Elizabeth Jo Shirley, 47, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of “willful retention of national defence information” and one count of “international parental kidnapping,” according to a statement released by the United States Department of Justice.
Shirley admitted to stealing a National Security Agency (NSA) document containing top secret information related to national defence. She also admitted to kidnapping her daughter, obstructing the custodial rights of the girl’s father.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in the release.
“Shirley will now be held accountable for betraying the trust of the American people,” he continued.
Before being located and arrested in Mexico in 2019, Shirley served on active duty with the United States Air Force and was granted her first Top Secret/SCI (TS/SCI) security clearance in 1994.
From 2001 to 2012, she worked with the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department of Defence, the Department of Energy and the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force.
Throughout her time in these positions, she held various TS/SCI security clearances.
In July 2019, she took her daughter to Mexico, intending to contact representatives of the Government of Russia in hopes of resettling in a country that wouldn’t send her back to the U.S.
She was reportedly meant to bring her daughter back to her father and stepmother that month, but told them she was having car trouble, the Charlotte Observer says. It’s believed she then headed to the airport and flew to Mexico.
The FBI later raided a storage unit Shirley had in her home city. They found NSA documents, an Office of Naval Intelligence PowerPoint presentation with classified information, as well as emails she drafted to Russian Government officials, the news release states.
Shirley was arrested in a hotel in Mexico City on Aug. 13, 2019, and is currently being held in a West Virginia jail.
Now, she faces up to 10 years in prison with a fine of up to US$250,000 for breach of national security, as well as up to three years and up to a $250,000 fine for kidnapping.