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US Charges Former Air Force Intel Agent with Defecting to Iran

14 February 2019
US Charges Former Air Force Intel Agent with Defecting to Iran

A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran six years ago has been charged with spying for the Iranian government and helping Iran target other U.S. intelligence agents.

On Feb. 13, 2019, the DOJ announced an indictment against Witt, who defected to Iran in 2013 and is now at-large. US officials believe she is still in Iran.

Demers further explained, "Four Iranian cyber hackers are also charged with various computer crimes targeting members of the US intelligence community who were Ms. Witt's former colleagues".

"Our intelligence professionals swear an oath to protect our country, and we trust them to uphold their oath", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who leads the Justice Department's National Security Division.

Prosecutors say that Witt established relations with individuals she met at the conference, one of whom later arranged her defection to Iran in August 2013, where she received housing and computer equipment from the Iranian government.

The Texas native served in the Air Force between 1997 and 2008, where she was trained in Farsi - the predominant language of Iran - and was deployed overseas on classified counterintelligence missions, including to the Middle East. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity", according to the indictment. "She went on to disclose USA classified information" to Iranian government officials and conducting research on U.S. intelligence personnel as part of "target packages", according to the Justice Department.

According to authorities, Witt collaborated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military unit charged with exerting Tehran's influence around the world.

In 2012, after Witt travelled to Iran for a conference, the FBI warned her that she could be a targeted for recruitment by that country's government, and Witt told the bureau she would refuse to provide information about her military work, according to the indictment. "She chose to turn against the United States and turn her loyalties to Iran", FBI Executive Assistant Director Jay Tabb told reporters.

The US Treasury Department also announced sanctions against an Iranian company accused of organizing conferences that served as a platform to recruit Witt, and against another Iranian company suspected of having participated in the cyberattacks.

Ms Witt is accused of sharing U.S. government secrets, including the name of agents and specifics of operations, with Iran as early as January 2012.

Witt worked for the Air Force and was a counterintelligence agent for 11 years where she had top-security clearance. "Her primary motivation appears to be ideological". Different Iranian organizations attempted numerous approaches to gain access to their computers. "Today's announcement also highlights our commitment to vigorously pursue those who threaten USA security through state-sponsored hacking campaigns".

The four used cyber tactics to target eight US government agents "all of whom at one time worked or interacted with the main suspect".

Four Iranian nationals-Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar-were charged with those activities in the same indictment as Witt.