US ex-Air Force officer faces spy charges after defecting to Iran

Lamar Ellis
February 14, 2019

A former US Air Force intelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with conspiring to provide US defence information to representatives of that country's government, including the code name and mission of a highly classified programme.

All the five suspects named in the indictment are still at large, believed to be located in Iran.

Witt was indicted along with four Iranian hackers, who the US says worked on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

"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.

The event, though, has received a tepid response overseas, as some objected to the its anti-Iran focus. According to documents released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday, Monica Witt, 39, defected to Iran in 2013.

According to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008 and worked as contractor for two years after that.

During her time in the military, she had top secret clearance, the indictment says, which gave her access to intelligence materials that contained the real names of American sources and clandestine agents.

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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.

"I just hope I have better luck with Russian Federation at this point", Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July.

Jay Tabb, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security, said Witt was ideologically driven.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as a defense contractor, but by 2012 her politics had turned.

But later that year, she helped an unnamed Iranian-American official produce an anti-American propaganda film.

Shortly before Witt's defection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation circulated a missing persons poster in an attempt to track her down. She successfully defected in August 2013. These hackers proceeded to make fake Facebook accounts to befriend Witt's former agents and attempt to install spyware on their computer activity. "Witt may have also travelled to the United Arab Emirates or Iran, where she had previously travelled on at least two other occasions". The hackers sent the targets messages and emails that purported to be legitimate but instead contained malicious software that, if opened, would have given them access to the officials' computer and network.

The highest court of the United Nations rejected a USA claim that it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on parts of the case, paving the way for the trial to continue. The four men were identified as Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar.

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