US charges former air force officer with Iran-related espionage

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A former counterintelligence agent with the U.S. Air Force has been accused of revealing classified information to Iran.

Monica Witt, who was born and raised in Texas, allegedly provided Iranian security officials with the code name and classified mission of a U.S. Defense Department special access program. 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.

"This case reflects our firm resolve to hold accountable any individual who betrays the public trust by compromising our national security", said U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu.

Around the same time, Witt appeared in at least one Iranian video in which she criticized the USA government.

That year she travelled to Iran to attend an anti-America conference sponsored by the New Horizon Organization.

While Witt, far outside the clutches of USA law enforcement, is unlikely to get a U.S. court date, the indictment follows a pattern of recent Justice Department targeting of Iranian cybercriminals that dates back to the Barack Obama administration. "Her primary motivation appears to be ideological".

Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008 and then worked on classified government projects for two years after that, reports the Washington Post.

The four Iranians named in the indictment - Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar - have been charged with conspiracy, attempted computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft for cyber attacks against Witt's former colleagues and other USA intelligence personnel in 2014 and 2015.

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Officials said Witt turned on the US and shifted her loyalty to the Islamic Republic for "ideological reasons".

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.

Four Iranians who helped Witt in the cyber hack were also named in the indictment.

When warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran.

American investigators allege the Iranians used "fictional and imposter social media accounts" aimed at deploying malware that would give them cover access to their targets' computers and networks.

Two years later, court papers say, her involvement with Iran began. 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". These hackers proceeded to make fake Facebook accounts to befriend Witt's former agents and attempt to install spyware on their computer activity.

Through friend requests, the fake Facebook account managed to befriend several actual United States intelligence agents.

Her actions are "a betrayal of our nation's security, our military and the American people", Phillips said during a press call with reporters.