U.S. Spy Who Defected to Iran Helped Plan Assassination of Intelligence Officers, Attacks on U.S. and Israeli Targets
For the past weeks, U.S. media has reported the story of Monica Witt, an air force intelligence officer. Witt gradually became disenchanted with our approach to Iran. Along with a budding interest in both Iran and Islam, she began contacts with Iranian agents, which eventually led to her defection. She now lives in Iran and has converted to Islam.
This Yahoo article lays out the scope of Witt’s betrayal:
After 2013…U.S. officials identified multiple instances…where Iranian operatives appeared to be targeting U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials engaged in activities against Iran for possible assassinations. Critical identifying information about the threatened U.S. intelligence officials — all of whom worked for the Department of Defense — was provided by Monica Witt, the former air force officer who defected to Iran in 2013, says this person. “These people were not identifiable without her help,” the former official said.
Though the plots were prevented before the Iranians were potentially able to carry them out, Iran’s actions went far beyond the mere assembling of dossiers for potential future attacks, said this person. “These were cases where people had been assigned; plane tickets were purchased; weapons caches were in place. Plans were being activated. It had moved long past the written description.”
This was a “five alarm fire,” said this former intelligence official — highly anomalous and inconsonant with the behaviors of other hostile intelligence services like those of Russia or China. “The targeting of American intelligence officers was unique,” the former official said. “When this was happening the reaction was not, ‘Oh these things happen.’ There was shock, awe and surprise. The thought was, ‘The battlefield changes in an instant if this is true.’”
In one unnerving case after Witt’s defection, a U.S. intelligence official in Europe had to be evacuated in the middle of the night with their family because of Iranian operatives casing their home, said this person.
A second former official confirmed the evacuation of a U.S. intelligence official in Europe during this period because of unexpected Iranian interest. How the Iranians had managed to identify this person led to intense scrutiny by U.S. officials — and rising consensus that the Iranians had recruited a U.S. government source, said this former official. There was a great deal of CIA-FBI finger-pointing over this issue, recalls this person.
Further, the article reveals that Obama administration officials activated a high-level surveillance system in an attempt to track Witt down inside Iran:
The identification of Witt as the defector sent shockwaves through the intelligence community. Her access to highly classified technical collection programs was “immense,” says the first former official, and while U.S. officials had an “inkling” about who Witt was meeting with, and where these meetings were occurring — that she was being debriefed, and who her spy handlers were within Iran — U.S. officials were fundamentally in the dark on what she was sharing with Iranian intelligence.
Then came the potential assassinations, and the realization about Witt’s role in them, says this person. This, in concert with overarching concerns about Witt’s disclosures, prompted U.S. officials to reorient a sensitive national-level technical collection program — allowing for pinpoint geolocation — to try to track her down within Iran. Although approval was eventually given, “there were some conversations with uncomfortable [U.S. government] lawyers” about altering this program, which was strictly regulated, toward hunting down Witt, said this person, because she is a U.S. citizen. The request to alter this program went all the way up to senior Obama-era National Security Council officials, said this former official.
It’s unclear whether this effort to locate Witt was successful.
This passage does not clarify what the intent was of locating her. But clearly she could never have been persuaded to return to the U.S. and could never have been forcibly returned by kidnapping. The only real option would be to murder her. Given that she supposedly exposed the identities of U.S. intelligence agents to Iran and led directly to them being targeted for death (if the story is to be believed), it’s entirely possible Obama would have approved her murder. The president had approved the murder of a number of American citizens who played some role in promoting Islamist violence against U.S. targets. Why wouldn’t he approve the killing of a former U.S. intelligence agent who went over to the other side? The truly troubling aspect of this plan is that whatever Witt did, Iran did not act on any of these plans. It may have plotted, but it never acted. The report claims that Iran planned to act and that these killing operations were interrupted and derailed.
Another puzzling aspect of this account is that U.S. counter-intelligence officials claim to have known that Witt was speaking to Iranian agents, but did not know what she was telling them. How can you have such a senior agent with access to enormous amounts of top-secret information speaking to enemy agents, and you don’t know what she’s telling them? In most circumstances, you can track exactly what material agents and analysts access. In case, an agent is turned you should be able to track what they knew, what they accessed, etc. Did Witt somehow gain access to material she shouldn’t have like the Snowden case? Or was U.S. counter-intelligence simply caught flat-footed and had no clue what she knew or accessed. If the latter is true, then this is a huge U.S. intelligence failure on the order of Aldrich Ames.
