WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. authorities on Wednesday charged former Air Force intelligence officer Monica Witt with helping Iran launch a cyber-spying operation that targeted her former colleagues after she defected from the United States.
The U.S. Justice Department said Witt, 39, assembled dossiers on eight U.S. military intelligence agents she had worked with for Iranian hackers, who then used Facebook and e-mail to try to install spyware on their computers.
She defected to Iran in 2013 and presumably still lives there, U.S. officials said.
“She decided to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran,” said Jay Tabb, the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security. “Her primary motivation appears to be ideological.”
Washington also charged four Iranian nationals who it said were involved in the cyberattacks. U.S. 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.
Witt faces two counts of delivering military information to a foreign government and one count of conspiracy.
According to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008 and worked as contractor for two years after that.
During that time, she was granted high-level security clearances, learned Farsi at a U.S. military language school, and was deployed overseas for counterintelligence missions in the Middle East.
Witt appears to have turned against the United States some time before February 2012, when she traveled to Iran to attend a New Horizon conference that featured anti-U.S. propaganda.
When warned by the FBI that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran.
But later that year, she helped an unnamed Iranian-American official produce an anti-American propaganda film. “I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil,” she told that person in an email.
In February 2013, Witt returned to Iran for another New Horizon conference and told officials there that she wanted to emigrate.
She faced resistance for months.
“I just hope I have better luck with Russia at this point,” Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July. “I am starting to get frustrated at the level of Iranian suspicion.”
She successfully defected in August 2013, after providing a resume and “conversion narrative” to her contact. “I’m signing off and heading out! Coming home,” she wrote as she was about to board her flight from Dubai to Tehran.
Provided with housing and computer equipment by the Iranian government, Witt tracked down U.S. counterintelligence agents she used to work with on Facebook, the indictment said, and disclosed the classified identity of at least one of those agents, according to the charges.
Iranian hackers then set up fake Facebook personas to befriend those agents and attempt to install spyware that would track their computer activity, the indictment said. The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of U.S. government agents.
Iranian nationals Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar were charged with computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft.
Mesri, Masampour and Parvar also face sanctions for their involvement with Net Peygard, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
The Air Force has adjusted its security measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, said Terry Phillips, a special agent in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.
Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown
Former Potential Suspects In Alleged Jussie Smollett Attack Claim Attack Was Faked
UPDATE: Smolletts’ attorneys released a statement countering the claims of the two brothers.
“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.
“Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to “unnamed” sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”
Chicago (CBS) — Two brothers who were questioned and released by Chicago police investigating the Jussie Smollett attack did play a role in the crime.
Sources say at least one of the brothers bought the rope used in the incident at Smollett’s request. The sources also say the “Empire” actor paid for the rope, which was purchased at the Crafty Beaver Hardware Store the weekend of Jan. 25.
The brothers were paid $3,500 before leaving for Nigeria and were promised an additional $500 upon their return.
They left for Nigeria later in the day on Jan. 29 after the attack.
The sources say plain red hats worn by the brothers were bought at an Uptown beauty supply store and that the attack was supposed to happen before Jan. 29.
Smollett claims two men attacked him in Streeterville early Jan. 29 as he was heading to his apartment. He said they yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, poured a chemical on him and put a rope around his neck.
The brothers are now cooperating with police.
Since being released Friday night, the brothers have been staying in an undisclosed location.
Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said:
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Developing story, more to come…
Colin Kaepernick Reaches Settlement With NFL Over Kneeling Protest Fallout
- Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid settle collusion grievance with NFL
- Parties have resolved grievances subject to confidentiality pact
The NFL and attorneys for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid jointly announced on Friday afternoon they have settled a complaint of collusion by the players, who claimed the league’s owners blackballed them because they had protested by kneeling during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.
“For the past several months, counsel for Mr Kaepernick and Mr Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL,” the statement read. “As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.”
An arbitrator had been expected to rule over the next few weeks on Kaepernick’s grievance against the league, which he filed in 2017 under the collective bargaining agreement. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback alleged the owners conspired to keep him off the field because of his protests to draw attention to racial inequality and social injustice issues.
The filing said the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States”.
The NFLPA released a statement on Friday in support of Kaepernick and Reid, acknowledging they did not know the terms of the agreement as the players employed outside counsel.
“We continuously supported Colin and Eric from the start of their protests, participated with their lawyers throughout their legal proceedings and were prepared to participate in the upcoming trial in pursuit of both truth and justice for what we believe the NFL and its clubs did to them,” the statement said. “We are glad that Eric has earned a job and a new contract, and we continue to hope that Colin gets his opportunity as well.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Returns To The High Court After Bout With Cancer
WASHINGTON, Feb 15 (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back at the court after missing oral arguments in January as she recovered from lung cancer surgery at home, a court official said on Friday.
Ginsburg, who will turn 86 in March, had been working from home and participating and voting in cases since her December surgery by reading argument transcripts and case briefs. She attended the justices’ closed-door conference to discuss cases on Friday.
While Ginsburg was expected to attend the next session of oral arguments beginning on Feb. 19, court officials could not confirm she would be on the bench next week.
Last month, the court announced that Ginsburg’s recovery was on track and that there was “no evidence” of remaining disease.
Ginsburg, who joined the court in 1993, underwent a surgical procedure called a pulmonary lobectomy on Dec. 21 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to remove two cancerous nodules in her left lung. She was released from the hospital on Dec. 25.
Ginsburg missed oral arguments in January for the first time in her lengthy career on the court, fueling speculation about her ability to continue in the job. (Reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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