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
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.