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
Billionaire Financier David Koch Dead At Age 79 From Prostate Cancer
(NTS) — Billionaire tycoon and controversial political activist David Koch, one of the wealthiest people in the world and a significant contributor to libertarian and conservative movements, has died after a decades-long struggle with cancer, his brother states. He was 79 years old.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother David,” Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch said in a statement on Friday morning. “Anyone who worked with David surely experienced his giant personality and passion for life.”
David was diagnosed with prostate cancer approximately three decades ago, and he retreated from Koch Industries in June 2018, when his brother said David’s well-being had “continued to deteriorate” since being hospitalized in the summer of 2016. David held the title director emeritus.
“Twenty-seven years ago, David was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given a grim prognosis of a few years to live,” Charles said. “David liked to say that a combination of brilliant doctors, state-of-the-art medications and his stubbornness kept the cancer at bay. We can all be grateful that it did, because he was able to touch so many more lives as a result.”
David Koch and his elder brother, Charles, have been an instrumental force in conservative American campaignings since the early 1980s. Their influence fundamentally originates from a fortune which centered around Koch Industries, which was established by their father Fred Koch in 1940.
Over the years, the Koch brothers have donated large quantities of money in assistance of organizations to assemble voters and to promote conservative and libertarian politicians. In 1980, David was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate, but Republican candidate Ronald Reagan defeated he and his running mate Ed Clark.
The Koch brothers were disparaging of President Donald Trump and started a multi-million dollar campaign against his tariffs, which led to a tweet from the president last summer. “The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas,” Trump tweeted.
Two years earlier, just months before the 2016 presidential election, Trump took another swipe at the Koch brothers. “I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!”, Trump tweeted.
At the time of David’s death, his net worth was assessed to be $42.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine, making him the 11th richest person in the world. In 2015, the magazine ranked him as the 29th most powerful person in the world.
In addition to being a political donor, David was also a long-time philanthropist. He and his foundation bestowed hundreds of millions to cancer research and medical centers, and he served as a board member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. He also contributed $100 million to the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, $65 million to renovate the plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and $1 million to support education programs for visitors to the September 11 Memorial & Museum.
His wife Julia and their three children survive.
Cardinal George Pell’s Appeal Denied; Convictions On Sex Abuse Will Stand
MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian court has confirmed convictions against the most superior Catholic to be found condemned of child sex abuse.
The Victoria state Court of Appeal by a 2-1 majority ruling published Wednesday denied Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unanimous verdicts a jury issued in December finding Pope Francis’ former finance minister condemned of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.
At the time, Pell had just become archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city and had established an international-first reimbursement method for victims of clergical sexual abuse.
His lawyers are predicted to appeal the decision in the High Court, Australia’s final arbitrator.
Attorney Cites Trump’s Rhetoric In National Anthem Attack On Montana Teenager
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The attorney for a Montana man accused of throwing a 13-year-old boy to the ground at a rodeo because the teenager didn’t remove his hat during the national anthem says his client believes he was acting on an order from President Trump.
Attorney Lance Jasper told the Missoulian newspaper that the president’s “rhetoric” contributed to 39-year-old Curt Brockway’s disposition when he grabbed the boy by the throat and slammed him to the ground, fracturing his skull at the Mineral County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Jasper said Brockway is an Army veteran who believes he was acting on an order by his commander in chief. He adds that Brockway’s decision-making has been affected by a brain injury he suffered in a vehicle crash.
Brockway is charged with felony assault on a minor.
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