A former US Air Force intelligence officer is accused of spying for Iran as part of an operation that carried out cyber attacks, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Monica Witt allegedly turned over classified information about US intelligence officers after defecting to Iran in 2013, according to a newly unsealed indictment.
Witt, 39, was recruited after attending the Iranian New Horizon Organization’s “Hollywoodism” conference — an event sponsored by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which prosecutors said was aimed at “condemning American moral standards and promoting anti-U.S. propaganda” and flipping US intelligence officers into turncoat spies.
While working with a dual Iranian-US citizen, who was only identified in court papers as Individual A, Witt divulged “the existence of a highly classified intelligence collection program” and risked the life of an intelligence colleague by revealing his true identity, said John Demers, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
The charging documents outline a series of electronic messages between Witt and Individual A, who resided primarily in Iran, before she defected.
“should i thank the sec of defense … u were well trained,” Individual A wrote to Witt in October 2012.
She replied, “LOL thank the sec of defense? For me? Well, I loved the work, and I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.”
In June 2013, she wrote Individual A, “If all else fails, I just may go public with a program and do like Snowden” with a smiley face — a reference to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
A few days later, Witt wrote to the same person, “I think I can slip into Russia quietly if they help me and then I can contact wikileaks from there without disclosing my location.”
After officially renouncing the US in August 2013, Witt allegedly disclosed the code name and specific target of the top-secret intelligence operation. She also conducted multiple searches for her former fellow agents using Facebook accounts registered under fake names.
Witt is also accused in the Washington, DC indictment of conducting research about her intelligence colleagues and using that data to draft “target packages” against them. The shady packages helped the Iranian government to identify, track and neutralize US counterintelligence agents, Demers said.
In the indictment, Witt, who converted to Islam, is also identified by her Iranian names, “Fatemah Zahra” and “Narges Witt.”
Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008 and worked as a contractor for the Defense Department for two years after that.
During her government career, she was granted high-level security clearances and “deployed overseas to conduct classified counterintelligence missions,” the DOJ said.
Four Iranian nationals were also charged in the same indictment for their alleged involvement in the cyber attacks.
Two Iran-based firms, New Horizon and Net Peygard Samavat Company, and several other people associated with the groups are facing sanctions.
“It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country,” said Demers. “It is sadder still when this person, as a member of the American armed forces, previously invoked the aid of God to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and to defend her country against foreign enemies. Monica Witt is alleged to have done just this.”