On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, had told Iranian spy agencies about the existence of a highly classified military intelligence collection programme and the identity of a US intelligence officer.
According to the grand jury indictment, Witt is also charged with helping Iran target at least eight of her intelligence colleagues. An arrest warrant was issued for Witt, who remains at large and is believed to live in Iran.
Also named in the indictment are four Iranians who worked for the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and face charges of conspiracy, computer intrusions, and identity theft in their targeting of Witt’s former colleagues in 2014 and 2015.
The men – Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar –would use fake social media accounts to install malware on the targets’ computers in order to gain covert access.
John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said: “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. When our intelligence professionals are targeted or betrayed, the National Security Division will relentlessly pursue justice against the wrongdoers.”
Witt’s position in the Air Force intelligence branch allowed her to access a programme that “housed classified information, including details of ongoing counterintelligence operations, the true names of sources and the identifies of US agents involved in the recruitment of those sources”.
She left active duty in 2008, but remained a contractor for the Defence Department until 2010 and retained access to the programme.
She defected to Iran in 2013 after attending two “Hollywoodism” conferences in Tehran, which are organised by the IRGC’s Quds Force to recruit former intelligence officers; something the Defense Department warned her about.
The indictment said that Witt conducted online research and created “target packages” for Iran to identify, track and neutralise (i.e. kill) US counterintelligence agents.
Jay Tabb, the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security, said: “She decided to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran. Her primary motivation appears to be ideological.”
The US Treasury also announced sanctions against two Iranian entities – New Horizon and Net Peygard Samavat Company – and six individuals for allegedly hacking the computers of US personnel.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement: “Treasury is taking action against malicious Iranian cyber actors and covert operations that have targeted Americans at home and overseas, as part of our ongoing efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s cyber attacks.”