Amir Mirzai Hekmati, a US citizen of Iranian descent and a former Marine, has been sentenced to death by a court in Tehran for spying. According to Iranian press reports, Hekmati was found guilty of "co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of [sic] the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism."
Although the story broke big in the mainstream press this week, Hekmati's alleged videotaped "confession" was actually broadcast -- in its entirety, with Hekmati speaking
Arabic Farsi-- on Iranian television on December 18, 2011. While staged confessions are always suspect, in the videos, Hekmati looks relaxed and healthy and he speaks quietly, in calm, measured tones.
Although Hekmati's videotaped "confession" was broadcast nearly a month ago, it is virtually impossible to penetrate the Western media's info-barrier to discover what he actually "confessed to." A Google name search only produces links to stories from the BBC and US news agencies – none of which contain the details of Hekmati's supposed confession. Even a Google search for Hekmati's name linked with the Fars News Agency (which broadcast the taped "confession") also leads to the same dead-end. Curiously, the Google search yields no matches for Fars -- only the same links to the BBC and Western media.
It is only by going directly to the websites of Fars and the Tehran Times that one can track down the actual content of Hekmati's videotaped testimony. That is what this Planet reporter did.
One of the most surprising revelations in Hekmati's online tell-all was his admission that, in addition to training at the Pentagon's Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, he also spent time working for Kuma/War, a US-based videogame company that specializes in combat simulations. Kuma/War has reportedly worked under contract for the US Army but, in the transcript of his taped statement, Hekmati also claims that, in addition to its Pentagon contracts, Kuma/War received funding from the CIA.
Confessions of an Arrested American
On December 12, 2011, the Fars News Agency reported that the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has "arrested an agent of the CIA in Iran immediately after he started his spying activities inside the country." FNA went on to report: "The arrested spy has been born in Arizona of US and has a track record of ten years of training as a professional spy. Amir Mirza Hekmati was employed by the US Army's intelligence section in August 2001. In his confession that was broadcasted [sic] by Iranian TV on Sunday night, Hekmati explained his secret mission in Iran."
The following is excerpted from Hekmati's broadcast interview:
"I was graduated from high school in 2001 and decided to enter the US Army. It was in August 2001 that I wore the US Army uniform and underwent different military trainings of the army….
"When they realized that I know a little Persian and a little Arabic, they told me: 'We want to send you to a university to learn Arabic language.' I studied the opinions of Iraqi officials regarding the US and the presence of US military in Iraq. Our goal was to pinpoint those Iraqi officials who were inclined toward the US and do something that, in case of outbreak of any incident, they support US military. After sending our reports to US Army's intelligence department, security and intelligence officials held secret meetings with Iraqi officials and tried to establish closer ties with those officials."
Hekmati then describes how, after several months in Iraq, he joined the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He worked with the Cyber Security program.
"After DARPA, I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge. The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the US does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable."
In July 2006, Hekmati claimed, he was approached by a woman who told him that she was a "government official." She actually worked for the CIA.
"After her contact, I successfully passed the psychological and medical tests, as well as lie detection tests before the same CIA agent contacted me and told me that I had to wait for their call. I was contacted by BAE Systems and I was informed that I had to return to Iraq as an intelligence analyst. I learnt how to use secret systems and methods for gathering information from different places and individuals. During this period, CIA was trying to find a suitable cover-up for my important mission." [Note: BAE Systems, Inc. is one of the top 10 US defense companies, with more than 39,000 employees.]
Hekmati stated that he was summoned to the Washington Hotel in the capital where a CIA agent informed him that he was to go to Iran to undertake an intelligence project.
"The CIA agent, by giving detailed information, prepared me for my big mission, while assuring me that, given the cover-up provided for me, I would not face any problem in the way of conducting my mission."
Hekmati claimed that he was to become a source for Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry. He would provide the ministry with coordinated information and would receive payment for his services before returning to US.
"I was given access to the most secret data systems for gathering the required information before being sent to US Bagram Base in Afghanistan [where the CIA is known to maintain operations.] I had a series of flights from Bagram, including a flight to Dubai where I stayed for two days and then I came to Tehran by plane afterwards."
According to Hekmati's statement, the CIA's plan was that he was to provide Iran's Intelligence Ministry with a series of deliveries of "apparently important classified information" in hopes that the Iranians would take the bait, putting him in position to serve as a double agent. "However," Hakmati concluded, "Iranian officials found out the truth. They dismantled the CIA spy network in Iran by finding out about my mission."
