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American sentenced to death in Iran for espionage
January 9, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Iran announced today that it had sentenced Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, to death on charges of spying for the CIA. Hekmati, an American of Iranian descent who formerly worked as a translator for the U.S. military, claims that his trip to Iran was to visit his grandmother. Hekmati is the first U.S. citizen to be sentenced to death by Iran since the 1979 Revolution and has been imprisoned since August.

Among other charges, Iran claimed that Hekmati worked for Kuma Reality Games, a New York City based developer of videogames designed to "manipulate public opinion in the Middle East" under the CIA's direction and payroll. One such game, "Assault on Iran" speculated about a future U.S. military response to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The State Department denies claims that Hekmati worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA.
posted by 2bucksplus (60 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not related at all to the sanctions against Iran.
posted by smackfu at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's incredibly interesting to see the vast difference between how Slashdot frames this story (Videogames as Propaganda!) and how it appears as an FPP here.

I think you made the right choice.
posted by mysterpigg at 1:31 PM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not related at all to the sanctions against Iran.


Which ones?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:35 PM on January 9, 2012


Not related at all to the sanctions against Iran.

Hekmati is unfortunately a pawn in the larger back-and-forth, but it is interesting that Western news sources do not seem interested in making that connection, while devoting front-page space to the US rescuing Iranian fishermen from pirates.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks mysterpigg, actually Iran makes a lot of claims so there were many ways this FPP could have gone. Hekmati would have to have been a busy man. You can read a summary of the taped confession in the Tehran Times.

Also interesting: the White House is working to confirm the sentence through official channels. Right now everyone is going off of the Iranian news accounts. The U.S. does not have direct diplomatic ties with Iran, instead working through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. (Iranian interests in the U.S. are represented through the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C.) I'm sure that doesn't help. That said, there's really no doubt as to the man's fate, unfortunately.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2012


EDIT: there's really no doubt as to the accuracy of the sentence, I should say. Iran could drag this out for months or years for political or economic gain. Who knows.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:42 PM on January 9, 2012


Iran is doing all it can to lose the public relations battle. Against the US, that's a tall order, but they're really pulling out all the stops. This comes days after the USA rescues Iranian fishermen from pirates, gives them medical attention, and returns them home.

If Russia or China was looking for an excuse to break with Iran to align with the rest of the UN... and they were... this is a nice ready-made one.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:42 PM on January 9, 2012


I hate criticizing somebody's choice to visit family, but in general if you are a member of our armed forces, I don't think it was a good idea to visit a place where we are considered a mortal enemy. That being said, I hope things work out. They did let those hikers go and we did just rescue a bunch of their sailors from pirates.
posted by Renoroc at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Iranian officials said their agents had identified him at the American-run Bagram air base in Afghanistan and tracked him as he infiltrated Iran. Mr. Hekmati’s family in the United States told American news media that he had traveled to Iran to visit his grandmothers and was not a spy.

This whole exchange is unclear. Are Iranian officials claiming that they tracked him from Afghanistan to Iran, or merely that Afghanistan is where they became aware of him, and independently tracked him into Iran from...some other origin?

I guess it doesn't matter much, given Iran's history of wrongful detention and false accusations to suit their own political needs. I doubt this is any different, simply another salvo in what hopefully is not an inevitable lead-up to war. I've gotta say that regimes like Iran and North Korea really stress me out with their repeated games of brinkmanship.
posted by Brak at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2012


Unfortunate pawn might be more accurate. Unfortunate for a whole variety of reasons.
posted by infini at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2012


2bucksplus: "Hekmati is the first U.S. citizen to be sentenced to death by Iran since the 1979 Revolution"

Maybe they figure the US government has been slacking off lately.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to minimize the crap Iran is pulling here, but I really don't know why Americans travel there or within reach of its borders. Seems like anyone who might be American is going to be grabbed and accused of spying.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:59 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Seems like anyone who might be American is going to be grabbed and accused of spying.

Quite a few come and go every day. Hekmati was like some Iranian authority wet dream of circumstantial connection to spying. Iranian parentage, former military (and CIA? that part isn't clear if true or not). It doesn't matter if he went there to lay roses at the grave of Khomeini. At any rate, I don't think we'll see the same higher level interventions for Hekmati that we saw for the wayward US hikers who were released.