It’s important to note that other media sources have taken the complete opposite tack, deriding Witt for being a sloppy, dumb spy who gave herself away through her public exploits before and after she defected. It’s hard to determine from these accounts whether she was a master plotter who betrayed vast swaths of U.S. intelligence capability; or she was a “fake Nigerian prince with a lucrative business offer.”
Marzieh Hashemi’s Role in Case
The solution to another mystery involving this case is suggested in the case of Melanie Franklin, a U.S. citizen who moved to Iran and converted to Islam as well taking the name Marzieh Hashemi. She was arrested by the FBI when she arrived from Iran at the St. Louis airport, where she planned to visit her U.S. family. She was held for nearly three weeks on unspecified charges, which were never revealed. Now it appears that the U.S. believes that Hashemi played some role in recruiting Witt and securing her defection. As the former was arrested weeks before the charges against Witt were revealed, it makes perfect sense that the government saw the Iranian news anchor as a key player in facilitating the air force intelligence officer’s plan to betray this country. My guess is that we will not be seeing Hashemi back in the U.S. any time soon.
Iranian Plans to Counter-Attack Against U.S. Targets
One of the main thrusts of the article is recounting Iranian preparations to retaliate against U.S., Israeli and American Jewish targets in the event that country is attacked. American officials purport to be shocked at the intensity and sophistication of Iranian surveillance and actual plotting to attack such targets. But this betrays a serious naiveté regarding the role of the military in protecting a nation’s interests. Any general who did not prepare to counter-attack and a sabotage campaign against an enemy who launches an assault against his country would be sacked in the event of a conflagration. Of course, the IRG is planning such operations in the event that the U.S., Israel or the Saudis carry out their promise to bring regime change. No one should be shocked by this.
To be clear, any Iranian agent plotting to kill Jews to avenge a possible Israeli attack on Iran is making a huge blunder. Not only will it destroy whatever level of credibility Iran may have in the world, it would forever destroy links of friendship between Iran and progressive forces in this country and around the world. It will also further the canard that there is no difference between Jews and Israel. This is not only an anti-Semitic conception, it plays right into the hands of Israeli and Israel Lobby propagandists who claim that Iran wants to destroy not just Israel, but the Jewish people as a whole.
The conclusion of the article does offer some dose of pragmatic realism in warning that Trump may be planning just such an attack. The officials quoted in the article warn that his would be catastrophic, and that Trump hasn’t a clue how bad things would be:
Some officials point to the ratcheting up of pressure by the White House and its resident hard-liners. In May 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Administration figures seem to have concluded that Iran has continued to covertly pursue nuclear weapons, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s official assessments to the contrary, say former officials.
It’s “a blatant attempt to politicize the intelligence community,” said Wise, the former DIA deputy director. The Trump administration appears to be looking for a pretext for war, says another former senior official.
The Trump administration seems oblivious to the potential Iranian response to U.S. military action, warn multiple former officials. And yet Iran has been telegraphing its intentions — including its capacity and willingness to use terror — if a war takes place. “We are in such a precarious situation, and people don’t realize it,” says one former senior intelligence official.
“The Trump administration approach is, ‘Oh shit, we’ll drop a few bombs and that’ll take care of it, says another former senior official. “Something precipitous could happen.”
20 thoughts on “U.S. Spy Who Defected to Iran Helped Plan Assassination of Intelligence Officers, Attacks on U.S. and Israeli Targets – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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“But clearly she could never have been persuaded to return to the U.S. and could never have been forcibly returned by kidnapping.”
Why not a rendition? We’ve done it before to far more dangerous people? If we could have gotten close enough to kill her, we would have been close enough to kidnap her. And, she would be far more valuable alive than dead.
As far as Ms Franklin, she wasn’t charged her with anything. She was detained, pursuant to Federal statute, as a material witness for the Grand Jury hearing into the charges against Witt.
Franklin received complete due process, from beginning to end.
Franklin had an attorney appointed to her even though she wasn’t charged with anything. Why didn’t her attorney charge the Justice Department if her due process rights were violated?
Now the US has TWO reasons to attack Iran…and they’re both women! Anybody else as sick of US exceptionalism as I am?
“who claim that Iran wants to destroy not just Israel, but the Jewish people as a whole.”
