Former US intel official charged after defecting to Iran

Monica Elfriede Witt is accused of betraying former colleagues by feeding details about their personal and professional lives to Iran
Thursday 14/02/2019
This 2012 photo released by the Department of Justice shows Monica Elfriede Witt. (AP)
This 2012 photo released by the Department of Justice shows Monica Elfriede Witt. (AP)

A former US Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran despite warnings from the FBI has been charged with revealing classified information to the Tehran government, including the code name and secret mission of a Pentagon programme, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The Justice Department also accused Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, of betraying former colleagues in the US intelligence community by feeding details about their personal and professional lives to Iran. Four hackers linked to the Iranian government, charged in the same indictment, used that information to target the intelligence workers online, prosecutors said.

Witt had been on the FBI’s radar at least a year before she defected after she attended an Iranian conference and appeared in anti-American videos. She was warned about her activities, but told agents that she would not provide sensitive information about her work if she returned to Iran, prosecutors say. She was not arrested at the time.

“Once a holder of a top secret security clearance, Monica Witt actively sought opportunities to undermine the United States and support the government of Iran — a country which poses a serious threat to our national security,” said FBI executive assistant director Jay Tabb, the bureau’s top national security official.

Tabb said “she provided information that could cause serious damage to national security,” though he did not provide specifics.

Witt remains at large in Iran, as do the four hackers, who prosecutors say were acting on behalf of the country’s powerful, government-linked Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That group, a branch of Iran’s armed forces, has previously been designated by the US government as a terrorism supporter.

Witt served in the Air Force between 1997 and 2008, where she was trained in the Farsi language and was deployed overseas on classified counterintelligence missions, including to the Middle East. She later found work as a Defence Department contractor. The Texas native defected to Iran in 2013 after being invited to two all-expense-paid conferences in the country that the Justice Department says promoted anti-Western propaganda and condemned American moral standards.

Despite warnings from the FBI that she was a potential recruitment target for Iranian intelligence, Witt continued to travel to Iran, eventually helping in the filming of anti-American videos and supplying compromising information about the Department of Defence and her former colleagues. 

(With AP)