I doubt Iran will execute him any time soon, though. This will be a new form of hostage taking as a hedge against further US involvement. It may seem wrong on the part of the Iranians, and perhaps it is, but 1953 is still very fresh in their minds.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:12 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any word on Hoder?
posted by infinitewindow at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hoder will be serving out his sentence, most likely. Hoder also holds dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship, so it's a different thing altogether.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have some very dear Iranian friends who have become US citizens. The miss Iran, and keenly miss their family members there. They would visit in a moment if they could gain admission.

It is beyond heartbreaking that this man's love for his family may result in his execution.
posted by bearwife at 2:31 PM on January 9, 2012


I hope the young man gets out of this.
I also wonder how this is going to be folded into the GOP presidential campaign, along with Obama Iran policy. This action, along with the really alarming news that nuclear facilities are being -- put in bunkers, or something -- is just fuel to Gingrich to start flailing away about sending in an air attack or some horrible thing.
posted by angrycat at 2:41 PM on January 9, 2012


I have some very dear Iranian friends who have become US citizens. The miss Iran, and keenly miss their family members there. They would visit in a moment if they could gain admission.
Oh, it's easy to go to Iran. The problem is getting back out. Iran consideres anyone of patralinial decent to be a citizen. The problem, if you're a citizen you're subject to their laws.

Also related: the US/Iranian citizen got himself smuggled out. Pretty crazy story.
posted by delmoi at 2:42 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, while what happened to this guy totally sucks: imagine if it was an American living in Yemen or Pakistan who had worked as a translator for a terror group or had worked on Al-Quaeda video about attacking the U.S? You don't think he'd be Arrested?

The U.S government has taken a pretty antagonistic stance towards Iran. I obviously think they're being unreasonable, but I don't think the U.S would act any differently if they thought a person had been associated with 'the enemy'.
posted by delmoi at 2:47 PM on January 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Most recent anything on hoder was last May, when he was able to briefly update Facebook while on leave from prison.

Slightly related: Ben Affleck is directing, and acting in his third film, Argo, based on the successful CIA operation that smuggled out the Americans who were not taken hostage at the embassy and instead sheltered by the Canadians for months.
posted by dhartung at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fighting Words: Mitt Romney and the GOP hopefuls sure like to talk tough about Iran’s nuclear threat. But if one of them wins in November, it’ll mean he'll have to walk the walk.
posted by homunculus at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to play Devil's advocate here, why is everybody assuming that he isn't a spy? Do you seriously think the US government isn't sending spies into Iran?
posted by salmacis at 2:51 PM on January 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Fair question.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:56 PM on January 9, 2012


The death sentence drama is just a bunch if bullshit dreamed up by aging Mullahs desperate to cling to power. He is only valuable as a hostage and killing him would give the US significant freedom of action. The challenge for Obama will be to keep the Marines in check so they don't send their Ret. Generals on the Let's Attack Iran in the name of Semper Fi / Leave No Man Behind Press Tour.
posted by humanfont at 2:56 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to play Devil's advocate here, why is everybody assuming that he isn't a spy? Do you seriously think the US government isn't sending spies into Iran?

Not like it is out of the realm of the possible.

The CIA, Iran, and Election Riots.
posted by timsteil at 3:14 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to play Devil's advocate here, why is everybody assuming that he isn't a spy? Do you seriously think the US government isn't sending spies into Iran?

I think it is likely that the CIA would try to recruit/buy home-grown spies through third channels - even Iranians in the military establishment who might either want a change, or large amounts of cash. While those assets are probably few and far between, a young game designer of Iranian descent would likely have access to zilch in terms of real intelligence and wouldn't exactly fit in unnoticed amongst the republican guards.

Could be wrong, but it would be like sending Natalie Wood to Russia to get secret cold war data because her parents were Russian. (OK maybe not *exactly* alike, but I can't think of a better analogy right now.)
posted by xetere at 3:22 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if the US's HUMINT situation on the ground in Iran isn't chaotic and full of opportunists who are playing both sides. But yeah, the CIA probably doesn't send spies very often in but rather uses local citizens.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:32 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you seriously think the US government isn't sending spies into Iran?

Sending outsiders in is a good way to get caught. What you need is insiders -- and walking into Iran after having worked with the US military is a really bad way of trying to recruit people inside Iran.

