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Former Air Force intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran and revealing defense secrets

Former Air Force intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran and revealing defense secretsFormer Air Force intel officer charged with espionage for Iran govt



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Former US intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran after defection

Former US intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran after defectionA former US Air Force intelligence officer has been charged with helping Iran target ex-colleagues with cyberattacks after defecting to the country in what was dubbed a “betrayal” of America.  Monica Witt, 39, was accused of switching sides after more than a decade of US military service and identifying American intelligence officers and their personal Facebook accounts for the Iranian regime.  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.  Four Iranians said to have been involved in the cyber-attacks were also charged along with two Iran-based businesses, New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company.  The five individuals charged are all at large, meaning the chances of a successful prosecution remain unclear. The investigation to uncover the alleged crimes was being run for years.  John Demers, the US assistant attorney general, said: “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." Image released on February 13, 2019 showing the missing person page of the FBI website for Monica Witt Credit: HO/AFP/Getty Images Witt, a US citizen, worked for the US Air Force as an intelligence specialist and special agent between 1997 and 2008. She worked with the Defence Department as a contractor until 2010.  During her service she was given access to secret and top secret information relating to counterintelligence, including material that contained the true names of secret agents and sources.  Early in her career she was taught the Farsi language and was deployed in a number of overseas locations, carrying out missions to counter America’s enemies.  Witt repeatedly promised to act in America’s interests and not share classified information she accessed, according to US prosecutors – pledges which she is accused of flagrantly breaking.  The first signs of Witt’s alleged defection came when she attended the Iranian New Horizon Organization’s “Hollywoodism” conference in February 2012.  The gathering was sponsored by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of Iran’s armed forces which was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for its “malign” activities.  The conference was partly aimed at “condemning American moral standards and promoting anti-US propaganda”, US prosecutors said. By August 2013, just 18 months later, Witt had fled to Iran.  Messages between Witt and an unnamed Iranian-American who helped arrange the trip which were published in the indictment give an insight into her thinking before the defection. “Should i thank the sec of defense . . u were well trained,” the unnamed individual allegedly wrote to Witt in one message before her trip, appearing to reference the US defence secretary, her old boss.  Witt responded: “LOL thank the sec of defense? For me? Well, I loved the work, and I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil.” She added a smiling emoji and the words: “Thanks for giving me the opportunity.” In another message Witt wrote “If all else fails, I just may go public with a program and do like Snowden :) ”. The apparent reference is Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked classified material in 2013 and then fled to Russia.  Once Witt was in Iran she was given housing and computer equipment by Iranian government officials, according to US prosecutors.  She is then accused of disclosing classified information about secret US projects and combing Facebook under an alias to identify former colleagues, putting together “target packages” that would help the Iranians find, track and “neutralize” the threat posed.  The four Iranians charged in the indictment then began a “malicious” campaign of targeting Witt’s former colleagues, according to US prosecutors.  The allegations included using fictitious or imposter Facebook accounts to send messages with links that would compromise their computers once clicked.  The Iranian nationals charged with computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft are Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar.  Terry Phillips, a US special agent with the Air Force, said: “The alleged actions of Monica Witt in assisting a hostile nation are a betrayal of our nation’s security, our military, and the American people.   “While violations like this are extremely rare, her actions as alleged are an affront to all who have served our great nation.”  It is not known how those charged will plead if the case came to court. The five individuals charged had not commented publicly in the hours immediately after the indictment was unsealed.



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Ex-U.S. marine jailed in Russia for spying was misled: lawyer

Ex-U.S. marine jailed in Russia for spying was misled: lawyerRussia’s Federal Security Service detained Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28. Whelan appeared in a Moscow court on Tuesday, where a judge rejected releasing him on bail. Whelan, who denies the charges, was detained after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency, the Russian online news portal Rosbalt.ru reported this month.



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Huawei sacks Polish worker arrested over claims of spying

Huawei sacks Polish worker arrested over claims of spyingChinese telecoms giant Huawei has sacked a Polish employee accused by the country's security services of spying. The telecoms company, which has been at the centre of a dispute over spying fears, sacked Wang Weijing, a sales manager at the firm for bringing the company into disrepute. Mr Wang and a former member of Poland's intelligence services were arrested on Friday, accused of spying. Huawei, one of the world's leading telecoms companies that has been heavily involved in the launch of the latest 5G network technology, has been embroiled in a dispute over spying claims. US security officials have accused the company of posing a national security risk, something the company has repeatedly denied. Its products have been subject to blocks and bans in some countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand.  A Huawei spokesman said it the alleged actions of Mr Wang had “no relation to the company”. The spokesman said: “In accordance with the terms and conditions of Huawei’s labor contract, we have made this decision because the incident has brought Huawei into disrepute.” In December, Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada over alleged breaches of US sanctions by the company. Ms Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei, was released on bail. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims it is tied to the Chinese state. The company said it has won 25 commercial 5G contracts to develop the latest wireless technology around the world.



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Poland arrests Huawei employee, Polish man on spying allegations

Poland arrests Huawei employee, Polish man on spying allegationsHuawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying. No evidence has been produced publicly and the firm has repeatedly denied the claims, but the allegations have led several Western countries to restrict Huawei’s access to their markets.



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Huawei sacks employee arrested in Poland on spying charges

Huawei sacks employee arrested in Poland on spying chargesPoland’s internal affairs minister, Joachim Brudzinski, called for the European Union and NATO to work on a joint position over whether to exclude Huawei from their markets following the arrest of the Chinese employee and a former Polish security official on Friday. Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with China’s government and U.S.-led allegations that its devices could be used by Beijing for spying. No evidence has been produced publicly and the firm has repeatedly denied the accusations, but several Western countries have restricted Huawei’s access to their markets.



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Russia 'not ruling out prisoner exhange' for Briton held on spying charges

Russia 'not ruling out prisoner exhange' for Briton held on spying chargesRussia’s foreign ministry has not ruled out a prisoner exchange for the British citizen held on apparent charges of espionage. Paul Whelan, a former US marine, was arrested in Moscow on December 28th. Russian media reported claims that the 48-year-old was apprehended in possession of a USB drive containing the names of Russian security agents. Since his arrest Mr Whelan, who also holds US, Canadian and Irish passports, has been kept in the notoriously brutal Lefortovo prison in the Russian capital. On Saturday, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said that it was too early to talk of a prisoner swap.  “As to the possibility of prisoner exchanges, it’s incorrect to consider the question when formal charges have not even been brought,”  Sergei Ryabkov told state-run RIA-Novosti news agency. The United States is also currently holding Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who pled guilty to espionage last month and co-operated with prosecutors over her attempts to infiltrate right-wing groups, including the National Rifle Association.  The foreign ministry comments follow revelations about Mr Whelan’s past.   In 2008, he was court-martialed and dishonourably discharged from the Marines on charges of larceny and passing bad checks. According to the Washington Post, he attempted to steal $ 10,000 while deployed to Iraq in 2006. Mr Whelan, a Russophile who often visited the country, possessed an account on Vtonktate, the Russian version of Facebook. Many of his contacts appear to be involved in the Russian navy or Defence Ministry, the New York Times reported. A view shows Lefortovo pre-trial detention centre in Moscow Credit:  REUTERS However, CIA officials told the paper that Mr Whelan’s court-martial meant it was unlikely he would have later been employed as a secret agent, adding that most spies possess diplomatic passports so they cannot be detained for long. On his Vtonktate page, Mr Whelan posted “GOD SAVE PRESIDENT TRUMP!!” after the President’s 2017 inauguration, alongside updates about the family cat.  One of his VK friend’s, Oleg, told Russian media that he had loaned Mr Whelan $ 1,000 to buy a paintball gun and not been repaid.  “I am sorry that I can’t send you I have already surpassed the limit that I can send abroad within a year,” Mr Whelan allegedly told him.  The former serviceman’s twin brother, David, told reporters that he feared his sibling could be detained for several years, caught up in the worsening tensions between Washington and Moscow.  He said there was nothing to indicate his brother was a spy and the arrest was “very arbitrary”. "Our family is tending to focus on getting him out anything we can do to make his stay as least-awful as possible and not worry so much about the rationale for what caused it," David said.  Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is investigating Mr Whelan on charges of espionage that carry a sentence of up to 20 years, state-run media reported.



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American held for spying is also British, Irish, Canadian

American held for spying is also British, Irish, CanadianMOSCOW (AP) — The American former Marine who is being held in Moscow on spying charges also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship, officials said. Britain's foreign secretary charged Friday that Russia is trying to use him as a pawn in its geopolitical games.



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Jeremy Hunt warns Russia not to play 'diplomatic chess games' over British man arrested for spying

Jeremy Hunt warns Russia not to play 'diplomatic chess games' over British man arrested for spyingBritish Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Russia on Friday against playing "diplomatic chess games" following the arrest of Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine with dual UK and US citizenship, on spying charges. Paul Whelan was formally charged on Thursday, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. It was alleged that he had been handed a USB drive containing a secret list of Russian agents.  His case has been linked to that of Maria Butina, a Russian national convicted for seeking to influence US politics during the 2016 presidential election. "We don't agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games… We are all extremely worried about him and his family," Mr Hunt told the BBC in an interview. US officials in Moscow informed UK counterparts of Mr Whelan’s dual nationality status. The revelation will add to existing tensions between London and Moscow, after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury last March.   Mr Whelan, 48, was arrested for spying on December 28 at the Metropol hotel, yards from the Kremlin.  Outside of the Lefortovo detention centre in Moscow, where Paul Whelan is being held. His lawyer has meanwhile asked for bail Credit: REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov Vladimir Zherebenkov, the ex-marine’s lawyer, told Interpol that he had appealed against the charges and had requested that Mr Whelan be released on bail. A decision is not expected soon.  According to the Associated Press, Mr Zherebenkov said he visited Mr Whelan on Wednesday and found him in a “in a good mood and cracks jokes”.  On the same day, the American ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met Mr Whelan at Lefortovo prison, a former KGB facility, where he is being held.  Washington has pushed for an explanation to Mr Whelan’s detention. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said he would demand his “immediate return” if the US found the detention was inappropriate.    Mr Whelan’s family has said that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a fellow former Marine, and that he had been to Russia “numerous times” since 2007.   He was born in Canada to British parents, and later moved to the US. His brother David Whelan said their family was from the West Midlands.     Russian authorities have given no further information about Whelan’s arrest.



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Michigan man held for spying in Russia was frequent visitor

Michigan man held for spying in Russia was frequent visitorDETROIT (AP) — As a staff sergeant with the Marines in Iraq, Paul Whelan enjoyed fine cigars and showed an affinity for Russia — even spending two weeks of military leave in Moscow and St. Petersburg instead of at home in the U.S. with family and friends.



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