CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia woman who once served in the Air Force was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison Monday for planning to offer top-secret information from the National Security Agency to the Russian government.
Elizabeth Jo Shirley, 47, pleaded guilty last year as part of a plea agreement to one count each of willful retention of national defense information and international parental kidnapping.
“Shirley held a position that required the highest level of trust,” U.S. Attorney Bill Powell of West Virginia's northern district said in a statement. “When she committed these crimes, she not only broke that trust, she potentially endangered the very people who employed her and her neighbors. National security is one of our highest priorities. Shirley deserves her sentence and not a day less.”
Prosecutors said Shirley, of Hedgesville, leased a storage unit and kept a document — without authorization — relating to national defense that outlines intelligence information regarding a foreign government’s military and political issues.
Shirley worked on assignments with the NSA while serving in the Air Force.
From 2001 to 2012, Shirley held various positions with the Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence, the departments of Defense and Energy, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force and at least five different cleared defense contractors. She also held top-level security clearances at various times, the statement said.
Shirley took her 6-year-old daughter to Mexico in July 2019 after she failed to return the child on the agreed-upon date to the girl’s custodial father, the primary residential parent, and his wife in West Virginia.
Prosecutors said Shirley went to Mexico with the intent of contacting Russian government representatives to request resettlement in a country that would not extradite her back to the U.S.
While in Mexico, Shirley prepared a written message that referenced an “urgent need” to have items shipped from the U.S. related to her “life's work before they are seized and destroyed,” prosecutors said.
Shirley was arrested in August 2019 at a hotel in Mexico City and the girl was returned to her father. Authorities said the NSA document was located that month in a storage locker in Martinsburg, while messages Shirley had drafted to Russian government officials along with other classified information were found on her electronic devices.
“Shirley betrayed the trust of the American people when she took classified information from her work with the Intelligence Community,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the National Security Division. “She then sought to profit from her betrayal by seeking to sell this information to Russia, one of America’s foremost adversaries, in order to further her criminal abduction of her daughter.
"This sentence will hold Shirley accountable for her violations of the American people’s trust, and serves as a warning to others who would seek unlawful profit at America’s expense.”