So, I doubt he was a CIA agent -- or at the very least, I seriously hope we're better at recruiting than "Hey, you, walk into Iran and find someone to spy for us. Nahhh, nothing'll go wrong."
posted by eriko at 3:36 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


We in the US need to abolish our death penalty so we have the moral authority to challenge this horrible bullshit when it happens in other countries.
posted by Sfving at 4:07 PM on January 9, 2012 [16 favorites]


angrycat: "I hope the young man gets out of this.
I also wonder how this is going to be folded into the GOP presidential campaign, along with Obama Iran policy. This action, along with the really alarming news that nuclear facilities are being -- put in bunkers, or something -- is just fuel to Gingrich to start flailing away about sending in an air attack or some horrible thing.
"

You may be right. Of course it could just as easily be the fuel that starts a war before the election. A war that might just guarantee Obama being re-elected. Something that has surely occurred to President Obama.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:25 PM on January 9, 2012


^^ after reading that I didn't meant it to sound like some conspiracy theory. Just positing the idea that a war - especially if it is one where the other side attacked first such as the killing of a US citizen, the possible attack on a US ship patrolling the Strait of Hormuz, etc would have a major effect on the election.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:27 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


What difference does it make if he is a spy or not?
posted by humanfont at 4:33 PM on January 9, 2012


What difference does it make if he is a spy or not?

Well, espionage is punishable by death under Iranian law.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:51 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is beyond heartbreaking that this man's love for his family may result in his execution.

This is rather assuming facts that we do not know (specifically, the true motivation for the visit).
posted by jaduncan at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2012


Well I think the Navy won't be rescuing any more of their fishermen from pirates any more now. *harumph*
posted by zomg at 5:10 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well I think the Navy won't be rescuing any more of their fishermen from pirates any more now. *harumph*

The fact that this case will have absolutely no effect on whether the U.S. Navy rescues Iranian fishermen held hostage at sea tells you pretty well all you need to know about who the good guys and bad guys are here. Iran takes innocent Americans hostage and threatens them with death, sometimes with the benefit of a show trial, sometimes without; Americans free innocent Iranians from pirates.
posted by Dasein at 5:53 PM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


He isn't going to be executed. The decision will be delayed and eventually a deal will be worked out.
posted by humanfont at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2012


You mean Iran takes allegedly innocent Americans hostage and threatens them with death. We don't know for certain if this guy or the "hikers" were spies or not and likely never will. And having to wonder if they really were spies is the result of having a history of CIA-led international meddling and douchebagginess.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:41 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't get too lost in a historical narrative from 1952-1979. Iran and its Persian forebearers have a long history of meddling in central Asia. Even if we look a the post-79 era we see their work with various terror groups and various misdeeds in Lebanon and Syria. Refer scholarship on the coup against Mousadeg has show that Kernit Roosevelt and the newly created CIA played a much less important role than they claimed. We did a frat job convincing the world we had done it to show how awesome our spies were. Don't buy the PR. The CIA was never able to match the claimed success in Iran, so either they had some magical beginners luck, or their methods of government overthrow were only useful as window dressing when an entrenched elite wanted to blame someone else for any evil thing done.
posted by humanfont at 7:41 PM on January 9, 2012


I know that, I'm just being sarcastic, Dasein. ;)
posted by zomg at 7:44 PM on January 9, 2012


We in the US need to abolish our death penalty so we have the moral authority to challenge this horrible bullshit when it happens in other countries.

In this age of targeted drone assassinations, being sentenced to death after a trial by jury seems quaint by comparison.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:08 PM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, I just found out tonight that this is my brother-in-laws' half brother.

For those asking why he would travel to Iran to visit family given the insecurity, I don't think you really understand how common it is for folks to go visit their families back home. Extended family ties seem to be stronger in the Middle East than in the US. My brother-in-law's half sister is part Syrian. Her father and his family lives there. She goes to visit, despite the dual citizenship that basically means she has to have his permission to leave Syria after an extended stay. (which, I might add, resulted once in a delayed return home/custody battle when she was a little girl).

