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United States Games Your Rights Online

Video Games As Propaganda 251

Posted by Soulskill
from the koopa-troopas-are-terrorists dept.
SharkLaser writes "A video game developer working for Kuma Reality Games has admitted that the company has been receiving money from the CIA to design and freely distribute special movies and games with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East. Amir Mizra Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, moved to work for Kuma after working for DARPA and has said the goal of the company was to convince people that whatever the U.S. does in other countries is a good measure. Kuma officials have declined to comment, while Hekmati himself is locked in Iran. The United States government has demanded the release of Hekmati, but Iran has sentenced him to death for spying, which he confessed to."
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Video Games As Propaganda

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  • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:22PM (#38642272)

    Seriously, all of the "evidence" in this case comes from the man's forced confession. Given Iran's record on human rights, he was most likely tortured into confessing. Why on Earth is this being reported as fact?

    • by Talderas (1212466) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:23PM (#38642286)

      It fits in with the slashdot narrative.

    • by DCTech (2545590)
      It's not new that US uses entertainment as propaganda. See Hollywood, the largest propaganda machine ever created. It's not a surprise that they want to extend it to games too.
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:31PM (#38642400) Journal

      Given Iran's record on human rights, he was most likely tortured into confessing.

      I thought torture is a useful and valuable tool in extracting actionable intelligence from terrorist suspects.
      Why wouldn't it work on an American spy too?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Loopy (41728)

        Disingenuous at best. There's a big difference between confirming suspected intel and turning a prisoner into propaganda. There is also a tremendous gulf between broadly applied and completely opportunistic use of it and the "graded escalation" the US goes through before utilizing distasteful tools. Of course, such fine distinctions aren't exactly helpful to The Cause, are they?

        • by Bucky24 (1943328) on Monday January 09, 2012 @06:10PM (#38642980)
          I don't see the difference. They suspected he was an American spy. He confessed under torture. So using torture they confirmed suspected intel.
        • Wrong. (Score:4, Informative)

          by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @06:22PM (#38643182)

          There's a big difference between confirming suspected intel and turning a prisoner into propaganda.

          Torture does NOT get "intel".

          Torture gets CONFESSIONS.

          This guy confessed to being a CIA spy working in Iran. By your "logic", they "confirmed" the "intel" they had on him.

          The same as our people did with the people we tortured.

          Which is the reason why we should NEVER use torture. It does NOT work in gathering accurate information and it DOES cloud the issue of who actually did what, when, where and why.

          Confessions are ONLY useful in propaganda.

          There is also a tremendous gulf between broadly applied and completely opportunistic use of it and the "graded escalation" the US goes through before utilizing distasteful tools.

          No. Once you resort to torture you have given up on getting accurate information and you're just looking for a confession or revenge.

        • by Hatta (162192) on Monday January 09, 2012 @06:27PM (#38643288) Journal

          There's a big difference between confirming suspected intel and turning a prisoner into propaganda

          No there's not. Torture never confirms anything. Torture is a way of getting your prisoner to say what you want to hear. Confirmation bias is built into it, so it can never reasonably be used as actionable evidence. The only thing it is good for is propaganda.

        • by jd (1658)

          We don't know what Iranian intel said, they may well have been confirming something they'd been given.

          We don't know what US intel said, we have no reason to believe that any of the prisoners were being held to confirm anything. That the CIA defied a court order to preserve the video tape sessions of interrogations -- well, I don't regard that as being in the US' favour when it comes to their claims about anything. Nobody destroys evidence of their own innocence, after all. We don't know what the US does in

      • by poity (465672)

        Your attempt at sarcasm to point out hypocrisy is disingenuous and falsely accusatory by the very fact that you are using the moral positions of two different and unrelated people, i.e. policy makers who support torture, and the GP poster. The fact that your post has been modded so highly "Insightful" indicates either a deeply flawed sense of logic in the /. community, or a childish penchant for ill thought out potshots.

        Your post can only be relevant under two circumstances: 1) GP having a history of suppor

        • Your post can only be relevant under two circumstances: 1) GP having a history of supporting torture, or 2) Policy makers who support torture now pointing out the unreliability of Hekmati's confession. Neither is true.

          Bullshit.

          Option 3 - pointing out that the same people who claimed that "enhanced interrogation" was necessary when we did it will now claim that such a confession was "tortured" out of an "innocent" man by the "evil" Iranians.

          Even if those people were NOT "Policy makers".

          • by poity (465672)

            Where is the source to back your claim that it is the same people who "claimed that 'enhanced interrogation' was necessary" who are now saying that "such a confession was [unreliable]"?

            It seems you're making the mistake of grouping everyone in the government as one, which is the same error that you seem to want to take issue with when you mock the usage of the word "evil" as a descriptor for Iran.

