A former Air Force counterintelligence specialist, a technical sergeant, who defected to Iran about five years after leaving the Air Force, has been charged with revealing classified information as well as research about her former colleagues to representatives of the Tehran government, prosecutors said Wednesday.
A Justice Department indictment charges former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is currently at-large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community.
The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. All four remain at large.
Witt, who was born in El Paso, Texas, joined the Air Force on Dec, 17, 1997, and served as an airborne crypto linguist, according to information provided by the Air Force. She later changed jobs and became a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Her last assignment before separating as an E-6 on June 12, 2008, was with the 2nd Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the Air Force said.
Her awards and decorations include the Air Medal, three Air Force Commendation medals and three Aerial Achievement medals, according to the Air Force.
Former Tech. Sgt. Monica Elfriede Witt, who was charged with espionage Wednesday, earned an Air Medal for her contributions during the early days of the Iraq War.
After her separation from the Air Force, Witt worked as an English teacher in either Afghanistan or Tajikistan, and then vanished, according to an FBI missing persons poster.
She was recruited by Iran during conferences sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to U.S. officials cited by the FBI.
She allegedly converted to Islam during a television appearance after identifying herself as a U.S. veteran, according to a report by the BBC, and delivered several broadcasts in which she criticized the U.S.
“Although she was no longer in active government service, Witt used the contacts and knowledge gained in her positions of trust to share sensitive information with Iran and provide personal and professional details that allowed Iranian hackers to target other U.S. intelligence professionals through spear-phishing and malware attacks,” according to an FBI news release.
"It is a sad day for American when one of its citizens betrays our country," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's national security division.
Jay Tabb, the FBI’s top national security official, said the FBI had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.