Cybersecurity Expert Admits to Espionage and International Kidnapping Charges
A long-standing cybersecurity professional Elizabeth Jo Shirley, of Hedgesville, West Virginia, has admitted to unlawfully retaining a document containing national defense information and committing international parental kidnapping, the Department of Justice announced. Shirley attempted to sell classified information from the National Security Agency to the Russian government.
Shirley previously had a long career in the cybersecurity domain, primarily focused around the Chinese cyber threat, but also serving as a CISO at healthcare cybersecurity firm Gestalt, as a Senior Analyst at FireEye/iSIGHT Partners, and at least three other commercial cybersecurity positions. Shirley’s government career included time in the U.S. Air Force, the Office of Naval Intelligence, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, and the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force. The diversity of work experience and nexus with numerous private and public sector organizations demonstrates that Shirley has been in a position of trust for over 25 years with access to sensitive and confidential private company information.
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According to the DOJ “Shirley, 47, pled guilty to one count of “Willful Retention of National Defense Information” and one count of “International Parental Kidnapping.” Shirley admitted to unlawfully retaining a National Security Agency (NSA) document containing information classified at the TOP SECRET/SENSITIVE COMPARTMENTED INFORMATION (TS/SCI) level relating to the national defense that outlines intelligence information regarding a foreign government’s military and political issues. Shirley also admitted to removing her child, of whom she was the non-custodial parent, to Mexico with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of the custodial father’s parental rights.
“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 U.S. Attorney William J. 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.”