U.S. charges ex-intelligence specialist with spying for Iran

Posted February 14, 2019

39-year-old Monica Witt, a counter-intelligence officer and special agent of the Air Force, defected to Iran in 2013.

Monica Elfriede Witt, the former Air Force technical sergeant and Defense Department intelligence contractor indicted on federal espionage charges unsealed Tuesday, spent more than a decade in the service before her eventual defection to Iran, according to the Air Force and Justice Department.

A former USA air force intelligence officer who defected to Iran in 2013, has been charged with espionage, giving away the identity of a covert United States agent and other secrets.

On August 28, 2013, she finally defected to Tehran, where she took the name Fatemah Zahra and, according to the indictment, began disclosing classified information to Iranian officials, including the identity of a covert USA operative.

The U.S. Treasury said Net Peygard targeted current and former U.S. government and military personnel with a malicious cybercampaign, while New Horizon had staged global gatherings to back efforts by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force to recruit and collect intelligence from foreign participants.

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The indictment said Witt was recruited during trips to Tehran in 2012 and 2013 with help from an unidentified "Individual A", a dual US-Iranian citizen whose description resembles Hashemi. She was a Defense Department contractor at the time.

Witt returned to the conference a year later, and began assisting Iranian intelligence services. "She made a decision to turn against the United States and turn her loyalties to Iran", FBI Executive Assistant Director Jay Tabb told reporters.

Witt appears to have turned against the United States some time before February 2012, when she traveled to Iran to attend a New Horizon conference that featured anti-U.S. propaganda. "Today's announcement also highlights our commitment to vigorously pursue those who threaten US security through state-sponsored hacking campaigns". Soon after, she moved to Iran, where she received housing and "computer equipment" by the Iranian regime. The Department of Justice said the suspect defected to the Arab nation in 2013 and is accused of providing Tehran with highly classified information used to target her former fellow agents.

The hackers, using imposter Facebook personas, then targeted those same officials and were even able at one point to join a private Facebook group composed primarily of retired government workers, the indictment says.

Witt replied: "LOL thank the sec of defence?"

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The indictment referred to the other four as "cyber conspirators" and said they planned to deploy malware to provide covert access to the targets' computers and networks.

"Our intelligence professionals swear an oath to protect our country, and we trust them to uphold their oath.

With good reason", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's national security division. "But every great while, one of these trusted people fails us".

At least one of those New Horizon conferences was organised by Iranian-American journalist Marzieh Hashemi, who was detained by U.S. officials in January as a material witness in a federal criminal case, according to the Tehran Times.

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