A U.S.-born man who appeared to confess on Iranian state television last month that he allegedly spied for America—actions that supposedly included doing work for a video game development studio purported to be a CIA front—has been sentenced to death by the Iranian government.
Iran's Revolutionary Court found Amir Mirzaei Hekmati to be "Corrupt on Earth and Mohareb (waging war on God)," according to a the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars. The New York Times says that "formulation is routinely used in cases against alleged enemies of the Islamic Republic and the charge carries the death sentence."
Hekmati is a U.S. Marine and supposed former developer at Kuma Reality Games
The 29-year-old Hekmati appeared on Iranian TV in December, seeming to confess a litany of espionage transgressions, including spying in Iraq and Afghanistan with the intent to infiltrate Iran. Hekmati also make the unusual claim that he worked for Kuma, a developer of ripped-from-the-headlines war video games, an outfit his confessions suggested wasn't simply in existence to make money and entertain.
"After (working for DARPA), I went to Kuma (Games Company)," Hekmati was quoted as saying as part of his December "confession" according to Iran's Tehran Times. "This computer company 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. The goal of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the people of the entire world that whatever the U.S. does in other countries is a good measure."
Confessions such as Hekmati's are not considered to be true by all parties. Both Hekmati's family and the U.S. government deny he was a spy.
Kuma officials declined to comment last month, neither confirming that Hekmati worked for them nor clarifying the nature of the New York-based company's work. Kuma chief Keith Halper had told me in 2006 that his company has done work developing training software for the U.S. Army—as a side project—but the company's more recent work has ranged from re-creations of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi to games about dinosaurs. As Gamasutra notes, Kuma did also make an "Assault on Iran" mission in 2005, which let players stage a fictional attack on Iran's nuclear program.
We've contacted Kuma for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
[UPDATE: According to an online U.S. government filing, Hekmati did indeed work for Kuma, which received a $96,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense for Hekmati to help develop a language-learning and retention program for soldiers. There is nothing spy-like or nefarious in the description of the work.]
The United States government has demanded the release of Hekmati, according to the New York Times. Hekmati remains a U.S. citizen.
Hekmati's mother has pleaded for mercy and says her son was merely trying to visit family in Iran and was not spying. "Amir is not a criminal," she wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "His very life is being exploited for political gain." She said his sentence was "the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair."