US Air Force agent charged with espionage for Iran

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The 39-year-old worked as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008.

A former US Air Force intelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with conspiring to provide US defence information to representatives of that country's government, including the code name and mission of a highly classified programme.

USA officials said Monica Witt, 39, who worked a decade in Air Force counter-intelligence, had an "ideological" turn against her country and defected in 2013, turning over information on USA espionage operations against Tehran.

Witt learned Farsi at a US military language school and allegedly traveled to Iran for an anti-American event that promoted "anti-U.S. propaganda", and returned again in 2013 when she was provided with housing and computer equipment to work on behalf of Iran. 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.

Billing itself as an "anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist" think tank, New Horizon organized conferences in Iran that cast a critical eye on USA and Israeli policy worldwide and stoked accusations of anti-Semitism from Western critics.

On the conference's opening day, Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani gave a speech in which he called for regime change in Iran. In one publication, she chastised the USA military as a "boys' club" in which female servicemembers suffer from pervasive sexual harassment. "She went on to disclose U.S. classified information" to Iranian government officials and conducting research on U.S. intelligence personnel as part of "target packages", according to the Justice Department. Shortly after joining the military, Witt studied Farsi at the U.S. Defense Language Institute in California before deploying overseas for four years to conduct classified missions collecting signals intelligence.

As part of its action, the United States sanctioned two Iran-based firms - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - and several individuals associated with the two groups.

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Also charged are four Iranians who allegedly worked on behalf of the Quds.

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

Prosecutors say that Witt established relations with individuals she met at the conference, one of whom later arranged her defection to Iran in August 2013, where she received housing and computer equipment from the Iranian government. The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of US government agents.

Yahoo News reports that she wrote a message claiming that she might "do like [Edward] Snowden", the former USA intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of highly-classified documents about the National Security Agency in 2013 before being granted asylum in Russian Federation.

When warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran. Witt, a United States citizen, defected to Iran in 2013 and is still at large.

Officials would not elaborate on why the indictment was brought six years after her detection, except to say that they had to move classified intelligence into an unclassified format to be used in a pending criminal proceeding.

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