US authorities on Wednesday charged former Air Force intelligence officer Monica Witt with helping Iran launch a cyber-spying operation that targeted her former colleagues after she defected from the United States.
Witt, who served in the US Air Force from August 1997 to March 2008 and worked from 2008 to 2010 as a government contractor on classified projects, had access to sensitive government materials, officials said.
A Justice Department indictment charges Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is now at large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target at least eight former colleagues in the United States intelligence community with cyberattacks in 2014 and 2015. They also remain at large; arrest warrants have been issued for them.
She faces seven charges, including conspiracy to deliver national defense information to representatives of a foreign government and delivering national defense information to representatives of a foreign government.More news: Red Bull unveil new Honda-powered F1 auto ahead of 2019 campaign
During that time, she was granted high-level security clearances, learned Farsi at a USA military language school, and was deployed overseas for counterintelligence missions in the Middle East.
She defected to Iran in 2013 and presumably still lives there, US officials said.
In 2012, after Witt travelled to Iran for a conference, the FBI warned her that she could be a targeted for recruitment by that country's government, and Witt told the bureau she would refuse to provide information about her military work, according to the indictment.
"Monica Witt is charged with revealing to the Iranian regime a highly classified intelligence program and the identity of a U.S. Intelligence Officer, all in violation of the law, her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency", assistant attorney general John Demers wrote in statement Wednesday.More news: Danny Boyle's East Anglia film 'Yesterday' gets first trailer - featuring Ed Sheeran
The announcement, which also included sanctions on the New Horizon Organization, organization officials, and a company tied to the hacking effort, came on the opening day of a US-led worldwide conference in Warsaw, Poland aimed at boosting pressure on Tehran. That year, an unidentified person contacted her and remarked that she was well-trained. She returned to Iran in 2013 and was provided housing and computer equipment by Iranian officials.
According to the FBI, Ms Witt was last seen in southwest Asia in July 2013.
The Justice Department also charged four Iranian nationals with attempting to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft in the case. 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.