Was American arrested for spying in Iran producing "propaganda games" for CIA?

Dominic Girard from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sez,

It's one thing for Iran to arrest an American and sentence him to death for being a spy. It's a whole other thing when you say the spy made video games as propaganda for the CIA. Yet that's precisely one of the charges Iranian-American Amir Hekmati confessed to on Iranian television in December. (Let's remember that Iran routinely accuses foreigners of being spies, and there's no way of knowing exactly what methods were used to get Hekmati to read out his confession).

Hekmati did once worked with Kuma Games - a New York based game developer. Iran believes Kuma Games are CIA propagandists, that the company makes video games to disseminate a pro-USA message internationally. Some of Kuma Games' offerings are playable scenarios of real-world events. You can be a rebel trying to track down Gadhafi in Libya. You can join Team Six and kill Osama bin Laden. You can also be a soldier inserted in Iran, trying to sabotage their nuclear weapons program. But does that necessarily mean they're a CIA front? This short CBC Radio documentary tries to sort out if the CIA would ever consider such an idea, and if it would even be worth the effort.

Day 6 Documentary: Propaganda Games


  1. Surely by now we all realize that it doesn’t take a paycheck that says “CIA” on it for you to be a CIA asset. If these guys aren’t a CIA asset then nothing is.

    Of course that means that Voice of America and the Peace Corps are CIA assets too.  Which they are.

  2. To be fair, I’m pretty sure the US would do everything it could to assassinate /imprison for life w/o trial someone who had been working on Hezbollah video games. Not that that makes it right. Just sayin’.

    1. Heck, isn’t “the creation of violent anti-state propaganda while working for an enemy organization” exactly the justification used by the US for killing its own citizen, Anwar Awlaki without trial?

    2. Yup. Hasn’t been that long since our government (specifically our President) ordered a US citizen “droned” out of existence essentially for the crime of translating Al Qaeda propaganda and giving speeches that were considered to be propaganda in support of Al Qaeda.  Of course when we kill citizens for the crime of propaganda, it’s just and right, ’cause we’re exceptional, and being exceptional makes us right…’cause we’re the exception.

      All together now: USA! USA! USA!

  3. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kuma Games was receiving money from the Pentagon, the CIA, or some other national security agency to produce these games. Even if the arrested Iranian wasn’t working for a U.S. national security agency directly (there are so many of them — at least 36), there’s a good chance that he was working for them indirectly, whether he was aware of it or not.

  4. Why was he in Iran at the time of the arrest? Personal fun, ‘had to’ catch up with family, or just sight-seeing? No, no I got it — Because he’s MERIKUN and it’s a FREE country and he can DO WHATEVER he wants to.
         Or all of this is a horrible Vonneguttesque coincidence, whereby this man is actually an anti-nationalist, pro individual humanist. Caught up in a series of unfortunate mis-communications. Now being associated with the ‘agency’ he finds repulsive. Wow, this is exciting.

    1. He went to visit his grandmothers.

      However, there was a video of him confessing a couple of weeks ago, and he seemed awfully calm for someone who had to know that jaywalking, let alone spying, carries the death penalty in Iran. The whole thing is odd even by Iranian government standards.

      1. He’s a double-agent helping the Iranian government make a new game called, “Iran Baits the USA into WWIII.”

      2. If he was calm during a taped confession it probably falls under the “stiff upper lip” category. Persians still value machismo.

  5. Does it matter?  The guy is getting a death sentence.  Kuma Games could be a direct CIA front (doubt it), and it is still clear that his execution is politically motivated and not a part of an attempt at impartial justice.   Guilty or not, the particulars are almost irrelevant.

    In this case, Iran is being particularly douchie, but governments in general tend be real shit heads when it comes to preserving themselves.  Most nations at least leave open the option of execution for treason and spying, and tend to suspend the normal rules for deciding guilt when they do, not that Iran as much in the way of impartial judiciary rules to begin with.

  6. Let’s make this very clear for those who still haven’t gotten the message (and apparently some dumbarses still have not).

    You don’t just go into Iran. You don’t backpack there, you don’t fly there, you don’t drive there, in fact, you stay the heck out. It doesn’t matter weather you’re looking for the cat that ran away, visit some folks for good’ol times etc. You just don’t do it.

    The Iranian tourism office has one piece of advice. Stay away or die. It could be argued it’s not the best way to attract tourists, but thats what they do.

    So if you have some sort of deathwish, there are far cheaper and less troublesome ways then going into Iran. And, in danger of repeating myself, if you don’t have a deathwish, DONT FRACKING GO TO IRAN.

    I know it might be difficult sometimes, you just wander out a bar and whoops, you find yourself in Iran. It happens to all of us. But look, Iran only has 1.1% of earths land surface area. So if you stumble out of a random bar chances are only about 1/100 you’ll find yourself in Iran, or something like that. Plus, most civilized bars are separated by an ocean from Iran, so that’s kind of a safeguard right there (I want to see you drunkely swimming accidentially several thousand miles of open ocean).

    But hey, it happens, so now you’re in Iran, what now? Easy, GET OUT ASAP. Keep a calm head, don’t act suspiciously. Don’t do any foolish things like talking politics (dead giveaway) or talking in anything else than Persian (in fact you better keep your piehole shot altogether as much as possible). Determine the shortest route to pretty much any border (anywhere else is better then there) and discreetly start shuffling that way.

    See, it’s not that difficult, have a happy life.

    1. This strikes me as talking out of your ass a bit.

      Iran has many wonderful tourist sites to view, the proprietors of which would be thrilled to receive your custom. Now if you’re an American with intelligence or military connections, yes it probably would be best to stay away. But this whole idea that Iran is some kind of Final Level of Islamic Fundamentalism, where Westerners meet death, is totally (and deliberately) misguided.

      1. Yes, Iran, site of many wonderful natural attractions, priceless world heritage sites and historical sites…. AND BASELESS DETENTION AND STONING TO DEATH on accusation only, mainly because you’re a foreigner. It’s a great tourist attraction really.

        Kind of like swimming with box jellyfish off the cape tribulation beach, visiting North Korea or making Jeb Corliss your vacation organizer. It’s like a box of chocolates, you never know when you’ll bite down on a piece of SUDDEN DEATH.

        1. Baseless detention and and stoning to death on accusation only…ok, you’ve got me there. In America you probably won’t get stoned to death.

          We use guns.

          1. Actually you use injection. But lo and behold, there is also states that have no death penalty in the US.

            Of course like in Iran, errors in processing might end up with you being detained for several years and tortured, and if you ever get out, you’ll get a pat on the back and a friendly reminder of “hey, shit happens, sooo sorry, now get the hell out”.

    2. Florian: how many people do you know who are Iranian and/or have actually been to Iran and how much of your commentary is based on an understanding of the issue as shaped by the media?

      My guess is 0 and all of it.

      1. Sure, but that’s kinda the point isn’t it?

        Name me one other country that routinely executes visitors? Ohwait, I know one, Singapore and Thailand, though that’s easy to avoid, don’t insult the king and don’t bring in drugs. Some other country? Well, North Korea would probably do that a lot, but few people stray there, so it’s kind of a thin sample basis. Well on the top of my head, I could probably name Afghanistan, although technically they don’t execute you, you just get vanished and beheaded or sold back for money.

        See, you don’t need any contact, or the press to get the message across, or anything, to get the message trough loud and clear. Iran detains and executes foreigners, and we probably only know about a fraction of the cases that are so lucky to be picked up by anybody. But everytime somebody walks onto the beheading and stoning grounds, we hear about it, it’s the best anti-advertising ever.

        1. What’s kinda the point? That you have an opinion which is so morally watertight that it doesn’t need to be cross-checked with anyone who actually has first-hand experience? Furthermore, your assertion that we only know about a fraction of these cases is baseless and counter-intuitive.

          The crux of your argument is IMO invalid. When was the last group of people to be detained or punished in Iran who weren’t American? The last ones that come to mind were the British sailors in 2009 and the British navy officers in 2007. Both groups were released without real incident. So, judging by precedents, Iran is mostly only dangerous for Americans who have Iranian heritage (whom Iran’s government sees as Iranian anyway).

          Considering your clear passion for human rights I imagine you’ve also been railing against Israel’s latest attack on an Iranian nuclear scientist (that’s 5 now) which killed him and his driver, right? Or more likely you (and most people out there) probably didn’t know or even care that it happened.

          Don’t mistake my judgement of your comment as me disagreeing with you – I too think this and many actions of the Iranian government are ridiculous – but you simply seem to be parading your opinion as fact. I know people whose families have been disappeared and tortured so I’d say their opinions on the matter are probably more relevant than yours.