– not sure who claims that, but the real claim, a non Muslim entity in the Middle East is an insult to Islam and Muslims. Why else would ALL Muslims countries oppose Israel?
Human rights??? You must be kidding.
Progressive approach?? Delusional.
Islam isn’t evil, neither are Muslims. But this approach water down what they believe in. Shame!
@ Yoni Levy: You’re an Israeli and you’ve not heard your own prime minister say not once, but multiple times precisely these words? So are you just ignorant, lying, or arguing in bad faith–or all three?
All Muslim countries oppose Israel? That’s another lie. In fact, several Muslim countries have negotiated peace agreements with Israel. Several others purchase billions of dollars of spy gear from Israel and employ Israelis on site to install and monitor it. Other Muslim countries do billions of dollars in arms sales and tourism business with Israel.
I do not permit false claims or lies to be published here. You are on notice. If you publish Islamophobia here again, you will be moderated (at least).
“To be clear, any Iranian agent plotting to kill Jews to avenge a possible Israeli attack on Iran is making a huge blunder ”
Apparently, in the eyes of Iran, there isn’t any difference between Jews and Israel. We know that because in 1993
Iran killed Argentine Jews in the AMIA revenge bombing, for which, BTW, Iran has successfully escaped justice.
@Bare-ass: Oy, we’ve had this argument here countless times in the past and it’s so frigging boring to repeat it I can’t tell you…Even if the Argentine claims against Iran and Hezbollah are true, this event happened over 20 years ago. Ronen Bergman says that Israel has assassinated over 3,000 Arabs it deems enemies, and that’s just Mossad killings. If you add all the other Arabs Israel has murdered over the past 70 years, it far surpasses those murdered in Argentina.
Your comment was far off topic, but I’ve allowed it because it was tendentially related to the post. But don’t post off topic again. It’s a comment rule violation.
Paird, their easiest targets would be the Iranian Jews, if you were right.
You botched my point and turned it into something else which then you called islamophobia.
I wonder why is this card is pulled by you quickly when it comes to Islam but when people write about Judaism, the benchmark for anti Semitism is soooooooo high?
The fact things changed recently with some countries, and even most of that is deeply undercover tells us the story is a bit more complex than what you presented.
@ Yoni Levy: I understood your point quite well. You made a blatantly false claim that all Muslim countries oppose Israel. Make sweeping false generalizations about Islam, Muslims or Muslim countries is Islamophobic. You are an Islamophobe.
You’re using classic Hasbara talking points. Richard is right in shutting you down.
I am placing some thoughts on this article, hoping to get some helpful responses.
1. As US counter-intel person in charge, why would I evacuate the endangered personnel in a hurry? I would quietly replace the family with similar-looking agents in order to catch or kill the Iranian team when it comes to do its work. Of course, it may not work but the family will have been made safe anyway so what is there to lose?
I seriously doubt that Iran would attempt blind retaliation against JEWS as such, instead of targeting significant Jews of military importance. Firstly, killing non-combatants will not make Iran any safer.
Secondly, it would rile up the rest of the world that cares so MUCH more about Jews than it does about the hundreds of thousands of Muslims being butchered directly and indirectly, by the US and the West…and by Israel.
Thirdly, Iran has Jews among its population including some who have parliamentary seats reserved specifically for Jews so why would it strike blindly against Jews? Perhaps this third point has more to say about people who may profit from promoting the existential threats to Jews, than it does about what Iran may do.
Now for the REAL shocker. I wish Iran would develop its own nukes because only then will Israel and the West, get off its back. These days safety guarantees by the West, for countries who give up their nukes or nuke programs, are not worth the ink they are written with (paper is worth more). N. Korea was being shoved into the sea until it blasted a couple of nukes and suddenly, the West decided to “Talk, talk, not war, war”. The Ukraine was persuaded to give up its stocks of nukes and how has that worked out for them now? Pakistan saw that India had nukes so it developed its own and now the scale of battles between India and Pakistan are controllable. It is also the same line of thought that Israel has used to stockpile its own nukes…and it is just as crazy as any other country and could/would use its nukes.
Why not Iran? oh, and PLEASE spare me the hysterics on this question!
‘ oh, and PLEASE spare me the hysterics on this question!’
There is an inkling of truth in what you said. Just consider if Iran nuked Israel. Israel being an extremely small country any nuke would contaminate the entire country for over 100 yrs. aside from killing millions of Muslims and then no access to al-Aksa nor the Patriarchs cave!
