U.S. charges former Air Force intel agent with defecting to Iran
13 February, 2019, 22:53 | Author: Myra Gill
Former counterintelligence officer Monica Witt defected to Iran in 2013, and allegedly helped the Islamic Republic target her former American colleagues.
US authorities on Wednesday charged former Air Force intelligence officer Monica Witt with helping Iran launch a cyber-spying operation that targeted her former colleagues after she defected from the United States.
Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Texas resident, left the United States military in 2008 after more than a decade of service.
She defected to Iran in 2013 and presumably still lives there, US officials said.
Washington also charged four Iranian nationals who it said were involved in the cyberattacks.
The FBI said Wednesday that it's possible Witt remains a threat, and her former colleagues have been apprised of the charges against her. "But every great while, one of these trusted people fails us".
Monica Witt, aged 39, worked as a cryptologist and a counter-intelligence investigator for the USA 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. Shortly after joining the military, Witt studied Farsi at the U.S. Defense Language Institute in California before deploying overseas for four years to conduct classified missions collecting signals intelligence.
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.
The Justice Department also charged four Iranian nationals with attempting to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft in the case. The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year.
Billing itself as an "anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist" think tank, New Horizon organized conferences in Iran that cast a critical eye on USA and Israeli policy worldwide and stoked accusations of anti-Semitism from Western critics.
Investigators allege Ms Witt was recruited after attending two conferences hosted by New Horizon Organization, which was working on behalf of the Iranian National Guard's Quds Force to collect intelligence on attendees.
In the indictment, Witt, who converted to Islam, is also identified by her Iranian names, Fatemah Zahra and Narges Witt.
Jay Tabb, the FBI's top national security official, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings. That group has been designated by the US government as promoting terrorism.
The indictment suggests that Witt defected for ideological motives, and it quotes emails between Witt and an Iranian agent, referred to as Individual A, prior to her defection. Prosecutors say that Individual A worked as a spotter and assessor for Iranian intelligence.
On the conference's opening day, Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani gave a speech in which he called for regime change in Iran. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity", according to the indictment.
She eventually did, with help from Individual A, in August 2013. She returned to Iran in 2013 and was provided housing and computer equipment by Iranian officials.
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