My brother-in-law is essentially estranged from his father, so I can't speak for the "innocence" of Hekmati. But I can say, it's a pretty terrible way to get to know your half brother, and I really hope it doesn't become part of our family lore. Becoming a pawn in a political game must really suck.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:12 PM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese: "You mean Iran takes allegedly innocent Americans hostage and threatens them with death. We don't know for certain if this guy or the "hikers" were spies or not and likely never will. And having to wonder if they really were spies is the result of having a history of CIA-led international meddling and douchebagginess."

CIA-led? Yeah. Entities have been spying on each other since day one. No silly, empty, and rather prejudicial/bigoted nonsense about CIA douchbagginess needs to be brought into the occasion.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:34 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know, zomg.
posted by Dasein at 8:46 PM on January 9, 2012


They had a confession (he said he was approached and did agree to work for the cia but never intended to help them or work against iran). Who knows if it was beaten out of him, but I find it crazy that people are suggesting the cia would ignore opportunities presented by people like this and focus exclusively on trying to reach people inside iran.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:46 PM on January 9, 2012


What difference does it make if he is a spy or not?

You do the crime, you do the time. By contrast, an innocent man convicted of a crime they didn't commit is an outrage and a tragedy. How could guilt our innocence not make a difference in a capital case?!
posted by -harlequin- at 9:55 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


From my armchair it seems perfectly plausible that the CIA would ask someone of Hekmati's background to meet and maybe personally debrief a person or persons whilest in Iran.
The rest could have any number of scenarios depending on which Iranian faction discovered or made up what was up. Iran has parlamentary elections coming up in March and meanwhile corruption claims stoke political infighting. So basically this is probably just another very unfortunate political sideshow which is probably staged to be playing internally rather than externally.
posted by adamvasco at 12:12 AM on January 10, 2012


The fact that this case will have absolutely no effect on whether the U.S. Navy rescues Iranian fishermen held hostage at sea tells you ... you need to know about who the good guys and bad guys are here.

There is a bit of history to the US relationship with Iran prior to the US Navy's action.
posted by zippy at 12:18 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


When in Iran recently I met an American born member of the Iranian military who had returned in his 20s to "do his duty" as he put it, so it isn't the instant death sentence that some seem to think it is. Obviously I have little to confirm his story beyond his accent when speaking English and apparently relatively poor written Farsi (along with a policeman he helped my girlfriend and I find our guesthouse in the middle of the night in Esfahan), his lacklustre Farsi seemed pretty funny to the policeman and taxi driver they got us.
posted by nfg at 12:19 AM on January 10, 2012


So much news about Iran is centered on their relationship with the US, it's odd when you get reminded that other folks get to go there as tourists and enjoy the experience. My (Belgian) in-laws went a few years ago. Like most people, the Iranians are quite human and perhaps more hospitable than most.
posted by Goofyy at 12:27 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


So much news about Iran is centered on their relationship with the US, it's odd when you get reminded that other folks get to go there as tourists and enjoy the experience.

Yeah it was really interesting to watch Charley Boorman travel through Iran on his show "By any means." Someday I'd love to visit.
posted by the_artificer at 1:43 AM on January 10, 2012


I run an overlanding forum (in Norwegian), and I know at least three people who have travelled in Iran. Some of them praise Persian hospitality and really want to go back. I'd like to go myself, preferably before the US bombs the place...
posted by Harald74 at 2:02 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is a US-Iran maritime clash inevitable?
posted by homunculus at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2012


Don't Americans have a greater moral obligation of he was sent to spy on Iran instead of him merely being an American, private citizen visiting family on his own making his own risk assessment?
posted by humanfont at 4:58 PM on January 10, 2012


Iranian nuclear expert killed by magnetic bomb attached to his car
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on January 11, 2012


Ah, so it's war now.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:58 AM on January 11, 2012


Seriously, when is somebody going to freak out and start shooting. Between Iran and Israel, some idiot is going to go to defcon 20.
posted by angrycat at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2012


I hate this shit. I wish people could relax their stupid minds enough to drop their idiotic concepts of nationhood and separateness.

Pardon the vent.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:22 PM on January 11, 2012


The US, Israel, MEK, regime infighting, it is speculation. Iran is perfectly capable of killing its own citizens to garner sympathy, especially if the guy was leaking state secrets to the Israelis. Kind of a double rainbow for them.
posted by humanfont at 3:42 PM on January 11, 2012


Death sentence for Iranian programmer accused of developing software used by porn sites
posted by homunculus at 7:18 PM on January 19, 2012


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