoint presentation containing information classified at the SECRET level and messages Shirley had drafted to Russian Government officials while in Mexico, the latter of which the Central Intelligence Agency has determined to include information classified at the SECRET level.

Shirley faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for the national security charge and up to three years of incarceration and fine of up to $250,000 for the kidnapping charge.

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