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US charges former counterintelligence agent with spying for Iran

Monica Elfriede Witt had access to 'top secret' information before defecting to Iran, US authorities allege
Photo of Monica Witt released by FBI (Reuters)
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Washington

A former United States counterintelligence agent who had access to "top secret" information has been charged with espionage for allegedly defecting to Iran, US authorities said.

In an indictment made public on Wednesday, prosecutors accused Monica Elfriede Witt of revealing "a highly classified intelligence programme" to the Iranian government, as well as the identity of a US intelligence officer.

The allegations against her were carried out "all in violation of the law, her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency", John Demers, assistant US attorney general, said in a statement.

Witt conducted "research for the purpose of creating target packages" for Iranian officials to use against United States intelligence agents, US prosecutors also said in the indictment.

The packages help intelligence agencies identify and neutralise perceived threats.

"A human target package includes information collected about an individual, such as the official position of the individual, an analysis of personal vulnerabilities or other opportunities to exploit the individual, and confirmation of the identity and location of the individual," the indictment reads.

Witt, a former US Air Force officer who worked as a counterintelligence contractor until 2010, attended an anti-US conference in Iran in 2012 and made statements on television against Washington's policy, identifying herself as a US veteran, the indictment states.

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Witt later announced that she converted to Islam during a ceremony that was broadcast on Iranian television, according to the court filing.

In a 2013 interview with Iranian news agency IQNA, which was featured on Lebanese group Hezbollah's AlManar news outlet, Witt said she was drawn to Islam after reading about the Prophet Muhammad's daughter, Sayeda Fatima, in a book by Iranian sociologist Ali Shariati.

Witt learnt Farsi and travelled to the Middle East during her tenure as a counterintelligence officer, according to the indictment.

The court document details how four Iranian suspects identified in the indictment attempted to target US intelligence agents with computer malware by using spoof emails and fake Facebook accounts.

Witt is not in US custody. Her whereabouts are unclear.