Ex-US Air Force intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran

Former Air Force intelligence officer charged with defecting to Iran and conspiring to share top-secret information

United States officials said Monica Witt, 39, who worked a decade in Air Force counter-intelligence, had an "ideological" turn against her country and defected in 2013, turning over information on U.S. espionage operations against Tehran.

Monica Elfriede Witt, the former Air Force technical sergeant and Defense Department intelligence contractor indicted on federal espionage charges unsealed Tuesday, spent more than a decade in the service before her eventual defection to Iran, according to the Air Force and Justice Department.

A former member of USA counterintelligence worked for years with the Iranian government to undermine US national security, according to an indictment unsealed today.

Authorities said Ms. Witt's activities caused "serious damage" to USA intelligence activities.

In 2012, Witt was offered an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a conference hosted by the New Horizon Organization in Iran called "Hollywoodism".

While Witt, far outside the clutches of United States law enforcement, is unlikely to get a USA court date, the indictment follows a pattern of recent Justice Department targeting of Iranian cybercriminals that dates back to the Barack Obama administration.

"Witt's primary motivation appears to have been ideological".

Witt, who is from Texas, entered duty with the U.S. Air Force in 1997 and worked as an Air Force Intelligence Specialist and Special Agent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Four of the Iranian hackers were charged with conspiracy and attempts to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft in the same indictment of Witt.

The DOJ statement said there's an arrest warrant for Witt, who remains at large.

Witt returned to the conference a year later, and began assisting Iranian intelligence services. "While violations like this are extremely rare, her actions as alleged are an affront to all who have served our great nation". Authorities claim Witt collaborated with the elite Iranian military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The hackers, using imposter Facebook personas, then targeted those same officials and were even able at one point to join a private Facebook group composed primarily of retired government workers, the indictment says.

The efforts included software to capture keystrokes and break into web cameras, as well as malware-infused attachments passed off as pornographic photos created to fool United States officials into letting Iranian hackers tunnel into their computer networks.

USA officials also imposed sanctions on an Iran firm, Net Peygard Samavat Company, that it said conducted the hacking operation, and Iranian events company, New Horizon Organization, that it said works to recruit foreign attendees.

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

After leaving the armed forces, she worked as a Defense Department contractor. The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year. 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".

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