Supposed Video Game Developer 'Spy' Had Worked on Language-Learning Game for Department of Defense

The death sentence imposed on Amir Mirzaei Hekmati today by the Iranian government charges that the U.S. citizen and Marine was "waging war on God." But his activities for a video game development company appear to be quite different than the nefarious CIA-funded actions his televised "confession" implied last December.

In his so-called confession on state TV, Hekmati said he had worked for Kuma Games, a New York-based developer of, among other things, ripped-from-the-headlines war games.

While Kuma officials have declined to comment about Hekmati's involvement with them or the extent of any CIA influence on their company, an online listing from 2009 lists Amir Hekmati as a Kuma developer and "principal invesigator" in a $95,920 study funded by the Department of Defense designed to help soldiers learn and remember foreign languages. The listing was spotted by game developer Darius Kazemi, who posted it on Twitter today.

The website for the U.S. government's Small Business Innovation Research center describes Hekmati's project as follows:

Utilizing our tools, experience, and huge library of existing 3D assets we can provide an effective, cost-efficient, rapidly-deployable and easily updatable language retention toolset for trainers and Soldiers deployed around the world. It is our intention to refresh languages skills in an intense and immersive 3D environment, which would be made available as part of an online/offline language exercise portal utilizing the follow five key capabilities. Soldiers would: - participate in machine-guided evaluative exercises - work with expert language trainers via network-based video game "multiplay", repurposed here for remote learning - participate in iterative exercises conducted by culture-specific virtual characters and a world-class voice recognition technology to refresh and tune vocabulary and pronunciation - exercise their knowledge in intense, voice-enabled first-person scenarios customized for their language skill level and mission-specific communication needs - participate in a global "social" network of Soldiers and trainers — utilizing KUMA's advanced communications tools — for ongoing language and cultural guidance.

In the same listing, Kuma officials describe themselves as a video game development studio that has done work for USA CASCOM-TD. That acronym refers to the Combined Arms Support Command Training Development. That squares with Kuma CEO Keith Halper's description to me in 2006 of Kuma having done work to help with the training of soldiers for the U.S. Army.

In his supposed confession on Iranian TV—confessions whose veracity is viewed skeptically outside of the Iranian regime—Hekmati had said that Kuma "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."

While Kuma has not commented on that charge, the work he and Kuma appeared to receive funding for in 2009, while potentially beneficial to the U.S. military, does not appear to have anything to do with CIA spying.

Hekmati's confession referred to other supposed espionage actions, including, ultimately, an attempt to infiltrate and spy on Iran for the American government.

Hekmati's family and the U.S. government deny the televised confession was true and have called for his release.