            • by khasim (1285)

              your thin skin doesn't make me a troll

              That is correct. It is your comments that make you a troll.

              Where is the source to back your claim that it is the same people who "claimed that 'enhanced interrogation' was necessary" who are now saying that "such a confession was [unreliable]"?

              This is Slashdot. You're looking for Wikipedia.

              It seems you're making the mistake of grouping everyone in the government as one, which is the same error that you seem to want to take issue with when you mock the usage of the word

        • The fact that your post has been modded so highly "Insightful" indicates either a deeply flawed sense of logic in the /. community, or a childish penchant for ill thought out potshots.

          Nope. TubeSteak's posts start at +2, so it only means three people have upvoted him, which isn't a valid sample of the /. community.

      • Captain Darling: So you see, Blackadder, Field Marshall Haig is most anxious to eliminate all these German spies.

        General Melchett: Filthy Hun weasels, fighting their dirty underhand war!

        Captain Darling: And fortunately, one of our spies...

        General Melchett: Splendid fellows, brave heroes risking life and limb for Blighty!

      • by artor3 (1344997)

        Torture is evil, full stop. I've spoken against it when used by the US, and I'll condemn it here too. The fact that the nation this man was born in did something bad does not justify doing that same thing to him.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      Yep, it's not at all suspicious after they banned battlefield 3 [dailystar.com.lb] . Not at all, these people are just asking for a US invasion, or is it our media that's telling us? :)

    • Because no one loves spies. The prevailing feeling is, if you were a good spy, you wouldnt have gotten caught anyways. If you do get caught, well you were a shitty spy so who gives a fuck about you?
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:44PM (#38642582)

      If you had bothered to look at their wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org], you would see that Kuma Reality Games suddenly took a turn a couple of years ago, designing Middle Eastern-oriented games in Arabic exclusively. You'll also see that these new games focus on things like fighting "political corruption." Seems to strongly bolster his confession. The CIA has done stuff like this for decades, of course. IIRC they even did special comic books back in the 60's with anti-Russkie propaganda that they spread behind the iron curtain.

      Unfortunately, this kid decided to go into field operations too. And Iran is hunting down CIA and Mossad operatives pretty hard right now (probably pissed about all those dead nuclear scientists). I suspect the death sentence is just a bargaining ploy for Iran, though. I hope they don't actually execute him.

      • Just because Kuma Reality was anti curruption doesn't mean they working for the CIA. Most of the occupy wallstreet prostestors are against curruption but they are not getting checks from the CIA. Also anyone can edit wikipedia including Iran and the CIA.
        • by elrous0 (869638) *

          The true believer believes what he wants to believe. If you want to believe that this guy had nothing to do with the CIA, that it's just a coincidence that his company suddenly started designing Arabic games, that he was just on vacation to see grandma, etc. then more power to you, buddy. I bet you think those three jews they caught on the Iranian border a while back were really just on a "nature hike" too, and that spy drone just accidentally strayed across the border, and all those Iranian nuclear scienti

          • Well you just need to look at the facts.

            Fact 1) He is an Iranian American

            Fact 2) He has an grandmother living in Iran

            Fact 3) He visited Iran through the normal channels. He told them he was a former US marine when he entered the country. He didn't enter the country with an alias or by sneaking in over the border. He used his real name in all his business dealings with the US government.

            Fact 4) He worked on speech translation software for DARPA

            Fact 5) America is currently pushing for sanctions against Iran.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        This is still just speculation, even if the company is a propaganda device, it's not necessary the CIA that is behind them. And if they were, they wouldn't just tell it to every developer. The whole point of a front company is to keep the identity of its owner a secret.

      • Perhaps the company was paid by the CIA. Perhaps the company changed direction and saw a market opportunity. Will we ever know?

        One thing is for sure, the World needs a lot more fighting of political corruption (in every country). Transparency International (TI) seems a good place to start, as it uses locals in each country, rather than video games. I supposed it would be hard for TI to get a hold in many countries through, including Iran.

      • You'll also see that these new games focus on things like fighting "political corruption."

        That hardly begins to cover it. As noted by Gamasutra, they created one game in 2005 called "Assault on Iran", about attacking Iranian nuclear facilities. It's described in detail here [kumawar.com] but a few excerpts quickly reveal the flavor of the thing:

        Given the alarmingly advanced state of Iran's nuclear program, the US military might well consider an all-out assault against Iran's nuclear installations.

        Iran's retaliation options include[...] perhaps most frightening of all, summon[ing] their terrorist allies in widespread factions like Hezbollah to initiate vicious terrorist attacks against Americans on every continent.

