USA charges former Air Force officer for spying for Iran

Frederick Owens
February 13, 2019

The US Department of Justice unsealed today espionage-related charges against a former US Air Force service member who defected to Iran and helped the country's hackers target her former Air Force colleagues.

"From in or around January 2012 to in or around May 2015, in Iran, and elsewhere outside the jurisdiction of any particular State or district, defendant Monica Elfriede Witt did knowingly and unlawfully combine, confederate, and agree with other persons...to knowingly and unlawfully communicate, deliver, and transmit to a foreign government, specifically Iran, and to that foreign government's representatives, officers, and agents, directly and indirectly, documents and information relating to the national defence of the United States", the indictment said.

In the indictment, Witt, who converted to Islam, is also identified by her Iranian names, Fatemah Zahra and Narges Witt. "It is sadder still when this person, as a member of the American armed forces", John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security told reporters Wednesday at a conference to announce the charges.

During her US government career, authorities said Witt was granted high-level security clearances and was posted overseas on several occasions for counterintelligence missions.

Witt, 39, served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, spending some of that time doing counterintelligence work in the Middle East, before moving to the private sector to work as a contractor.

Witt allegedly gave Iranian officials the code name and mission of a highly classified U.S. Defense Department program and the specific target involved in that intelligence operation.

Witt remains at large in Iran, as do the four hackers, who prosecutors say were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard, prosecutors said.

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She revealed to the Iranians a "highly classified intelligence collection program" as well as the true identity of a U.S. intelligence officer, Demers said.

However, in 2012, she traveled to Iran to attend the Iranian New Horizon Organization's "Hollywoodism" conference, aimed specifically at criticizing and condemning American foreign policy.

The DOJ claims Witt has been working ever since with IRGC hacking units to craft and fine-tune cyber-operations against her former Air Force colleagues, some of whom she knew personally. That group has been designated by the USA government as promoting terrorism.

Witt replied: "LOL thank the sec of defence?" The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity", according to the indictment.

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

According to the FBI, Ms Witt was last seen in southwest Asia in July 2013. That's a reference to Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked classified US information.

Four Iranian nationals-Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar-were charged with those activities in the same indictment as Witt. She was warned that May by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents that she was a potential target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence.

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