First Video of Confessions of American-born CIA Spy Amir Mirzaei Hekmati
The World of Kuma War
"Kuma War is a series of playable recreations of real events in the War on Terror. Nearly 100 playable missions bring our soldiers' heroic stories to life, and you can get them all right now, for free. Stop watching the news and get in the game!"
Kuma War Episode 108
Relive Muammar Gaddafi's final take-down and the Libyan rebels' triumph with this brand new multiplayer mission! Above the streets of Sirte, a Predator drone and jets help force Gaddafi to flee the burning city and into the hands of the Libyan rebels. When the smoke clears, the former leader lays dead.
About Kuma Reality Games
"Kuma\War is a free online war game that uses cutting-edge game technology to accurately reconstruct real-war events from the news. Kuma\War is a first- and third-person squad-based war game. It is the first PC video game to bring the tactical FPS (shooter) into the 21st century by modeling missions on actual real-world events. Each month, players get new single player and multiplayer games (missions), to reflect unfolding events around the world.
"Armed with identical weapons in a realistic re-creation of various locations, you'll experience some of fiercest engagements in the most hostile territories in the world. A vast database of intelligence accompanies Kuma\War online games: satellite photos, political context, event details and the weaponry, tactics and forces involved. You'll also get exclusive video news shows and insight from a decorated team of military veterans.
"Kuma Reality Games builds re-creations of real-world events using advanced gaming tools. Many of the new missions are being developed in cooperation with the US military and soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kuma Reality Games, headquartered in New York, New York is a privately held company.
"At Kuma, we are very sensitive and respectful of American and coalition soldiers and the sacrifices they are making every day. We hope that by telling their stories with such a powerful medium that we enable the American public to gain a better appreciation of the conflicts and the dangers they face."
CIA-Funded Video Game Propaganda?
Writing in the GameZone website on January 9, Vito Gesualdi addressed the former soldier's arrest and death sentence: "American officials maintain that Hekmati was simply visiting relatives, though it's his purported confession which is raising eyebrows -- Hekmati admitting to working on the first-person shooter Kuma\War, claiming that the game is funded by the CIA and operates as modern-day propaganda meant to sway the attitudes of youths in Iran and other middle-eastern countries in favor of United States military actions...."
Gesualdi though it odd that, while Kuma's press releases boast of "19 million users, with an additional 250,000 new players signing on each month," Kuma\War "seems to have been largely invisible here in the States -- a surprising turn given "the wealth of technological advanced shooters we have access to (Battlefield, Modern Warfare)."
This raises a question for Gesualdi: "So who is playing Kuma\War? Given that the first language option on the Kuma Games website (aside from the default English) is Arabic, we have our suspicions."
War Propaganda and Video Games
The Kuma/War connection did not go unnoticed by the Kavkaz Center (an international Islamic pro-Chechen news service). In a December 21, 2011 commentary, Kavkaz wrote:
"Kuma Games was receiving money from the CIA to (produce) and design and distribute for free special movies and games with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East, Hekmati said. The goal of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the people of the entire world that whatever the US does in other countries is a good measure."
Kavkaz noted that "Kuma Games has worked under contract for the US government (in 2006 it was announced that the company produced a training game for the American army), but information about the connection with the secret services have not previously received. Representatives of Kuma Games have not yet commented on Hekmati's statement."
By its very nature, the content of Kuma/War offerings is polarizing and guaranteed to inflame passions regarding the conflict zones depicted in the games. One game that prompted a surge of anger was a "reality-based" game released last spring. As Kavkaz noted, the game Kuma/War 2, included a mission in which the player was invited "to 'kill' Osama bin Laden (martyr, Insha'Allah)."
Kuma/War has also outraged Iranians with a release called "Battlefield 3," As Kavkaz notes, "This shooter has caused resentment of local authorities due to the fact that part of its action takes place on the streets of Tehran."
It is fair to wonder how Americans might react to an Iranian videogame that involved heroic members of Iran's Republican Guard gunning down Americans in the simulated streets of New York. Recently, Behrouz Minai, the head of the Iranian National Center for Computer Games announced that the NCCG was preparing to release a game designed to serve as "a response to the Battlefield 3."
Americans can relax. Times Square will not be in the crosshairs of this "reality-based shooter." In the Iranian version of Kuma/War, the plan is to depict the Iranian army attacking Tel Aviv. Minai explained that his game-designers decided to target Israeli city because such a virtual attack would "anger the Zionist rulers in the US more than an attack on Washington."
Gar Smith is a Berkeley-based reporter and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org).