Iran was able to flip a U.S. counter-intelligence agent and used her to spy on former colleagues, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
According to the unsealed indictment, Monica Witt is accused of having defected to Iran in 2013.
She allegedly revealed to Tehran the existence of a “highly classified intelligence collection programme’’ and the real identity of a U.S. intelligence officer.
She is also alleged to have worked with Iran on research to target other U.S. officers.
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Witt was indicted along with four Iranian hackers, who the U.S. says worked on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The four used cyber tactics to target eight U.S. government agents “all of whom at one time worked or interacted with the main suspect.
“It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country,’’ said John Demers, an Assistant Attorney-General for National Security.
“Espionage by past or present members of the intelligence community poses a significant threat to our country and a heightened danger to their former colleagues,” he said.
The indictment says Witt was part of the Air Force until 2008 and then worked as a contractor for the Defence Department for two years.
She first went to Iran in 2012 to attend an IRGC conference, and was housed by the government when she returned a year later.
The cyber activities against her former colleagues took place in 2014 and 2015.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the New Horizon Organisation, which hosted the 2012 conference.
“New Horizon hosts international conferences that have provided Iranian intelligence officers a platform to recruit and collect damaging information from attendees, while propagating anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin said.
Similarly, Iran can proceed in its legal bid to recover frozen assets seized by the U.S., the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled on Wednesday.
The highest court of the UN rejected a U.S. claim that it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on parts of the case, paving the way for the trial to continue.
In 2016, the U.S. seized bank deposits worth about two billion dollars as compensation for the victims of terrorist attacks.
Iran then filed a lawsuit with the court in The Hague, saying the action contravened a 1955 friendship agreement between the two states.
In October 2018, the U.S. was ordered by the UN court to provisionally lift some of its newly imposed sanctions against Iran.
The related proceedings have not yet begun.
Iran also claimed these sanctions contravened the 1955 friendship agreement. The U.S. has since pulled out of the agreement.