Legal Opinion: Why the arrested ArmA developers should have known better

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By on October 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

The most serious issue in gaming right now: two ArmA 3 developers facing twenty years in prison for allegedly spying on a Greek military base. The two were on Lemnos when they photographed a Greek air base.

While it’s natural to want to side with the developers, the circumstances of the case are important. Next door to Lemnos is Turkey, and between the two countries are recently discovered oil reserves. Sounding like the storyline of any recent brown-sim FPS, the place is just waiting to blow up. Taking any kind of photos of Greek military bases on the ground is somewhat naive.

Today, we’ll look at how circumstances like this will reliably determine whether you get arrested for spying, and why you probably shouldn’t take a camera to Greece right now.

Planespotters almost lost their freedom in Greece

In 2001, a group of fourteen British and Dutch tourists were sentenced to three years in prison for taking photos of a Greek airbase. Greece-Turkey relations were just as bad back then, and to make matters worse, the leader of the group had been invited to Turkey as a guest of the Turkish military just a month before.

The charges were eventually overturned on appeal, but the group faced a year-long ordeal to clear their names. Although the British press lambasted the Greek legal system, when you consider all the circumstances involved, the Greek reaction was pretty reasonable. The tourists were deliberately trying to photograph areas off-limits, and their only safeguard was the organiser’s ‘contacts’ in the Greek military. As such, they came across as spies.

Adelaide planespotters asked nicely to stop

Compared to Greece, Australia is rather laid back about its aviation security. We have no serious threats, and are mostly just used as a staging post for American drone sorties into the Pacific.

In 2006, Adelaide’s West Beach Aviation Group took photos of the ‘secret’ Global Hawk spy drones coming to and from the RAAF base at Edinburgh. They then posted the photos on the internet. But the only military response to this was a visit from the RAAF asking them to not publish pictures of Australian aircraft.

That the incident happened on Australian soil likely curtailed any American response. That the Global Hawk is hardly secret is another reason. While America continues to insist that it is at secret squirrel levels, the drones have no stealth capabilities at all, and can be easily observed by even the simplest radar. So it’s not like a few photos of the things actually mean anything.

In other words, they weren’t actually spying.

Video game developer gets sentenced to death in Iran

Kuma/War is a game made by Kuma Reality Games. This studio is most notorious for being allegedly paid by the CIA to create games designed to make gamers hate the Middle East.

Anyway, Kuma/War’s main claim to fame is its use of real life locations and ‘realistic’ combat scenarios. So it’s basically a way to live out soldier fantasies, much like Mass Effect is a way to live out Kelly fantasies. One of these scenarios is titled Assault on Iran, where the player has to attack Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.

Understandably, Iran doesn’t really like the game, and the portrayal of its perfectly harmless nuclear power program. So when one of the game’s developers, Amir Mirza Hekmati (working as a defence contractor after his video game career) went to Iran to visit his grandmother, Iran was quick to arrest him, charge him with spying, and impose the death penalty.

The Iran Supreme Court overruled the sentence, but Amir is still stuck in prison awaiting a retrial. But here the lesson for any budding game designers is that if you make a game about attacking Iran, you probably shouldn’t visit the country. They’re a bit sensitive.

What you need to know about Greece

Greece has 22 billion barrels—at least—in its territorial waters, and this would transform the country’s struggling economy into the next UAE

While the press often makes out the justice system in foreign countries to be unfair, all these cases show that outside circumstances can pretty reliably predict whether you get in trouble for espionage.

So before you do anything like photograph a military base, you should have at least a basic understanding of the relevant political issues. These will influence what will happen should you get caught.

What most gaming news websites are not telling you is just how serious the situation in Greece is right now. In late 2010, huge natural oil reserves were discovered in the Mediterranean. Greece has 22 billion barrels—at least—in its territorial waters, and this would transform the country’s struggling economy into the next UAE.

However, Greece is locked into loans from the IMF. The IMF is demanding that Greece sell off its oil companies to pay off its debts, and Greece, understandably, is not happy. Compounding this is that Greece’s territorial waters are quite shallow. Previously it saw little need to claim maritime territory, and so much of the potential oil is in waters also contested by Turkey. Threats of war have been exchanged between the two countries.

Although largely unreported by the western media, the Mediterranean is a warzone waiting to happen. It has all the elements of a modern FPS storyline. And because of this, the ArmA developers really should have known better. While they’re likely innocent, they should have used common sense, and not done anything that made them look like on-the-ground spies.

