Saturday, 23 February, 2019

US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

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Melinda Barton | 13 February, 2019, 22:56

The US Department of Justice unsealed today espionage-related charges against a former US Air Force service member who defected to Iran and helped the country's hackers target her former Air Force colleagues.

"Ms Witt was recruited by Iran as part of a program that targets former intelligence officers and others who have held security clearances".

Around the same time, Witt appeared in at least one Iranian video in which she criticized the US government. She continued to serve as an intelligence officer until 2010.

The event, though, has received a tepid response overseas, as some objected to the its anti-Iran focus.

Jay Tabb, the FBI's top national security official, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings.

Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on charges of disclosing the code name and classified mission of a USA military special access program to the Iranian government.

Witt's defection and subsequent collaboration with Iranian hackers were made much worse because she also had high-level security clearance and field duty experience, and indirectly helped Iranian intelligence gain deep insight into how United States operations are conducted both internally and overseas.

The Justice Department alleged she shared with Iran packages of information about her former colleagues so they could be targeted, as well as the code name and mission of a Defence Department Special Access Programme, which was highly classified.

Besides charges and an arrest warrant issued in the name of the former USAF service member, the DOJ also indicted four Iranian hackers who supposedly carried out the cyber-attacks acting on information provided by Witt.

The four men, using fake social media accounts and working on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, sought to deploy malware that would provide them covert access to the targets' computers and networks, prosecutors said.

However, in 2012, she traveled to Iran to attend the Iranian New Horizon Organization's "Hollywoodism" conference, aimed specifically at criticizing and condemning American foreign policy.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as a defense and intelligence contractor, but by 2012 her politics had begun to turn. That group has been designated by the US government as promoting terrorism. The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year.

Witt replied: "LOL thank the sec of defence? Thanks for giving me the opportunity".

A few days later, Witt wrote to the same person, "I think I can slip into Russian Federation quietly if they help me and then I can contact wikileaks from there without disclosing my location".

She also conducted online research, including on Facebook, to create information "packages" on her former colleagues in the USA intelligence community.

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