A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran was indicted on espionage charges. According to documents released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday, Monica Witt, 39, defected to Iran in 2013. The indictment accuses her of assisting “Iranian intelligence services in targeting her former fellow agents in the U.S. Intelligence Community.” Witt is also alleged to have disclosed the code name and classified mission of a U.S. Department of Defense Special Access Program.
The DOJ statement said there’s an arrest warrant for Witt, who remains at large.
The indictment claims Witt not only revealed to Iranian officials the existence of highly-classified intelligence programs , but also provided them with the true identity of at least one American intelligence officer. If true, this would amount to an egregious violation of her oath as an intelligence officer, and a number of federal laws.
However, the charges don’t stop there.
“Four Iranian cyberhackers are also charged with various computer crimes targeting members of the U.S. intelligence community who were Ms. Witt’s former colleagues,” the indictment said.
The DOJ reports Witt provided members of Iran’s intelligence service with a copy of her resume back in 2013. Soon after, she moved to Iran, where she received housing and “computer equipment” by the Iranian regime. From there, her task was to use social media to search for other American counterintelligence officials, and produce “target packages” on them for Iran. Different Iranian organizations attempted numerous approaches to gain access to their computers. From the DOJ statement:
Specifically, between Jan. and May 2015, the Cyber Conspirators, using fictitious and imposter accounts, attempted to trick their targets into clicking links or opening files that would allow the conspirators to deploy malware on the target’s computer. In one such instance, the Cyber Conspirators created a Facebook account that purported to belong to a USIC employee and former colleague of Witt, and which utilized legitimate information and photos from the USIC employee’s actual Facebook account. This particular fake account caused several of Witt’s former colleagues to accept ‘friend’ requests.”
It remains unclear how successful the endeavor might have been.
“The alleged actions of Monica Witt in assisting a hostile nation are a betrayal of our nation’s security, our military, and the American people,” said Special Agent Terry Phillips of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. “While violations like this are extremely rare, her actions as alleged are an affront to all who have served our great nation.”
Witt served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008 before separating and becoming a civilian contractor. She continued to serve as an intelligence officer until 2010. Throughout her tenure with the Air Force, she maintained “high-level” security clearances and even deployed to the Middle East to participate in counter intelligence operations.
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. The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year.