US charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

US charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

US charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

She was also charged with helping Iranian intelligence services in targeting her former co-workers, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.

Monica Elfriede Witt, the 39-year-old former agent named in the grand jury indictment, is accused of exposing members of the USA intelligence community, targeting former colleagues with an elaborate computer scheme run by Iran, and exposing a top-secret Defense Department program considered one of the "crown jewels of US intelligence", according to Fox News.

"Four Iranian cyberhackers are also charged with various computer crimes targeting members of the USA intelligence community who were Ms. Witt's former colleagues", the indictment said.

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 United States operative. She is now at-large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target her former colleagues in the US intelligence community. She initially served as an airborne cryptologic language analyst, which is a specialist responsible for translating intelligence communication often intercepted via airborne assets.

She defected to Iran in 2013 and is believed to be there now. In exchange, she disclosed classified information, including detailed information about US intelligence officials, using information to draft "target packages" against those intelligence community individuals, the indictment charges. Throughout her tenure with the Air Force, she maintained "high-level" security clearances and even deployed to the Middle East to participate in counter intelligence operations.

Witt's case appeared intertwined with that of Iranian-American television journalist Marzieh Hashemi, who was detained by USA authorities in January during a visit to the United States and forced to testify before a grand jury in Washington, DC, where the Witt case was investigated. Four Iranian agents were also charged for targeting United States intelligence personnel through information Witt provided.

The indictment includes snippets of dialogue between Witt and the person who recruited her her, identified only as Individual 1.

Once in Tehran, Iranian authorities provided her with housing and computer equipment, the indictment alleges, and she began work on behalf of Iran. The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of US government agents.

"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.

In one message she wrote that she might "do like (Edward) Snowden", the former U.S. intelligence contractor who in early June 2013 leaked thousands of documents on the operations of the National Security Agency.

"Espionage by past or present members of the intelligence community poses a significant threat to our country and a heightened danger to their former colleagues", he said.

In 2012, prosecutors said, Witt traveled to Iran and attended an event which denounced "American moral standards" and promoted "anti-U.S. propaganda".

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