          1. Yeah, because I infer fact from something, what you call it, common sense, my opinion is irrelevant, nice.

            Yeah, Iran is not a good place to be for a bunch of people, like Nuclear scientists, Tourists and Woman and other infidels (ah how did the Koran put it so nicely, they must die?). But also the general population, but they don’t get much choice.

            So when traveling, you’re at some risk of dying. Some things you can do are riskier then others. Like say, basejumping. But if you know what you’re doing, basejumping isn’t that dangerous. You can also visit Singapore, which is somewhat risky (they do have the death penalty), but like basejumping, it’s not so risky if you know what you’re doing (don’t bring any drugs whatsoever, don’t litter on the street, don’t argue with police).

            Now it could be argued that visiting Iran is somewhat riskier then say visiting Switzerland. Of course that may have something to do with the fact that Swiss usually don’t detain and execute people on little or no grounds.

            However, going to Iran is not like base jumping or visiting Singapore, because basically there’s nothing much you can do to mitigate your risk. It could be some guy you met at entering the country just didn’t like your nose, and he’s gonna blacken you with the government, who’re happily gonna throw you in jail and torture you for a couple of years before they’ve ascertained that there’s no point in executing you.

            It’s kind of walking across the street with earplugs blindfolded, you just trust no car will hit you. You just don’t do it, period.

          2. 1) You cannot infer fact
            2) Common sense is not common
            3) I never said irrelevant, just less relevant than a first-hand source – which is undeniable

            Funny you mention Switzerland (from where, I note, you hail). Could it be that your inexplicable fury towards Iran has something to do with the recent trend of anti-Islamic attitude in your nation?

            From Wikipedia:
            Jews are protected in the Iranian constitution and seat is reserved for a Jew in the Majlis. Iran hosts the largest Jewish population of any Muslim-majority country. After Israel, it is home to the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East.
            Seems like Jews in Iran have some more freedom than Muslims in Switzerland. Which nation deserves ridicule now? It’s not like Switzerland has historically clean hands, either.

            Sounds like you just have a score to settle and seeing as you lack real knowledge or facts on the subject you can only rely on specious arguments based on comparisons to base jumping and crossing the road. But don’t let me stop you – your lengthy, ranting comments are doing wonders to prove your case.

          3. I don’t have an axe to grind (although I wished they also banned churchtowers and bells instead of totally ineffectually banning minaretts, I’m also totally down with synagoges, they don’t make any noise, unfortunately, too little jews around to buy up churchgrounds to convert, but that’s another matter).

            However, I’m getting mighty tired of hearing this story “Dumbarse went into Iran and got himself arrested and executed”.

            It’s kind of like the story “Dumbarse shot somebody in texas and got the death penalty” or “Dumbarse signed onto the military and got shot in Iraq”. There’s just some obviously dumbarsery things you don’t do if you have any sort of rational attachment to life. See all of the above.

          4. although I wished they also banned churchtowers and bells

            It’s kind of like the story “Dumbarse shot somebody in texas and got the death penalty” or “Dumbarse signed onto the military and got shot in Iraq”

            Finally some things we can agree on – especially your choice to capitalise Iraq, but not Texas :)

            My only problem with your comparison is that most of the time when shit happens in Iran the people involved are there to visit their (often infirm) relatives (often for potentially the last time). In such a situation any person would probably go and visit – particularly if your job involves something as seemingly innocuous as playing with code all day long. The other two examples you listed as facepalm-worthy relate to a person’s free choice, not family obligation.

  7. shortest route to any border, discreetly start shuffling that way…..well as you well know, you could sling me out in the bush (all the way) and i would prob survive…..you have no remorse do you……

  8. The idea to GTFO now doesn’t really work very well. Why? Because Iran has little qualms about rounding up your extended family and friends and doing bad things to them. It’s one reason you can get a visa to study abroad. They know if you don’t come back or start to make trouble, they will round up and beat on grandma for awhile.

  9. there’s no way of knowing exactly what methods were used to get Hekmati to read out his confession

    True.  All we can know is that the Iranians aren’t using any worse methods than the USA continues to  use, regardless of which corporate-sponsored political party is in charge at any given moment.  And two wrongs don’t make a right, as my mother used to tell us back in the day, when Americans were still morally above torture.

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