US Air Force officer who defected 'spied for Iran'

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Iranians braved the snow in Tehran to mark their country's 1979 Islamic Revolution

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Iranians braved the snow in Tehran to mark their country's 1979 Islamic Revolution

A former Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with revealing to Iranian government officials classified defense info that could cause "serious damage", officials said Wednesday.

That year, an unidentified person contacted her and remarked that she was well-trained.

Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008 and worked as a contractor for the Defense Department for two years after that.

"It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, announcing the indictment.

Ms Witt is accused of sharing U.S. government secrets, including the name of agents and specifics of operations, with Iran as early as January 2012.

During her government career, she was granted high-level security clearances and "deployed overseas to conduct classified counterintelligence missions", the DOJ said.

"Four Iranian cyberhackers are also charged with various computer crimes targeting members of the US intelligence community who were Ms. Witt's former colleagues", the indictment said. "Following her defection to Iran in 2013, she is alleged to have revealed to the Iranian government the existence of a highly classified intelligence collection program and the true identity of a USA intelligence officer, thereby risking the life of this individual".

"On or about July 3, 2013, Witt wrote Individual A, '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", the indictment said.

The four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard, prosecutors said.

Media captionIranians braved the snow in Tehran to mark their country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In 2012, prosecutors said, Witt traveled to Iran and attended an event which denounced "American moral standards" and promoted "anti-U.S. propaganda".

The conferences often included an "anti-Western" sentiment and "propagate anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial". During her time working for the government, Witt had access to "classified information, including details of ongoing counterintelligence operations, true names of sources, and the identities of US agents involved in the recruitment of those sources", according to the indictment. Different Iranian organizations attempted numerous approaches to gain access to their computers.

A previously issued Federal Bureau of Investigation missing persons poster said she was working as an English teacher in either Afghanistan or Tajikistan, and had lived overseas for more than a year before vanishing. She worked extensively in the Middle East and had access to classified information, including the names of multiple American intelligence officials.

In the weeks after defecting, she also conducted several Facebook searches of her former colleagues, and is alleged to have exposed one agent's true identity, "thereby risking the life of this individual". All four remain at large.

Iran and the United States are longtime cyber-antagonists.

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