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US Air Force veteran pleads guilty to fleeing country with top secret national defense data, intending to give it to Russia

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A 46-year-old U.S. citizen has pleaded guilty after fleeing the country with her daughter and national-security materials that she hoped to offer Russia in exchange for Moscow’s assistance.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia said in a statement on July 6 that Elizabeth Shirley, who once served at the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves, and Navy Reserves, had admitted to unlawfully retaining a document containing national-defense information and to international parental kidnapping.

The statement said that, in July 2019, Shirley took her six-year-old daughter to Mexico with the intent of making contact with representatives of the government of Russia to request help in resettling in a country that would not extradite her to the United States.

While in Mexico, the statement said Shirley prepared a written message to Russian government officials, referencing “an urgent need” to have “items shipped from the USA related to [her] life’s work before they are seized and destroyed.”

“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 Demers said.

“She doubled down on this betrayal when she sought to offer classified information to the Russian government,” he added in the statement.

Shirley had held TOP SECRET/SCI security clearances at various times since 1994.

Mexican police arrested Shirley at the request of the United States in August last year.

She faces up to 10 years in prison for illegally holding classified information and up to three years for illegally taking her child, of whom she was the noncustodial parent, to Mexico with the intent to interfere with the custodial father’s parental rights.

“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,” Demers added.

Russia has not commented on the situation.