USA says ex-intel official defected to Iran, revealed secrets

The U.S. government accused Monica Witt 39 of revealing highly-classified information to Tehran.             

A 39-year-old former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence agent who became known as "Fatemah Zahra" and had previously been reported by the FBI as the missing person Monica Witt now faces a federal indictment in the District of Columbia.

Iran was able to flip a USA counter-intelligence agent and used her to spy on former colleagues, the Justice Department said on Wednesday. She's charged with providing Iranian intelligence with classified information and with helping to compile background research on USA intelligence agents to facilitate online attacks against them.

Additionally, in 2014, Witt created packages of information on former agents she worked with and sent them to Iranian hackers who worked for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A former US counterintelligence agent has been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to deliver and delivering national defense information to representatives of the Iranian government, prosecutors said.

Terry Phillips, a special agent in the Air Force office of special investigations, said Witt began working for the Iranian government after she left the military.

She first went to Iran in 2012 to attend an IRGC conference, and was housed by the government when she returned a year later.

Facebook said in a statement that the company didn't have "anything to share beyond what's in the Justice Department's indictment" when asked if the social network found and pulled down the accounts. "Her primary motivation appears to be ideological".

Monica Elfriede Witt, aged 39, worked as a cryptologist and a counter-intelligence investigator for the U.S. air force for more than 10 years before becoming an intelligence analyst for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in 2008 and doing other private sector work.

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 U.S. intelligence agents Witt had identified.

The Justice Department has issued arrest warrants for Witt and the four Iranians, who all remain at large.

In 2013, she tried to move to Iran but Iranian officials were suspicious of her.

The four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard, prosecutors said.

She separated from the military in 2008 and ended work as a Defense Department contractor in 2010. That group has been designated by the USA government as promoting terrorism.

Witt used fake Facebook accounts to search for United States counterintelligence officials on the social network, according to court documents.

It also sanctioned two Iran-based companies: New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company. The connections she made at that event with dual Iranian-American citizens enabled her to defect the following year.

On August 28, 2013, she finally defected to Tehran, where she took the name Fatemah Zahra and, according to the indictment, began disclosing classified information to Iranian officials, including the identity of a covert United States operative.

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