Iran was able to flip a USA counter-intelligence agent and used her to spy on former colleagues, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
They are said to be charged with using malware, phishing attacks and false identities, including one called Bella Wood on Facebook, who successfully friended one of the USA agents while they were deployed as a military intelligence officer in Kabul.
The most notable of the four Iranian hackers is Behzad Mesri, who U.S. authorities also charged in November 2017 with hacking HBO, stealing scripts for unaired episodes of season 6 of the hit series Game Of Thrones TV show, and later attempting to extort HBO execs for $6 million.
"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", said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. Prosecutors say they targeted former colleagues of Witt's in the intelligence community.
Witt's defection and subsequent collaboration with Iranian hackers were made much worse because she also had high-level security clearance and field duty experience, and indirectly helped Iranian intelligence gain deep insight into how United States operations are conducted both internally and overseas. Throughout her tenure with the Air Force, she maintained "high-level" security clearances and even deployed to the Middle East to participate in counter intelligence operations.
Aided by Individual A, Witt eventually met Iran's ambassador in Tajikistan, who gave her money to fly to Dubai.
During that time, she was granted high-level security clearances, learned Farsi at a USA military language school, and was deployed overseas for counterintelligence missions in the Middle East.
In August 2013, Witt reached out to an individual with ties to Iranian intelligence offering her services. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity", according to the indictment.
Besides charges and an arrest warrant issued in the name of the former USAF service member, the DOJ also indicted four Iranian hackers who supposedly carried out the cyber-attacks acting on information provided by Witt.
Witt served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, and was a Defense Department contractor until 2010. "She returned the next year, and then she began working for the Iranian government to provide information...she has been there ever since". The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of US government agents.
"I just hope I have better luck with Russian Federation at this point", Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July. Authorities said Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar sought to install malware in the computers of Witt's former co-workers through fake social media accounts.
In one message she wrote that she might "do like (Edward) Snowden", the former United States intelligence contractor who in early June 2013 leaked thousands of documents on the operations of the National Security Agency.
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