        Iran's nuclear means and shadowy intentions cannot be ignored. The War on Terror is not about retribution for the attacks of 9/11 or taking out dictators who brutalize the innocent. It's about keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the rogue states and non-state organizations most likely to use them...and the risk here couldn't be clearer.

        I dare ANYONE to call this anything other than propaganda. And though it may not be CIA sponsored, the company has developed software for the US army in the past, so it's hardly a logical leap.
        All of that said, creating propaganda shouldn't be a crime. I too hope this

    • It was written by SharkLaser aka DCTech aka at least one other username starting with "I" that I can't even remember, a dedicated troll. I'm starting to wonder if these are all puppet accounts actually being run by Slashdot staff to boost page views by stirring up nerd rage. The guy's an obvious troll and all his stories get approved, what am I supposed to think?

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:24PM (#38642300) Homepage
    This guy is in prison in Iran. This would not be the first time that a regime has coerced people to say things that aren't true and to sign false confessions. The US has in the last decade done it also. In the US, even when there is no torture, false confessions can be extracted even in murder cases- http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/False-Confessions.php [innocenceproject.org]. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this sort of program really did exist, but the fact that someone in Iranian custody confessed to it isn't good evidence for the claim.
  • by Saishuuheiki (1657565) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:25PM (#38642310)

    They actually discussed this on NPR earlier. When applying to enter the country, he told them about his military history and asked if it would be ok. Telling Iran that you were formerly in the US army is not the kind of thing you would do if you were an actual spy.

    Not to say entering Iran and telling them you used to be in the military is a good idea.

    • by n1ywb (555767)
      Not to say that entering Iran at all is a good idea if you're American.
    • Telling Iran that you were formerly in the US army is not the kind of thing you would do if you were an actual spy.

      Unless, of course, you are the type of person who would feign having military experience because Iran is the type of country to assume if you did that that you weren't a spy.

      What it boils down to, is are you the type of guy who would put the military experience in your own dossier? Or would you instead put the military experience in my dossier?

      Truly, I have a dizzying intellect.

      * Besides w

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Telling Iran that you were formerly in the US army is not the kind of thing you would do if you were an actual spy."

      Which is why it would make good cover.

  • Hekmati "admitted" this while he was in Iranian custody - as reported by the Tehran Times. Given the history of the Iranian regime (they seem to arrest people for spying for Israel or the US every couple of weeks) I think we should take this with a grain of salt. Considering that making video games and infiltrating a foreign country require completely different skill sets, I find it hard to believe that the CIA would send their video game developer deep into Iranian territory. (According to the NY Times, he was visiting his Iranian grandparents.)
  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:26PM (#38642332)

    I'm pretty sure making pro-American video games is better than invading and occupying countries for decades at a time. I am 100% in favor of military-sponsored video games replacing our current military strategies.

  • Uhhh... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shoten (260439) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:28PM (#38642342)

    Shouldn't the text be something along the lines of "An American that was visiting his family in Iran who has been sentenced to death by a Sharia court for spying on behalf of the CIA has also claimed in the same prepared statement that he was a video game developer who made games for the CIA, even though there don't seem to be more than a single game that would align itself with Western interests." I mean, let's face it. Trusting Fars (a semi-official Iranian news agency)...these guys have backed their President's view that the Holocaust didn't happen, for Christ's sake...is NOT exactly relying on an unbiased source. For Fars to complain about propaganda is like the pot calling kettle black.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      even though there don't seem to be more than a single game that would align itself with Western interests.

      Did you even read their Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]? Their last two games were both in Arabic and aimed at a middle eastern audience. And in one of them, the entire goal of the game is to fight "political corruption." That's a pretty odd turn for a company that did English speaking games exclusively until a few years ago.

      • by Shoten (260439)

        No...I looked at their actual website though. Here's where we get into the concepts of "primary source" and "secondary source". Their website lists over 150 games, mostly based on FPS concepts; they have combat and wars everywhere from WWII Europe to Vietnam to the Middle East. For this, I would say that the Middle East is just another venue for the game setting, since those games don't have any kind of a majority. Oh, and also...a company that has cranked out 150 games is not exactly blowing the bell c

  • Apparently, not only did he work for the CIA and, according to this summary, as a video game developer, but his family has also said that he owns a linguistics company (as reported by CNN). Remember, Iran loves to arrest Americans and charge them with espionage, even if they are just a few naive hikers who got lost.
  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:39PM (#38642488) Homepage Journal

    ...as sympathetic as I am to the guy, since he was there to see his grandmother, he's going to have a hell of a time persuading anyone he was not working for the CIA if indeed the CIA was funding the company he worked for, and that he was aware the company was involved in psy ops*. Doesn't matter if the company wasn't part of the CIA, we know the CIA runs companies as fronts (from previous CIA scandals) and since the CIA would have to be incredibly stupid to reveal all the companies that were fronts.

