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A former Air Force officer charged with espionage by the U.S. government is accused of helping the Iranian government catfish American spies on social media, Gizmodo reports.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice released Wednesday, 39-year-old Monica Elfriede Witt, who worked in counterintelligence, has been indicted for “conspiracy to deliver and delivering national defense information to representatives of the Iranian government.”
Monica Elfriede Witt is #wanted by the #FBI for her alleged involvement in criminal activities to include espionage & conspiracy to commit espionage. If you have info concerning Witt, contact your local FBI office or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. https://t.co/f0OsA1hayy pic.twitter.com/eb4pe5UsEe— FBI (@FBI) February 13, 2019
It is alleged that Witt, who had previously been listed as a missing person by the FBI, defected to Iran in 2013 to assist Iranian intelligence. Among the charges, Witt is accused of disclosing a classified mission that included “details of ongoing counterintelligence operations, true names of sources, and the identities of U.S. agents involved in the recruitment of those sources.”
Witt also helped four Iranian hackers, who were likewise charged in the indictment, to establish a fake online persona known as “Bella Wood” in order to catfish her former colleagues.
4 Iranian #cyber actors are wanted by the FBI for their alleged role in criminal activities to include computer intrusion & aggravated ID theft, conducted at the behest of the IRGC. Anyone w/ info is asked to contact the nearest FBI office or U.S. Embassy. https://t.co/prVYRqGvkU pic.twitter.com/HrS7Vd91G9— FBI (@FBI) February 13, 2019
“The Cyber Conspirators, using fictional and imposter social media accounts and working on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), sought to deploy malware that would provide them covert access to the targets’ computers and networks,” the DOJ states.
The four hackers are said to have attempted to entice one American target with promises of “photos” after their communications shifted from Facebook to email.
“I’ll send you a file including my photos but u should deactivate your anti virus to open it because i designed my photos with a photo album software, I hope you enjoy the photos i designed for the new year,” the hackers said in a Jan. 9, 2015, email. “They should be opened in your computer honey.”
Another instance saw the Iranian hackers posing on Facebook as an actual intelligence officer. That ruse is said to have helped the Iranians gain access to a private Facebook group comprised of U.S. government agents.
“This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said.
Whether or not the Iranian government was successful in hacking any U.S. intelligence community members is currently unknown.
Witt had worked for the Air Force from 1997 to 2008 before becoming a contractor for the Department of Defense until 2010.
According to the press release, Witt traveled to Iran one year prior to her defection to attend an anti-American event known as “Hollywoodism” where she reportedly converted to Islam and criticized the U.S. government on Iranian television.
Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.