Facebook used in Iranian cyber-spying operation, USA indictment says

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

Witt served in the US Air Force from 1997 to 2008, becoming an agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, its counterintelligence unit.

The United States on Wednesday indicted a former US Air Force officer Monica Witt for aiding Iran in what Washington characterized as a cyber-spying operation targeting US intelligence officers.

US officials said Monica Witt, who worked for years in US Air Force counterintelligence, had an "ideological" turn against her country and defected in 2013, turning over information on US intelligence operations against Tehran.

Witt learned Farsi at a US military language school and allegedly traveled to Iran for an anti-American event that promoted "anti-U.S. propaganda", and returned again in 2013 when she was provided with housing and computer equipment to work on behalf of Iran.

Iranian nationals Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar were charged with computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft. Her work for the government ended in 2010.

In February 2012, Witt traveled to Iran to attend a conference.

The indictment suggested that Iran had reached out to her at least as far back as 2012. USA officials also imposed sanctions on an Iran firm, Net Peygard Samavat Company, that it said conducted the hacking operation, and Iranian events company, New Horizon Organization, that it said works to recruit foreign attendees.

The four men, using fake social media accounts and working on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, sought to deploy malware that would provide them covert access to the targets' computers and networks, prosecutors said.

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In a charging document, investigators say the 39-year-old was deployed by the United States to locations in the Middle East to conduct classified counterintelligence operations.

"She made a decision to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran", said Jay Tabb, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security, Reuters reports. The Justice Department said the information threatened other agents in the USA intelligence community, a federation of 16 agencies. She then found work as a Defense Department contractor.

Two years later, court papers say, her involvement with Iran began. -Iranian citizen who is identified as "Individual A" in the indictment hired Witt to be her assistant on an anti-American propaganda film.

Messages quoted in an indictment unsealed yesterday showed Witt saying that she wanted to "put the training I received to good use instead of evil" around the time of her defection.

In one message she wrote that she might "do like (Edward) Snowden", the former U.S. intelligence contractor who in early June 2013 leaked thousands of documents on the operations of the National Security Agency.

Witt defected to Iran in August 2013.

Prosecutors say she appeared in multiple videos broadcast by Iranian media, identifying herself publicly as a US veteran and condemning America.

Officials would not elaborate on why the indictment was brought six years after her detection, except to say that they had to move classified intelligence into an unclassified format to be used in a pending criminal proceeding.

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