A former Air Force counterintelligence officer defected to Iran in 2013 and leaked top secret information to Tehran, including the identifies of U.S. intelligence agents and the existence of a top secret Defense Department operation, federal authorities charged Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Monica Witt fled from the U.S. to Iran with the names of other counterintelligence officers she had worked with during more than a decade in the Air Force.
Those agents then were targeted by Iranian hackers with ties to that country’s government, according to the indictment. The four hackers also were charged.
“She provided information that could cause serious damage to national security,” said FBI Executive Assistant Director Jay Tabb, the bureau’s top national security official.
Ms. Witt faces seven charges, including two counts of delivering national defense information to a foreign government.
She served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, working in special intelligence. She left the military in 2008 with the rank of technical sergeant and worked as a defense contractor with Booze Allen Hamilton for about two years.
Prosecutors say she traveled to Iran in 2012 and 2013 to attend two conferences that the Justice Department says promoted anti-American propaganda. She contacted an unnamed individual with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship about spilling secrets to Iranian intelligence officers, the indictment states.
John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said Ms. Witt was “recruited” by Iran as part of a program to flip former U.S. intelligence officers who held security clearances.
The Justice Department says her motivation was likely ideological.
The indictment cites emails she sent to her handler saying that by helping Iran she was putting her military training “to good use instead of evil.” In another email she describes heading to Iran as “coming home.”
Mr. Tabb said the FBI warned her not to travel to Iran because it would make her “susceptible to recruitment.”
Prosecutors say before Ms. Witt defected, she conducted Facebook searches for former counterintelligence agents and one officer’s spouse. She used that information to create “target packages” or dossiers on those agents, including one who was undercover, according to the indictment. She also produced information on the Defense Department program.
Iranian hackers then launched malware and phishing attacks against the officers, prosecutors say.
On one occasion, an Iranian befriended one of the U.S. agents stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. The hacker then sent the officer an email with a link to “a pretty card,” that when opened, linked to an Iranian-controlled server, prosecutors say.
The four charged Iranians are Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar. They face conspiracy, computer intrusion and aggravated identify theft charges.
Ms. Witt’s current whereabouts her unknown. A missing persons poster on the FBI website shows a picture of Ms. Witt wearing a headscarf and says she was believed to be in Afghanistan or Tajikistan in July 2013, perhaps working as an English teacher in those countries.