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Ex-Air Force officer accused of spying slammed U.S. for Islam 'propaganda'

14 February 2019

A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran was indicted on espionage charges.

The Justice Department says the Iranian government supplied her with housing and computer equipment so she could "disclose USA classified information" and conduct research on "personnel that she had known and worked with" during her time in the American intelligence community. The hackers sent the targets messages and emails that purported to be legitimate but instead contained malicious software that, if opened, would have given them access to the officials' computer and network.

The most notable of the four Iranian hackers is Behzad Mesri, who USA authorities also charged in November 2017 with hacking HBO, stealing scripts for unaired episodes of season 6 of the hit series Game Of Thrones TV show, and later attempting to extort HBO execs for $6 million.

"It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country", said the head of the Justice Department's national security division, on what is apparently such a day.

The indictment shows correspondence between Witt and an unnamed co-conspirator with dual United States-Iranian citizenship, in which Witt allegedly wrote, "If all else fails, I just may go public with a program and do like Snowden" - referring to the government contractor who famously leaked NSA information to WikiLeaks. She worked extensively in the Middle East and had access to classified information, including the names of multiple American intelligence officials. Prosecutors say she appeared in multiple videos broadcast by Iranian media, identifying herself publicly as a USA veteran and condemning America.

She first went to Iran in 2012 to attend an IRGC conference, and was housed by the government when she returned a year later.

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Shortly before Witt's defection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation circulated a missing persons poster in an attempt to track her down.

Provided with housing and computer equipment by the Iranian government, Witt tracked down US counterintelligence agents she used to work with on Facebook, the indictment said, and disclosed the classified identity of at least one of those agents, according to the charges. "Today's announcement also highlights our commitment to vigorously pursue those who threaten USA security through state-sponsored hacking campaigns". That year, an unidentified person contacted her and remarked that she was well-trained.

The hackers, using imposter Facebook personas, then targeted those same officials and were even able at one point to join a private Facebook group composed primarily of retired government workers, the indictment says.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as a defense and intelligence contractor, but by 2012 her politics had begun to turn. In Iran, she has appeared to work at times to publish anti-American articles for the state-owned Press TV.

Mesri, Masampour and Parvar also face sanctions for their involvement with Net Peygard, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

In October 2018, the US was ordered by the United Nations court to provisionally lift some of its newly imposed sanctions against Iran.

Ex-Air Force officer accused of spying slammed U.S. for Islam 'propaganda'