In February 2013, in the lobby of the Parsian Azadi Hotel in Tehran, I spoke extensively with Monica Witt, a whistleblowing ex-Air Force officer who was participating in the Hollywoodism Conference, a section of the Tehran Film Festival. While I don’t remember specific details, I do remember Ms. Witt saying she had been forced to witness and participate in horrific war crimes.
Six years later, on February 13, 2019, the Justice Department charged Monica Witt with two counts of espionage. The indictment alleges that Witt moved to Iran in Summer 2013 and later shared secrets she had learned in the Air Force.
The hysterically Iranophobic Trump regime is leveraging its indictment of Monica Witt to try to smear Tehran-based English-language news outlet PressTV and annual-conference-sponsoring NGO New Horizon. Back in 2012 and early-2013, when Witt was just another US government whistleblower, PressTV interviewed her, and New Horizon or the Tehran Film Festival invited her to the Hollywoodism Conference. According to the Trump regime narrative, these completely transparent actions conducted openly and in the glare of the public spotlight, were somehow part of a dastardly plot to recruit Witt as a spy.
A month ahead of the Monica Witt indictment, the FBI kidnapped PressTV anchor Marzieh Hashemi and held her for ten days under circumstances bordering on torture. The rationale for kidnapping Ms. Hashemi was the claim that she was a “material witness” to Monica Witt’s alleged spying. Why? Apparently because she had interviewed Witt. But Ms. Hashemi was never charged with a crime. After several interrogations, she was released without charge. Yet the indictment of Monica Witt states that “Individual A” who can only be Ms. Hashemi “engaged in acts consistent with serving as a spotter and assessor on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services.”
Obviously, if there were any actual evidence that Marzieh Hashemi was so employed, she never would have been released without charge. So we may assume that “acts consistent with” really means, “Marzieh Hashemi is a journalist who reports critically and fearlessly on American issues, and in so doing interviews sources who might be characterized as whistleblowers or dissidents.” In other words, Hashemi regularly commits a crime called “journalism.” And just as journalist Glen Greenwald, in the course of his journalistic duties, interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Russia (Edward Snowden) it seems that Marzieh Hashemi may have interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Iran (Monica Witt). But, contrary to US claims, neither Greenwald nor Hashemi is a spy. Both are journalists who, unlike certain mainstream media hacks, actually do their jobs.
Like the Justice Department’s implied case against Marzieh Hashemi, the Treasury Department’s explicit case against the New Horizons NGO is unsupported by any evidence. The official narrative seems to be that Witt had such a wonderful time at the Hollywoodism Conference that she later decided to move to Iran (and supposedly spill some secrets). If that were true — and I can testify that just about everybody who attends Iran-based conferences has a wonderful time — the conference organizers would be guilty of the crime of hosting a wonderful conference. Last I checked, that wasn’t grounds for Treasury Department sanctions.
Could New Horizon conferences really be about recruiting spies, not ex-changing ideas? The notion is preposterous. Just look at the participants’ lists! Virtually none of the conferees are people who could be expected to hold any secrets. On the contrary, the many New Horizon conferences I have attended have featured hundreds of leading intellectuals and alternative journalists, but (until last May’s Palestine conference in Mashhad) were remarkably bereft of US military and intelligence veterans.
I know the New Horizon organizers fairly well, and even helped them on more than one occasion by suggesting prospective guests. When I repeatedly suggested that they invite such patriotic American ex-military/intelligence types as Veterans Today editors Gordon Duff and Jim Dean, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, ex-State Department issuer of visas for al-Qaeda Mike Springmann, former US Army counterterrorism and PsyOps expert Scott Bennett, and others from USG backgrounds, I was told that while the New Horizons NGO would love to do so, the Iranian government makes it hard for such people to get visas.
Finally, in May 2018, in an attempt to foster goodwill and trust, the Iranian government relented. Giraldi, Springmann, Bennett, Dean, and Michael Maloof were invited and attended. On the final day of that Conference, Bennett and others spearheaded an attempt to convince the Iranian government to bring 9/11 truth into an American federal courtroom.
I believe the real reason for the witch-hunt against New Horizon and Marzieh Hashemi is New Horizon’s and PressTV’s success at fostering dialogues that include voices that are suppressed and censored in the US and the rest of the West. The 9/11 truth movement, in particular, obviously terrifies the Establishment. When the May 2018 New Horizon conference in Mashhad nearly persuaded the Iranian government to throw its full support behind a major 9/11 truth initiative — one that could have led to discovery proceedings forcing suspected 9/11 perpetrators like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and others to testify under oath — the neoconservative element of the Establishment must have panicked. The current witch-hunt is their way of lashing out.
Think about it: if this is really about Monica Witt supposedly spilling secrets, why did they wait so long? According to the feds, Witt, supposedly possessing vital national security secrets, has been living in Iran as a Muslim convert since summer 2013. Since Witt was on US authorities’ radar screen as a dissident and potential whistleblower long before that, it seems obvious that damage limitation measures would have commenced by mid-2013 at the latest. Any operations Witt could have compromised would have been shut down or revamped at that time, if not earlier. So the narrative that Witt has gravely damaged US national security, and we are only hearing about it now, seems implausible. Instead, the timing of the indictment, and the simultaneous persecution of Ms. Hashemi and sanctioning of New Horizon, suggests that the neocon Deep State is panicking over PressTV’s and New Horizon’s success at fostering dialogue on suppressed issues like 9/11 truth — dialogue inclusive of loyal and patriotic US military and intelligence insiders. Presumably the neocon Deep State has invented a fake tale of Monica Witt’s alleged spying as an excuse to try to persecute and silence truth-loving journalists and intellectuals.
But let’s consider all the possibilities. In the unlikely event that Monica Witt really has spilled important US secrets to Iranian intelligence — this according to the neocon Deep State tale that the entire mainstream media has swallowed uncritically — who would really deserve the blame? Journalists who covered her whistleblowing? Conference organizers who offered her a completely transparent platform? That’s the propaganda line. But it’s preposterous.
Anyone who has conversed with Monica Witt knows that she is a highly intelligent, deeply sincere person who was horrified and traumatized by the war crimes in which she was forced to participate. The New York Times cites her classmate Cory Ellis, “She would talk about how she couldn’t sleep at night, the stuff she saw and was a part of,” said Mr. Ellis. Ms. Witt, he remembered, would mention drone strikes, extrajudicial killings and atrocities against children, all of which she claimed her colleagues in the military would brag about.
As a whistleblower, Monica Witt discussed some of these atrocities with journalists, including Marzieh Hashemi, and apparently also approached WikiLeaks. And of course she participated in the Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran.
So who is really at fault here? The journalists? The conference? Or the war criminals who rape and dismember children, massacre women and children in drone strikes, and engage in sexual assault against their fellow service members with impunity?
If the US government wants to prosecute the people responsible for Monica Witt’s decision to move to Iran, they should begin by investigating the US military personnel who committed the atrocities she witnessed — the atrocities that traumatized her and forced her to follow her conscience, wherever it may have led her.