Published: Thu, February 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

USA charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

USA charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

On Wednesday, former Air Force intelligence office Monica Witt was charged with espionage for allegedly defecting to Iran and helping create a cyber-spying operation which targeted her former colleagues.

A Justice Department indictment charges Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is now at large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target at least eight former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community with cyberattacks in 2014 and 2015. During her time working for the government, Witt had access to "classified information, including details of ongoing counterintelligence operations, true names of sources, and the identities of USA agents involved in the recruitment of those sources", according to the indictment. Four hackers linked to the Iranian government, charged in the same indictment, used that information to target the intelligence workers online, prosecutors said. Her work for the government ended in 2010.

Investigators allege that Witt was recruited by affiliates of the Guard while attending conferences organized by New Horizon Organization, which allegedly collects intelligence on conference attendees.

Witt has, not surprisingly, disappeared in Iran and is probably beyond the reach of the American legal system. US officials believe she is still in Iran.

She also created packages for Iranian intelligence officers to target confidential USA. officials working within the country.

The four men, using fake social media accounts and working on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, sought to deploy malware that would provide them covert access to the targets' computers and networks, prosecutors said.

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.

They are said to be charged with using malware, phishing attacks and false identities, including one called Bella Wood on Facebook, who successfully friended one of the U.S. agents while they were deployed as a military intelligence officer in Kabul.

Provided with housing and computer equipment by the Iranian government, Witt tracked down USA counterintelligence agents she used to work with on Facebook, the indictment alleges, and disclosed the classified identity of at least one of those agents.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as an intelligence analyst with major defense contractor Booze Allen Hamilton in 2008 supporting the Army as an Iranian subject matter expert. The Justice Department said the information threatened other agents in the US intelligence community, a federation of 16 agencies. -Iranian citizen who is identified as "Individual A" in the indictment hired Witt to be her assistant on an anti-American propaganda film.

An Iranian communications company was also sanctioned for allegedly planting malware on United States intelligence agents' computers. It said she replied: "Well, I loved the work, and I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil".

Yahoo News reports that she wrote a message claiming that she might "do like [Edward] Snowden", the former USA intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of highly-classified documents about the National Security Agency in 2013 before being granted asylum in Russian Federation.

Witt defected to Iran in August 2013.

Witt herself was recruited by Iran after attending two worldwide conferences organized by New Horizon, U.S. officials said.

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