February 16, 2019

The indictment of former Air Force intelligence specialist Monica Elfriede Witt

The "Wanted by the FBI" circular for Witt

The recent indictment of a former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist and counterintelligence agent raises serious questions beyond the information released in the the court filings. If you have time, read the indictment here. I have, and will try to clarify much of the legalese and intelligence community phraseology, while omitting the boilerplate miscellany.

Here is my review of the facts as we know them from the actual text of the indictment, from reading "between the lines" of the indictment based on my similar military background and training, and other publicly available information.

Monica Witt enlisted in the Air Force in August of 1997, and served on active duty for over ten years until March of 2008. After enlistment and basic training, she attended the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California, from February 1998 to April 1999. At DLI, she was trained as a Persian Farsi linguist. For those not familiar with Middle East languages, Persian Farsi is the language spoken in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Between the summer of 1999 and the end of 2003, Witt deployed overseas as an aircrew member on board the U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance platform. Given her language specialty, it is not hard to figure out what "overseas locations" mentioned in the indictment means.

In late 2003, Witt left the cryptologic linguist specialty and became a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). In addition to its criminal investigative mission, AFOSI is the Air Force organization charged with counterintelligence operations.

These are sensitive missions - Witt's fluency in Farsi would be a useful tool in determining Iran's intelligence operations against the U.S. Department of Defense. After separating from the Air Force in 2008, she continued to work as an AFOSI special agent until August 2010 as a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton.

Here is where it gets a little murky. There is nothing that tells us what happened between Witt's termination of her contract in 2010 until she makes a trip to Iran in January 2012 to attend a conference sponsored by an organization with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). During this trip, she appeared in a video, admitted to being a U.S. military veteran, and made anti-American statements. (FLAG)

Upon her return to the United States, Witt was approached by the FBI and warned that based on her military experience and training, she was a prime target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence services. As you would suspect, Witt claimed she would never reveal classified information to the Iranians.

Witt continued an association with at least one Iranian official with ties to an Iranian intelligence agency - I suspect this is a reference to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). During one of the exchanges in October 2012, when complimented on her U.S. Air Force training, she replied that she was happy to be able to use her skills for "good rather than evil." (FLAG)

In June 2013, Witt traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, where she confided in a former colleague that she had gone to the Iranian embassy there and "told all," and mentioned that she might become another Edward Snowden. (FLAG)

Despite all these flags - and there are others - there appears to be no attempt to stop Witt from divulging classified information to Iranian intelligence services. Of course, by now, it is too late. In August 2013, she goes to Dubai, and then to Iran where she defects.

Once in Iran, Witt becomes an eager asset for the Iranian intelligence services. Not only does she tell them what she knows about U.S. signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations and capabilities against Iran, she offers the names of her fellow AFOSI special agents conducting operations against the Islamic Republic.

It gets worse - she participates in cyber operations against these American officers, and helps develop target packages against them, providing "spotting and assessing" insights and personal details. Having conducted human intelligence operations, I can attest that these details and insights are invaluable.

How much damage can a former U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant (that is the rank associated with the pay grade of E-6) do? From her participation in SIGINT operations, she has no doubt told the Iranians not that we are conducting SIGINT collection operations against them - they know that - but what our successes and capabilities are, and maybe more importantly, what problems and challenges the U.S. government is facing in those operations. It is extremely helpful when you know which of your communications are secure, and which are vulnerable.

From Witt's participation in AFOSI counterintelligence operations, she will have identified any U.S. or allied operatives of whom she was aware. This is where lives are at stake - the Iranians execute people on mere suspicion. While the identity of U.S. Air Force counterintelligence agents is harmful, it is the assets they run who face mortal danger.

With Witt in Iran and working with the Iranian intelligence services, it is unlikely that she will face justice in the United States. If she is foolish enough to leave Iran, she might be arrested in a country that has an extradition treaty with the United States, but her previous statements indicate she is aware of that danger. Failing a change of government in Iran - we can always hope - she may never see the inside of an American court or prison.

There is no doubt that there is an internal investigation in the U.S. counterintelligence community - as there should be. This woman, a trained SIGINT specialist and counterintelligence special agent, travels to Iran, participates in an anti-American conference sponsored by the most ruthless of the Iranian intelligence services, and despite warnings from the FBI, continues to communicate with Iranian intelligence operatives for over a year, and no one can make a case to detain her, or at least prevent her from traveling to Iran?

Why did it take six years from her initial cooperation with Iranian intelligence services in 2012, her defection in 2013, and her continuing work since 2014 against the United States to file an indictment in 2018 and try to bring her to justice?

Someone has some explaining to do.