Lawfuel.com – The New York Times reports that the family of the American-Iranian, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati,who is condemned to death in Iran for spying, have secured the assistance of Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former diplomat and lawyer who helped negotiate the release of another American held in Iran in 2010.
A Pentagon language-training contract won in 2009 by Kuma Games, a New York-based company that develops reality-based war games — including one called “Assault on Iran” — lists as a main contact Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the former Marine from Flint, Mich., now on death row in an Iranian prison, convicted of spying for the C.I.A.
That $95,920 contract, and Mr. Hekmati’s military background, his Iranian heritage and some linguistics work he did for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, help explain why the authorities in Iran, increasingly paranoid and belligerent about perceived American threats, had him arrested last August while he was visiting Iran for the first time.
His family, traumatized by the news, has asserted Mr. Hekmati’s innocence, saying he was visiting relatives, and has characterized the prosecution as a grave misunderstanding. But the conviction and death sentence announced Monday for Mr. Hekmati, 28, has escalated into an extension of Iran’s tense relationship with the United States.
Mr. Hekmati’s family — his father, Ali, is a professor of microbiology and his mother, Behnaz, is a tax professional — has not responded to interview requests and referred all inquiries to a public relations firm. His three siblings — an older sister, twin sister and younger brother, also have not commented.
“They don’t want to say anything that might have negative repercussions,” said Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Mott Community College in Flint, where the father teaches. “Something that appears harmless here could be interpreted differently there.”
The family may also be acting on the advice of its lawyer, Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former diplomat who successfully negotiated the release of another American of Iranian descent from an Iran prison in 2010.
But records of Mr. Hekmati’s military service and entrepreneurial work — and the Iranian media’s portrayal of his prosecution and televised confession — offer insights into how he became enmeshed in the Iran crisis.
“He may have been this innocent naïve guy who wanted to visit Iran and got assurances that he would be fine,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group. “It’s quite possible that they were just looking for the next person whom they could arrest.”
While the C.I.A. has declined to comment on Mr. Hekmati’s arrest, people knowledgeable about its recruiting practices say it is highly unlikely that the agency would have engaged someone with such a visible military résumé. Mr. Hekmati served in the Marines for four years, spent five months in Iraq and did linguistics training in Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. He was also carrying his former military identification with him when arrested in Iran — atypical behavior for a spy.
Nonetheless, Iranian investigators may have been intrigued by his post-military linguistics work. In 2006 he started his own company, Lucid Linguistics, doing document translation that specialized in Arabic, Persian and “military-related matters,” according its Web site. “Our main goal is to assist organizations whose focus is on the current Global War on Terrorism and who are working to bridge the language barrier for our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the site said.
Possibly more intriguing to the Iranians was work done a few years later by Mr. Hekmati while working for Kuma Games, which specializes in recreating military confrontations that enable players to participate in games based on real events. The company’s chief executive, Keith Halper, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to a small-business grant document posted online, Mr. Hekmati was responsible for Kuma’s winning a contract with the Defense Department to develop “an effective, cost-efficient, rapidly deployable and easily updatable language retention toolset for trainers and soldiers deployed around the world.”
Kuma is well known in Iran because of its 2005 game of an imagined American military attack on Iran. The company’s Web site, describing what it said was a huge demand for that game, “Assault on Iran,” called it an exercise “simulating a U.S. attack on a key Iranian nuclear installation.” Iran’s own video game developers countered with their own version.
While Mr. Hekmati had nothing to do with “Assault on Iran,” Iranian news accounts of his supposed confession included a passage in which he was quoted as saying in Persian that he had been recruited by Kuma, “a computer games company which received money from C.I.A. to design and make specific films and computer games to change the public opinion’s mind-set 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 U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable.”