32 comments (Leave your own)
MuscularTeeth

Greece and Turkey have also had a little bit of history together, particularly the Ottoman empire’s control of Greece for something close to 400 years. Unbelievably, despite all the time that has passed, bad blood still simmers.

Prior to that it is believed the city Troy was located in Turkey. That’s that place which was sacked by wooden horse by the Greeks in the fantastic epic that is Homer’s Iliad.

 

Taking photos of a military base in a foreign country just seems like a big no.
Regardless of the current politics in the country.

I would of thought it was common knowledge

 

My name’s neodewolf, and I say racist things! I have just been PM’d by Tim and warned not to say them ever again :D :D :D

 

muscularteeth,

They fought a war over Cyprus in 1974 and the island is still contested between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, so the bad blood isn’t really that old.

 

silenceoz:
Taking photos of a military base in a foreign country just seems like a big no.
Regardless of the current politics in the country.

I would of thought it was common knowledge

My thoughts exactly. Doesn’t matter where you do it. Theres a reason why military bases have fences.

 

Interesting background info to the current events.Cheers.

 

Turkey is still butt-hurt about the fall of Troy…

 
Village idiot

That was a pretty good read.

 

Excellent article Patrick, it offered a perspective I hadn’t thought about. I had no idea also about the oil find, wow, that’s an incredibly dangerous situation they’re in!

 

Clearly if they didn’t want people taking photos of their military bases, they shouldn’t have put so much interesting stuff in it.

 

ralphwiggum: My thoughts exactly. Doesn’t matter where you do it. Theres a reason why military bases have fences.

Very slightly relevant anecdote: The army base near me didn’t actually have a fence until just 7 or 8 years ago. You could have walked across the paddocks and onto the airstrip or into the hangers and other buildings most likely without anyone even seeing you, let alone stopping you.

Anyone want a Blackhawk helicopter? I know a guy..

 

Without revealing too much, I once took some pictures of military aircraft as they flew across a base. A couple of MPs came over and asked wtf I was doing. Fortunately I work for Defense so I showed my pass, told them I was doing was for work purposes and that was enough to avoid getting arrested, but I asked why they were bugging me when there were people outside the base taking pictures of the same things. Apparently since the public weren’t on Commonwealth land nothing could be officially done about it. I think it’s more they couldn’t be bothered to deal with them, since the fences had the same signs about not taking photos overlooking the base.

 

You say, “The two were on Lemnos when they photographed a Greek air base.” You make it sound like they intentionally photographed the base in detail which certainly does not appear to be the case.

http://www.helpivanmartin.org/facts/

 

They did something stupid, the only reason it hasn’t been resolved is because the country is a clusterfuck atm.

It makes me sad that people can’t find better causes to champion than this one, nobody cares unless you’re a game developer or part of something they can feign outrage over. There are probably a hundred Australians languishing in foreign prisons for minor crap like this and nobody bats an eyelid because they don’t have someone like Rocket or Notch crying in outrage.

 
Patrick Vuleta

hastarin:
You say, “The two were on Lemnos when they photographed a Greek air base.” You make it sound like they intentionally photographed the base in detail which certainly does not appear to be the case.

http://www.helpivanmartin.org/facts/

Well, a photo is a photo… I don’t think it really matters whether the photo was in detail. In general you don’t swing cameras near a military base in a country on the edge of a potential war. :P

 

nekosan,

Well, this is a gaming forum after all. Same thing happened when that EVE Online fellow died in Libya during the attack on the U.S. Embassy. If he wasn’t working there, it would never have been reported on sites like this. I bet more people here would remember his name/handle than the dead U.S. ambassador who was definitely more significant (politically anyway).

 

big whoop. people are retards. Its some harmless photos and to take someones life because of that? 20 years? the fuck. You may as well be dead. If I had my way, if people are treated like this by countries I’d call for total annihilation of that dirt shit country.

 
Patrick Vuleta

It’s highly unlikely that they’ll get 20 years if found guilty. I would guess at three.

 

Probably will depend on the backstage deal outcome… heaven forbid how many will be involved but given the publicity of the matter both here and in Greece, chances are they are not gonna go off that light without asking for something in return either immediate or in the future.

 

“From what we understand, Ivan and Martin didn’t enter any military areas and—from what their lawyer has presented thus far in the media—it’s impossible to think that they’ve documented anything that could even remotely be classified as “espionage.”

 
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