A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer defected to Iran, disclosed classified information on secret operations, and provided valuable personal information on U.S. military personnel, according to a newly unsealed Department of Justice indictment. Justice officials said the Iranians used the information Monica Elfriede Witt gave them to target U.S. military and intelligence personnel for identity theft and cyber attacks. Four Iranians were indicted on related charges.
Witt worked as a cryptographic linguist in Farsi and later in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, supporting counterintelligence investigations. She left the Air Force in 2008 and went on to work for a number of defense contractors until 2013 when authorities allege she “defected” to Iran.
“Ms. Witt was recruited by Iran as part of a program that targets former intelligence officers and others who have held security clearances,” John Demers, an assistant U.S. Attorney General for national security, told reporters on Wednesday.
In February 2012, Witt traveled to Iran to attend a conference sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that focused on “condemning American moral standards and promoting anti-U.S. propaganda,” according to a Justice Department statement. U.S. intelligence officials warned Witt that taking the all-expenses-paid trip could result in aggressive attempts to recruit her. “She chose not to heed our warning,” said Demers.
Witt immigrated to Iran in 2013 and began working for its government. Demers said she revealed the existence of a “highly-classified intelligence collection program” and unmasked an undercover U.S. intelligence officer, “thereby putting the life of that individual at risk,” he said.
The Iranians gave Witt housing and a computer to help the Revolutionary Guard assemble “target packages” on her former colleagues — basically, dossiers of personal or valuable information that hackers could use to steal login credentials and infiltrate online accounts.
Terry Phillips, the Deputy Director at Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said that the service had taken all necessary steps to make sure that the information Witt disclosed to the Iranians couldn’t be used as part of new operations against the United States.