Israel cannot nuke Lebanon, Syria, too close to home considering the radioactivity.
So in the end Israel could only nuke Iran due to its distance from Israel. Of course there are strategic weapons with less radius of fallout but I am not savvy about these.
@natasha: Hey, we know about your PhD in nuclear engineering and that dissertation on nuclear war strategies in the Middle East but…let me bring you up short. Israel has indeed not only contemplated by come very close to using a nuclear weapon. It prepared its first WMD just before the 1967 War so it could be used if Israel was losing the war. And in 1973, Dayan actually forcefully advocated dropping a nuclear weapon in Sinai as a warning to the Arabs of what was in store unless they agreed to a ceasefire (this was towards the beginning of the war when Israel was reeling and on the defensive).
@yonilevy. Spare us the wide-eyed protest at being called out as the Islamophobe you present yourself.
Being Muslim, I am one of the ‘they” you say who hate Jews and wish to destroy Israel…oh and “they” who have no concern for human rights and progressive approach. Yeah, we all also believe a Jewish entity is an insult to Islam. Do they teach you this bullshit in Israel or, has it made the leap and now is being taught in the US as well?
CLEARLY, you know nothing about Islam or Muslims and I am not about to teach you here because it would take too long and will not change the darkness in your heart.
“Human rights”. There is not a person in a Muslim-majority country who would not like to be treated as an equal with the same rights as those enjoyed by the elites. The trouble is that the elites, the rulers of almost every Muslim-majority country, are in place because the US wants them there. The US is supporting all tyrants and butchers with money and weapons, just as it is supporting Israel which ALSO does not give a tinkers dam for you much vaunted “human rights”.
Muslims, myself included, hate what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and want to see the regime that promotes such slaughter and oppression, destroyed…removed from existence, leaving an Israel that is truly a democracy, that respects human rights for ALL, not just for Jews, that is an INCLUSIVE nation instead of an oppressive, exclusionary, dispossessing cruel entity reserved to benefit Jews and ONLY Jews.
That does not mean we hate Jews or, that we hate Israel.
Of course there are horrible Muslim tyrants who should all be lined-up and shot but the US will never allow that kind of regime change. After all, the US was instrumental in destroying the Arab Spring.
@natasha. Since 9-11 the US has been using nukes from Pakistan to Libya. It has spread hundreds of thousands of tons of Depleted Uranium (half life + 4.5 BILLION years) across those countries, DU that has been and will continue to change DNA, cause cancers and deform fetuses forever. All Rumsfeld had to say about using DU was, “It takes care of our nuclear disposal problem as well”.
I believe the US has so far, only supplied Israel with these high-penetration weapons (bombs and bullets) so not Israel can also use nukes without using nukes.
penjihad – so if you can explain why would Malaysia, Indonesia or many other countries vote on every issue against Israel? For over 70 years?
And again, I didn’t claim or even suggested that all (or even many) Muslims are antisemites. But on a communal level, the facts are pretty clear, Israel is singled out on many issues where many countries do much worse.
The Europeans also vote many times against Israel but you can see they actually vote with their conscience as they would vote on a case to case basis. With some other countries, you know it is automatically against Israel. Why? because progressive values? Human rights? Yah, Right!
Many nations vote against Israel in the UN. In fact, the UN Security Council voted today 14-1 against Israeli sovereignty in the Golan. Does this mean that every Council member who voted against Israel is anti-Israel? No. Similarly, not every Muslim country which votes against Israel is opposed to its existence.
As clear as mud…
There’s that zio-whataboutism again. You’ve got to get this into your thick head, we don’t run a betting pool rating countries records on human rights. If you want to do that go to Vegas. We’re interested here in Israel’s human rights record and policies. If you’re interested in what other countries do, you’re in the wrong place.
The comment rules state that you must not offer opinions alone when presenting a controversial claim. Your opinions alone aren’t worth much. You must also offer credible sources to support such claims. If you don’t, your time here may be short.
Only one of many possible replies:Samson Option.
You are right I do not have a degree in nuclear physics etc. but it is quite clear that certain place are just too close.
As far as Egypt proper it is probably far enough away from the fallout but it is pure speculation on my part.
Aside from that Israel has a 40 yr old peace treaty with Egypt so not necessary.
@natasha: Nope. Read my blog post based on historical accounts. Not “one of many options.” It was THE option defense minister Dayan proposed to Golda.