Former Air Force intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran and revealing defense secrets

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WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors revealed charges on Wednesday that a former Air Force intelligence officer had provided defense secrets and the identity of at least one other U.S. intelligence officer to the Iranian government.

Monica E. Witt, 39, was named in an indictment unsealed Wednesday that also charged four Iranian nationals who prosecutors alleged were involved in cyber operations against eight of her former U.S. military colleagues. Witt is charged with espionage, conspiracy and other crimes.

Federal authorities alleged that Witt defected to Iran in 2013 and provided Iran with the code name and mission of a classified Defense Department program. They said that while she was in Iran, Witt also revealed the identity of a U.S. counter-intelligence agent who was working against “a specific target.”

Prosecutors said Witt wrote to an Iranian contact that she was “endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil.”

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, center, answers questions during a news conference, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at the Justice Department in Washington. Demers was joined by U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady, left, and Mark Flynn, Director General for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Photo: The Associated Press)

Investigators said the first clues to Witt’s change in allegiance came in a series of contacts with an unnamed Iranian between 2012 and 2013. In them, they said, Witt provided her personal biography and job history as if she were formally applying for a job.

Before boarding a flight from Dubai to Tehran on the eve of her defection, prosecutors said she typed an email to the Iranian contact saying: “I’m signing off and heading out! Coming home.” She closed with a smile emoji.

When she arrived in Iran on Aug. 28, 2013, federal court documents state that Iranian officials immediately began providing her financial support, including housing and computer equipment “in order to facilitate her work on behalf of the government of Iran.”

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said Witt’s alleged activities violated “her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency.”

“This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect,” Demers said.

Witt served as a Air Force military intelligence specialist for more than 10 years before leaving in 2008 to begin work as a defense contractor.

She left that post in 2010, and then began excursions to Iran, where the authorities believe she remains.

Before traveling to Iran in May 2012, federal authorities charged that Witt was warned that she was at risk of potential recruitment by Iranian intelligence officials, but she elected to continue with her travel plans, asserting that she would “refuse” any such efforts by the Iranians. .

Eight months later, according to court documents, Witt met with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps when she identified herself as a U.S. veteran who was “critical of the U.S. military and who desired to emigrate to Iran.”

Later, she wrote to an Iranian contact to say “Thanks for giving me the opportunity.” And she suggested that if the relationship with Iran did not advance, she would contact Russia.

“If all else fails, I may go public with a program and do like Snowden,” Witt allegedly said. It was a reference to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now living in Russian exile after leaking secret U.S. surveillance programs.

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