US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

The Justice Department says Monica Witt defected to Iran and helped its cyberspies target her former compatriots in the U.S. Air Force.

USA 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.

Witt learned Farsi at a USA military language school and allegedly traveled to Iran for an anti-American event that promoted "anti-U.S. propaganda", and returned again in 2013 when she was provided with housing and computer equipment to work on behalf of Iran. Four hackers linked to the Iranian government, charged in the same indictment, used that information to target the intelligence workers online, prosecutors said.

Witt herself was recruited by Iran after attending two global conferences organized by New Horizon, U.S. officials said.

"It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's national security division.

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 case appeared intertwined with that of Iranian-American television journalist Marzieh Hashemi, who was detained by U.S. 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. "Her primary motivation appears to be ideological".

Monica Witt, who worked in the U.S. Air Force from 1997 until 2008, was last spotted in Asia, in 2013.

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Iranian nationals Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar were charged with computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft.

A warrant has been issued for Ms Witt, who remains at large.

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. It is alleged that Witt was working as a spy for Iran. Four Iranian agents were also charged for targeting USA intelligence personnel through information Witt provided.

It's unclear from the indictment if the agents clicked on the links or what information was obtained from using the fake e-mails and Facebook accounts.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the New Horizon Organisation, which hosted the 2012 conference. They are suspected of attempting to introduce malware into the United States officials' computers. That group has been designated by the US government as promoting terrorism.

But later that year, she helped an unnamed Iranian-American official produce an anti-American propaganda film.

She wrote Individual A that she wanted to put her Air Force training "to good use instead of evil".

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

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