Ex-US intelligence officer charged in Iran espionage case

Leroy Wright
February 13, 2019

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. The Justice Department on Wednesday announced an indictment against Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected to Iran in 2013 and is now at-large.

Four Iranian citizens have also been charged with attempting to install spy software on computers belonging to Ms Witt's colleagues.

That year, an unidentified person contacted her and remarked that she was well-trained.

Witt worked for the Air Force from 1997 until 2008, and then as a contractor.

The US Department of Treasury has also sanctioned two Iranian companies - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - for their role in the plot.

In a charging document, investigators say the 39-year-old was deployed by the USA to locations in the Middle East to conduct classified counterintelligence operations.

The publication of the indictment coincided with the Treasury Department's announcing a new series of cyber-security related sanctions on a number of Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC, which engages in "efforts to recruit and collect intelligence from foreign attendees [of various conferences], including US persons, and four associated individuals", according to the a release announcing the sanctions.

After moving to Iran and converting to Islam, prosecutors claim Witt was housed by the Iranian government and provided with a computer, which she used to compile "target packages" containing information for her new employers on American military and intelligence personnel.

The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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Witt had been on the FBI's radar at least a year before she defected after she attended an Iranian conference and appeared in anti-American videos.

The conferences often included an "anti-Western" sentiment and "propagate anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial".

According to the indictment, she had access to secret and top secret national defence information, including the names of intelligence sources and clandestine agents, and had been deployed between 1999 and 2003 overseas to collect electronic intelligence. Different Iranian organizations attempted numerous approaches to gain access to their computers.

Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Texas resident, left the U.S. military in 2008 after more than a decade of service. The poster identified Witt as an English teacher, whose friends believed she was missing somewhere in Afghanistan or Tajikistan.

The charging documents outline a series of electronic messages between Witt and Individual A, who resided primarily in Iran, before she defected. They also remain at large; arrest warrants have been issued for them.

What's the state of US-Iran relations?

Iran's nuclear program was the target of the U.S.

In 2013, Witt traveled to Iran for that year's "Holywoodism" conference.

The US and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, and communications between the two nations are exchanged through Swiss diplomats.

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