Federal prosecutor says Berkeley County woman had information that could have hurt U.S.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — U.S. Attorney for Northern West Virginia Bill Powell says a plea arrangement with a Berkeley County woman requires her to unlock her electronic devices and turn over what’s suspected to be key defense documents to U.S. officials.

State police poster of when Shirley and daughter were missing.

Elizabeth Jo Shirley, of Hedgesville, pleaded guilty recently to taking the national defense documents and kidnapping her six-year-old daughter to Mexico.

“She has agreed to unlock all of the information that she has on electronic devices and the like and to turn that over to U.S. officials so we can see exactly what was there,” Powell said during a Tuesday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Shirley took her daughter from the girl’s father and illegally left the country. Powell said her goal was to meet with Russian agents in hopes of getting a new life. He said they don’t know if any meetings took place.

“There was an attempt to get a new life, to get new identities, to live in a place that didn’t have extradition,” Powell said Tuesday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “She certainly prepared messages in an effort to turn over information to Russian agents, those located in Mexico. We have no indication the information was actually passed on.”

Powell said Shirley had access to a lot of key information.

Bill Powell

“She certainly had a good bit of it that could have been passed on and much of it, if it was passed on, could have been very damaging to the U.S., U.S. defense and others,” Powell said.

Shirley had significant top secret clearance after an extensive career as a member of the Air Force and jobs with the National Secretary Administration, Department of Defense, Naval Intelligence and National Cyber investigative matters.

“She had significant opportunities and took advantage of those opportunities,” Powell said. “Much of the information that we discovered was kept in a storage unit in Berkeley County and when she was returned to the United States from Mexico she had a number of electronic devices in her possession that contained classified information.”

Powell said his office works on national security cases but the Shirley case is a first for him. He was asked if he believes Shirley was a spy.

“She certainly wanted to provide information to a government other than ours and information that would have hurt our country,” Powell said. “How you want to characterize it, I’m not sure how you want to do that, but she’s a criminal, let’s say that.”

Shirley could face a maximum of 13 years in prison when she’s sentenced later this year. The time will likely vary because of federal sentencing guidelines.

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