US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

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.

But at the heart of today's indictment stands Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, a former US Air Force counter-intelligence special agent specialized in Middle East operations, who served for the Air Force between 1997 and 2008, and later worked as a DOD contractor until 2010 -including for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same defense company where Edward Snowden worked.

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

The indictment also charges four Iranians with conspiracy, attempts to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft as part of an effort in 2014 and 2015 to target Witt's former colleagues and co-workers in the United States intelligence community. Iran's nuclear program was the target of the U.S.

According to the New York Times, officials say Witt submitted details of her background to an operative with ties to Iranian intelligence in August 2013 and moved to Iran the same month.

A Farsi language specialist, she was deployed to the Gulf area several times on signals intelligence missions, according to the indictment, and had top security clearance giving her access to the identities of clandestine USA agents and informants in the field.

Witt's case appeared intertwined with that of Iranian-American television journalist Marzieh Hashemi, who was detained by U.S. authorities in January during a visit to the United States and forced to testify before a grand jury in Washington, DC, where the Witt case was investigated. The next year, she went to another Iranian conference and soon arranged to defect, according to the indictment.

The four used cyber tactics to target eight USA government agents "all of whom at one time worked or interacted with the main suspect". That group has been designated by the USA government as promoting terrorism.

In the weeks after defecting, she also conducted several Facebook searches of her former colleagues, and is alleged to have exposed one agent's true identity, "thereby risking the life of this individual". -Iranian citizen who is identified as "Individual A" in the indictment hired Witt to be her assistant on an anti-American propaganda film. "I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil", she told that person in an email.

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.

In one message she wrote that she might "do like (Edward) Snowden", the former USA intelligence contractor who in early June 2013 leaked thousands of documents on the operations of the National Security Agency.

The FBI said Wednesday that it's possible Witt remains a threat, and her former colleagues have been apprised of the charges against her.

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