US charges former Air Force officer with spying for Iran

Monica Witt

Monica Witt

The Justice Department said Wednesday that Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, defected in 2013 after attending a conference in Iran aimed at "condemning American moral standards". Witt is also alleged to have disclosed the code name and classified mission of a U.S. Department of Defense Special Access Program. She worked extensively in the Middle East and had access to classified information, including the names of multiple American intelligence officials.

The publication of the indictment coincided with the Treasury Department's announcing a new series of cyber-security related sanctions on a number of Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC, which engages in "efforts to recruit and collect intelligence from foreign attendees [of various conferences], including USA persons, and four associated individuals", according to the a release announcing the sanctions. She was a Defense Department contractor at the time. Witt replied with a smiley emoticon, "LOL thank the sec of defense?"

Monica Witt, aged 39, worked as a cryptologist and a counter-intelligence investigator for the United States air force for more than 10 years before becoming an intelligence analyst for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in 2008 and doing other private sector work.

Witt is also accused in the Washington, DC, indictment of conducting research about her intelligence colleagues and using that data to draft "target packages" against them.

Besides charges and an arrest warrant issued in the name of the former USAF service member, the DOJ also indicted four Iranian hackers who supposedly carried out the cyber-attacks acting on information provided by Witt. The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of USA government agents.

When warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran.

Two years later, court papers say, her involvement with Iran began.

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Iranian hackers then used that information to target those individuals with cyberattacks, the Justice Department said.

"This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect", said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

"On or about July 3, 2013, Witt wrote Individual A, 'I think I can slip into Russian Federation quietly if they help me and then I can contact WikiLeaks from there without disclosing my location", the indictment said.

Last November, US President Donald Trump re-imposed all sanctions on Iran that had been suspended due to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

"I just hope I have better luck with Russian Federation at this point", Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July. "But every great while, one of these trusted people fails us". Prosecutors say Witt met with IRGC personnel at a conference organized by New Horizon.

Marzieh Hashemi works for the Press TV network's English-language service.

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