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.
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 USA intelligence community with cyberattacks in 2014 and 2015.
They declined to say to what extent these disclosures compromised USA intelligence operations targeting Iran. "She made a decision to turn against the United States and turn her loyalties to Iran", FBI Executive Assistant Director Jay Tabb told reporters. She posed as a United States veteran who had become disillusioned with her country's policies and appeared on Iranian TV to criticize her government.
The most notable of the four Iranian hackers is Behzad Mesri, who U.S. authorities also charged in November 2017 with hacking HBO, stealing scripts for unaired episodes of season 6 of the hit series Game Of Thrones TV show, and later attempting to extort HBO execs for $6 million.
After Witt returned to the U.S., Federal Bureau of Investigation agents conducted a defensive briefing with her to warn her that she might be the target of recruitment by Iranian security services.
Witt is charged with two counts of delivering military information to a foreign government and one count of conspiracy.
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39-year-old Monica Witt, a counter-intelligence officer and special agent of the Air Force, defected to Iran in 2013.
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 United States agents and informants in the field. She then found work as a Defense Department contractor. She worked extensively in the Middle East and had access to classified information, including the names of multiple American intelligence officials.
"I loved the work, and I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil", she allegedly told her IRGC contact.
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's friends recently reported her missing after not receiving any response from her in several months".
"I just hope I have better luck with Russian Federation at this point", Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July. "I got a copy of the Quran and started reading it", she said. "I'm signing off and heading out!" The New York Times reports she was privy to the real names of both intelligence assets and the U.S. officials who helped recruit them.
Four Iranian co-defendants were also indicted, under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of US government agents.