US charges former USAF intelligence officer with spying for Iran

Monica Witt

Modal Trigger Monica Witt AP

A former US Air Force intelligence officer has been charged with helping Iran target ex-colleagues with cyberattacks after defecting to the country in what was dubbed a "betrayal" of America.

A U.S. Air Force veteran and former counterintelligence agent was charged Wednesday with spying on behalf of the Iranian government.

Over the same period, the four Iranians charged in the same indictment, named as Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar, as well as unnamed co-conspirators, are alleged to have mounted hacking attacks against the current and former USA intelligence agents Witt had identified.

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

Jay Tabb, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security, said investigators believe Witt shared information that "could cause serious damage to national security", though he declined to provide specific details of the operations she allegedly disclosed.

They said Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the air force from 1997 until 2008, and worked as contractor for two years after that. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity", according to the indictment. The Department of Justice said the suspect defected to the Arab nation in 2013 and is accused of providing Tehran with highly classified information used to target her former fellow agents.

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"New Horizon hosts global conferences that have provided Iranian intelligence officers a platform to recruit and collect damaging information from attendees, while propagating anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial", Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin said.

"I just hope I have better luck with Russian Federation at this point", Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July.

"She made a decision to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran", said Jay Tabb, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security.

Witt first traveled to a "Hollywoodism" conference in 2012, when she appeared in Iranian television videos in which she identified herself as a former USA service member with.

She wrote Individual A that she wanted to put her Air Force training "to good use instead of evil".

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

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After Witt returned to the U.S., Federal Bureau of Investigation agents conducted a defensive briefing with her to warn her that she might be the target of recruitment by Iranian security services.

But later that year, she helped an unnamed Iranian-American official produce an anti-American propaganda film.

She eventually did, with help from Individual A, in August 2013. "Today's announcement also highlights our commitment to vigorously pursue those who threaten USA security through state-sponsored hacking campaigns".

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

In one message she wrote that she might "do like (Edward) Snowden", the former U.S. intelligence contractor who in early June 2013 leaked thousands of documents on the operations of the National Security Agency.

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