    Iran, therefore, is in a difficult position. The guy is essentially being paid CIA money for carrying out CIA-commissioned tasks, which is not going to go down well there no matter what. Psy ops also require some form of feedback - you can't manipulate in a vaccuum, which is a major factor in North Korea's isolation - and that means feet on the ground at some point. It must have been obvious to everyone involved (except for the poor guy involved) as to what would happen next.

    I honestly doubt he really is a spy, they're generally not stupid enough to be that obvious, but I do believe he's "collateral damage" that the US considers wholly acceptable for intelligence-gathering purposes.**

    *Manipulating the perception of another, rather than giving them information and free choice, is a "psychological operation" of the kind believed to be used in covert ops. Doesn't matter if it's merely the opinion of a boss or the opinion of a sponsor that's being expressed, with no military or intelligence involvement at all, it is still a psy op because it is still about manipulation and not choice. Had I not put in an explanation, but relied entirely on emotive description, that would also be psy op/manipulation. Because I am stating what is meant and why the choice of words, there is information and therefore freedom of choice and therefore it is not manipulative.

    **Intelligence gathering will always involve collateral damage. You can't avoid it. Totally innocent people will inevitably be sacrificed, which is why this idea that you control your destiny is such a laugh. All nations gather intelligence from all nations (themselves as much as anyone else), all nations need to at this point in history, and therefore all nations will have wholly innocent victims. The British have been investigating a whole host of scandals and "collateral damage" from internal investigation by the police recently, after a couple of undercover operatives defected to the organizations they were spying on and blew the lid on some very shady dealings.

    • by medv4380 (1604309)

      Totally innocent people will inevitably be sacrificed, which is why this idea that you control your destiny is such a laugh.

      As much as most, if not all, of what you're saying is spot on. Why try to draw a correlation between the loss of innocent life, and a philosophical perspective like Free-Will and control of your own Destiny? It's a completely different argument.

      • by jd (1658)

        I'm not disputing free will, but I am disputing that you can truly control your own destiny if, in the political chess matches of the world, you can be sacrificed at a moment's notice for the benefit of others. I have a hard time reconciling the idea that anyone, anywhere, in any country, can be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency (a blood cult if ever there was one) with the idea that a person can decide how things are going to end.

        If you liken your life to a book, then free will is everything

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      well yes there are some places you really don't go if you work for certain companies who have links with your government I used to work for BT and they where considered "crown forces" and therefore valid targets by the IRA - there are defiantly bits of NI I would think twice about going to even today. I certainly would not say my "Catholic" last name. (probably a few bars in Boston as well)
    • by gtall (79522)

      You are right, Iran is in a difficult position. Run by a bunch of religious zealots who believe stoning for adultery or homosexuality surely would make anyone feel like the rest of the world is out to get them. Conjuring Jew hatred to help in the Holy War begun in the 600 to help the Shi'ites overcome the Sunnis is a hard row to hoe but someone has to do it. Running sham elections to prevent the people from living in a free country is really hard, there's ballot boxes to be stuffed (local toadiies don't com

  • ... intelligence gathering.

    The CIA is supposed to be monitoring events and gathering intelligence to support our administration's decision making process. Ideally, it should be a neutral observer, reporting facts discovered in various nations be they good, bad or whatever. Asking the CIA to effect changes in governments or foreign groups and then asking them to report the outcome is just plain bad management. Now they'll be motivated to bias the data to make their missions appear successful. And to hide

    • Bradley Manning allegedly leaked STATE DEPARTMENT information; the level of the leaked information was LOW security information.

      We've not had any significant CIA leaks ... ever? Former people disclosing stuff in various ways without any evidence; but I can't think of any actual CIA document leaks can you?

      • by PPH (736903)

        No. But its about time. If the CIA is going to be marketing themselves and their performance to the public, then we deserve some ability to fact check their claims.

        If they confined their PR to the Senate intelligence committee, I wouldn't be as concerned. We expect our representatives to audit their performance (given that committee members have the clearance to do so).

  • After all, the fact that he has a gun to his head, a gov. appointed lawyer (in spite of the family hiring a private one), and most likely loads of torture, has ZERO bearings on his saying these things.

    Lets get it over with and just bomb Iran. All of this foreplay gets SO old. Heck, if we must, lets move an old carrier into position and allow Iran to take it out and then we cans send in loads of bombs there.
  • As a fan of propaganda videogames [molleindustria.org], this is relevant to my interests.

  • what is the difference between propaganda and marketing?
  • "which he confessed to"

    Did he give the confession freely or was it beaten out of him for political reasons to make the US look bad?

    It's no secret that Iran hates their guts.

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