Published: Wed, February 13, 2019

Former US Air Force officer faces spy charges after defecting to Iran

Former US Air Force officer faces spy charges after defecting to Iran

In a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors said Witt, 39, provided the Iranian government information about a classified Defense Department program and helped Tehran's intelligence services target her former colleagues in the USA intelligence community.

Prosecutors say Ms Witt had been granted the highest level of US security clearance and worked in the US Air Force from 1997 to 2008.

The New York Times reports she was privy to the real names of both intelligence assets and the USA officials who helped recruit them. All four remain at large.

Witt was working as a contractor in 2012 when she was offered an all-expenses-paid invitation to a "Hollywoodism" conference that was sponsored by the Iranian government and that promoted anti-Western propaganda, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment suggests that Witt defected for ideological motives, and it quotes emails between Witt and an Iranian agent, referred to as Individual A, prior to her defection.

"She chose to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to the government of Iran", Tabb said.


While working with a dual Iranian-US citizen, who was only identified in court papers as Individual A, Witt divulged "the existence of a highly classified intelligence collection program" and risked the life of an intelligence colleague by revealing his true identity, said John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security.

The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. She is now at-large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target her former colleagues in the USA intelligence community. During her US government career, authorities said Witt was granted high-level security clearances and was posted overseas on several occasions for counterintelligence missions. US officials believe she is still in Iran.

She defected to Iran in 2013 and presumably still lives there, USA officials said.

The US Department of Treasury has also sanctioned two Iranian companies - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - for their role in the plot. She returned to Iran in 2013 and was provided housing and computer equipment by Iranian officials. "I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil", she told that person in an email.

A few days later, Witt wrote to the same person, "I think I can slip into Russian Federation quietly if they help me and then I can contact wikileaks from there without disclosing my location".

While in Iran, she also allegedly converted to Islam during a television segment after identifying herself as a United States veteran, and delivered several broadcasts in which she criticised the US.

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